Art Basel is the art world’s excuse to sit in silly chairs
News | 08.12.2018
Art Basel is well underway in Miami, bringing to one spot some of the world’s most renowned gallerists and impressive pieces of art.
There are Hockneys and Warhols, Banksys and Beninatis, Mirós, Lichtensteins, Harringtons and Hujars.
It’s eye-catching, there’s no denying that. But behind every multimillion-dollar piece, there are untold numbers of humans working hard here to sell these pieces, to pitch their worth and figure out how to best accommodate the shrewd sets of gallery-goers who stalk the halls of Basel hunting down acquisitions.
“I just spoke with him, and he says if we have it transferred to the Miami gallery you can avoid paying any sales tax,” one gallerist was overheard telling a prospective buyer. She was standing before a Roy Lichtenstein piece, looking quite the part.
Really they all appear mostly the same: pressed suits in neutral colors. Gray and beige professional uniforms, accented only by the occasional pair of flashy socks or funky glasses. They keep watch over their art fair booths for hours and hours, gazing out over the thousands of onlookers who wander the halls of Basel snapping photos and momentarily stopping to admire a piece or two. Sometimes these gallery workers do this in total silence, sometimes they stare off glassy-eyed into space, resigned; the lucky ones have come to Miami from faraway places with a colleague, someone with whom to speak and pass the time.
And, oh yes, they are all sitting in chairs. Little chairs. Big chairs. Absurdly designed chairs. Simple chairs. Ornate chairs. Chairs without back support. And chairs that look totally uncomfortable and unsuitable for the job. In some way, this is what Basel really is: a sea of art dealers sitting in silly furniture. You might not notice it unless you step back and observe, but there it is all the same. Looking beyond the art, between the literal works of art, the scene is a piece all its own. A tableau of wealth and boredom and astonishing color. And of course, all these stupid chairs.
Asked where the furniture comes from—if it’s hauled from another country or supplied by the art convention—a bored gallerist explained that there is actually a catalog that dealers flip through before arriving. It’s around 60 pages long, filled with all manner of seating options.
I looked down at the two that she and her colleague picked, stumpy little stools with no back support or armrests.
“So why did you choose these?” I asked.
She seemed almost incredulous at the question, as if the answer was just too obvious.
“They are small and gray like the floor,” she replied.
I moved on. They continued to sit. Someone somewhere in the convention hall probably dropped a few million on another piece. The business of Basel goes on.