Friday, December 3, 2010

This is not my World

Art Basel has been held in Switzerland for 41 years. Its sister event, Art Basel Miami Beach, described on the official website as "the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas" has been held for around 7 years. This year's show - 4 days, more than 250 art galleries, over 2000 artists. Me for the first time. And a whole lot of preppy old white people. 

You always hear about how conservative the art world is, but it is quite another thing to see it first hand. A giant convention center full of blue blazers, polo shirts, and khakis. I don't think I've ever seen that much prep in one place, and I went to college in a Massachusetts Ivy League environment in the late 80s. So many little old jewish grandmother types and their husbands, straight from NYC. Many of them, I am sure, there buying art. Speaking of NYC...I never realized how many art galleries there are in New York. I mean you just know there are a lot, but it really hits home when you see them all together in one giant building. New York far outnumbered the total galleries from Berlin, Zurich, London, Paris, Bogota, Cape Town, etc.

This was my first trip to this event. I am not an artist, nor do I work in or really follow art. So it was fascinating for me, an outsider, to experience this event. It is open to the public, and I am sure some of the audience are just art lovers like me, but most of the people are there because they work in the art business. And I do mean business. They are showing and selling art. Or they are the artists being sold. Or wannabe artists hoping to meet the right gallery owners so they can be sold. Or they are art buyers. There was some serious business going on there. You could see it on the faces of the people manning the gallery exhibits. Hear it in the passing conversations. People were seeking and dealing and buying art. Big art. This was no groovy, fun arty fair. This was not a building full of artists. This was a building full of business men and women making deals. Absolutely fascinating.

And in my humble opinion, there was some really great art being shown. And I can be a harsh judge of modern art. I would say 95% was pretty great. Only 5% was crap. That is a pretty good ratio in my experience because I have seen a lot of new art that is just crap to me. This place was impressive. So many different and interesting modern, current artists being shown in one big building. You never get to see something like this! Picture 200+ cool art galleries from around the world all showing their best wares in one giant room! And with wine and champagne ($20/glass) all around! And then when your husband's friend who oversees the catering for the whole event (as he is from Basel and has worked the original Art Basel event for many years) gets you VIP passes so you can snack and drink in the snooty VIP area where there are people marketing Bally shoes and private jet services, its even better! I must admit the first day there I was feeling really out of place in that environment...this sea of pretentious art people...straight out of a Christopher Guest mockumentary (WHY hasn't he done a film about this?!)...until I had two glasses of wine. Then I was good.

I had a difficult time moving back and forth between wanting to look at art and wanting to stare at people. It was one of the, if not the, best people watching scenes I have experienced. Very few freaky people (always my favorite), although there were a few. You would expect more freaky people at one of the biggest art shows in the world, wouldn't you? No, not here. This is a convention center. This is a trade show. This is business. What was so interesting about the crowd was that it was just so different to me. I am sure for those of you who live in NYC and work in the art world, this is your every day experience. My world has been that of Washington DC bureaucrats, international development people and now Utah. I am used to an international crowd, so that was comforting. Walking along listening to spanish, german, french (lots of french), portuguese - a United Nations of conservative dress and station. This is what I imagine it is like in Cannes or St Tropez.

I read of lots of celebrity appearances at the art parties, but all I got at the show itself was Adrien Brody. He was following a guy, beelining it for some gallery on the other side of the convention center. No one really noticed him. He isn't the kind of celebrity that would really stand out and he just blended right in. But I spotted him. Which was fun since I am one of those people who never sees celebrities as I am usually too deep into my own head and world when I walk around. Oblivious. As for the parties, I was lame and not really interested in hunting them out after the first night. I am old. I don't need free liquor. I am not trying to pick up someone or impress peers. And I am really not that interested in celebrity hunting. 

I just wanted to see the art.

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