For Christmas this year I tackled a bucket list entry I learned about first in a team-taught course as a first year student at Rhodes college- Art Basel. This is a for-profit, privately owned and managed, international art fair that happens in three cities every year- Basel, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Miami Beach, Florida.
The idea is that high-end galleries pay around $30,000 USD for a convention center cubicle, ship 5-10 of their best (most likely to sell) pieces and a handful of art handlers and sales people to the convention center, and potentially make half of their gallery’s annual income in one week.
So the question for me: Do I want to aspire to be a cog in the money-driven art world machine?
Answer: I don’t loathe the idea yet. (I’ll explain why).
The best way I can describe what I experienced is literally a mall for some of the most expensive art in the world. It was set up with corridors like a mall, not quiet, but fairly orderly and laid back. Lots of strollers and young people there, and “stores” where you probably shouldn’t touch the merchandise, but if it looks like you’ll buy something, the sales people won’t chew you out (a sculpture by Joyce J. Scott was selling for $240,000). And the fashion game was tip-top.
As an artist, people say going to an art fair might be like this:
“…no better way to become humble than by going to an art fair”
—Leigh Connor, Connor Contemporary Art, Washington D.C.
“Detractors might argue it’s commercialism at its worst…on the flipside, fairs enable one to see a survey from across the globe in a short amount of time.”
—Helen Allen Executive Director, PULSE Contemporary Art Fair
“…It made me feel like the screaming Edvard Munch head.”
—Fred Tomaselli, artist, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s something I struggle with because it gets overwhelming at times. But every time I go, I’ll see something I love, or make a great connection, and ultimately it’s always a really good thing. That said, usually I’ll leave freaking out a little bit. Overwhelmed. Exhausted.”
—Stephanie Diamond, artist, N.Y.
Stephanie’s quote sounds the most like how I feel about most everything, so I did a lot of research like the indispensable, Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career, suggested. (The quotes, and the following comic all come from this book too. Sometimes I just read it cuz it’s so fun). And I went into Art Basel with an open mind and as lackadaisical as I could. (I narrowed what I had to see to two tiny wings, and then browsed about ½ of the convention more in walking between those two points.
And lucky me, I DID see something that KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF: Leon and Cocina’s La Casa Lobo film
I and a bunch of high-schoolers sat through the 45 minutes completely enthralled for every second of the film.
So I came away energized to make work, realizing my work can be appealing and entertaining and still have clout in a serious market, and impressed to see more women artists’ work and LOTS of work in fabric, like I do.
Last, I saw this. Hello Hannah Wilke’s chewed gum.