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Art Basel
Messe Basel, Messeplatz, CH-4058 Basel, Switzerland
June 13, 2013 - June 16, 2013

Art Basel: the Burning Ring of Fire
by Daniel Rolnik

Whenever I think about art fairs, the first thing that comes to mind is money. Like how Art Basel can cost a gallery well over $10,000 for a small booth, which means they have to sell at least $20,000 worth of art (based upon a 50/50 split with each artist) just to cover their upfront cost. Still leaving the ungodly debt of crating, shipping, handling, installing, flying, eating, driving, drugging, and stain removals to be paid for.

Most of the people who attend won’t buy anything besides an admission ticket. Unless they’re hungry and decide to shell out some dough on an overpriced salad that tastes like plastic, but comes in a well-designed container. Meaning the only thing that seems like it's winning at an art fair, is the art fair itself, strangely making it more akin to Las Vegas, where the house always wins and only a few lucky schmucks walk out rich, than the romantic notion of the art world that we’ve all cooked up in our brains at one point or another. Though it is that romance that keeps every gallery betting on the right collector to come to their booth at the right time to keep great art alive for all of us art-fiend-junkies.

Oddly enough, the paintings and sculptures in each booth also remind me of money. Acting as an abstract currency that rises and falls based on attention spans and the hunger of a powerful few. Where, in place of Indian head pennies and freshly printed green dollar bills from the US treasury getting passed around, you have Piccassos from 1904 and Koons from 2013 sitting amongst a maze of white walls and small signs telling you who they belong to. Plus, a bunch of red dots signaling they’ve sold, if the galleries are lucky.

Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2013, Print on aluminium; Courtesy Yvon Lambert, Paris. At Art Basel, Hall 2.1/N8.


Yet with all that in mind, art fairs are really fun. Especially if you dance around while looking at all the art and take the piss out of anyone who tells you to stop. It’s like going to 400 art openings at once and playing duck, duck, goose at the same time. Stopping to tap your iPhone’s camera app for a photo of your favorite piece and then resetting it all to play again when you see something else you like.

I’ve never been to Basel, Switzerland for Art Basel. But my friends have and they say it’s nice. And if I were to go, I’d buy a giant bar of chocolate from the highest rated chocolatier on YELP just to offer to grumpy gallerists who took the leap of faith into a burning ring of fire. 


Daniel Rolnik


(Image on top: John Wesley, The Signing of the Declaration, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 50 inches; © Photography: Fredrik Nilsen; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. At Art Basel, Hall 2.1/L6.)

Posted by Daniel Rolnik on 6/13/13 | tags: money art fairs art basel

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".... everybody will be here, why would you miss it? Collectors, dealers, critics and curators flock to the small and cosy town of Basel like mad cows." (From Teodora Kotseva's piece.) I couldn't have illustrated Daniel Rolnik's points better. It's clear that artists are no longer included in this aggregate.
I would love to sell more, but I cannot afford venues like this. That doesn't make me less of an artist, neither stupid. Good for you that you are doing so well. You definitely must be doing "the right thing".
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Is it the serious artist who doesn't crave this attention, or the stupid? Is the point to sell to survive or to solely create? Will you ever get the mention in an art history book if you never sell? Selling is so connected to creating that events like this are essential. If you don't sell, how can you call yourself an artist, because you must have a day job or some sort of inheritance to support your breath, making you something other than an artist. But if you sell, are you selling out? We all cater to our clients in one way or another, and if that is not selling out I don't know what is. Yet the stubborn creators, never compromising, never kissing ass, will they ever sell? The act of compromising is inescapable but the decision on where to draw that line makes you the artist that you are. Are you an Ernst or Kinkade?
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Seriously, we are artists, we are creative. Why are we allowing these type of exhibition venues exploit us? Respectfully to the organizers, but we are missing the point here. Artists and their art are backstage here. This has become a business and vanity fair.

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