A tour-guide-led group clustered around a pedestal deep in the womb of Art Basel. On the pedestal perched a pair of shoes. Men’s shoes, leather, laced-tied. Shoes – that’s it, and not particularly fashionable ones, at that. The price tag: $16,000.
“This artist also works in homosexual themes,” the young woman told her tourers.
“Maybe it’s the way the laces are tied?” said one of the tourees.

My personal Art Basel m.o. is to “do” the show on its Sunday. The serious collectors are all but finished, the locals come out to test-drive their art appreciation, the atmosphere has that pleasant exhaustion thing going for it.

As much a part of the art to see and experience is the crowd itself.

If contemporary art is a window of current zeitgeist, then its Sunday afternoon crowd is a living, breathing, emoting, posturing work of performance art on its own. From the sublime to the ridiculous, much like the art collections.

A young metrosexual to a gallery rep staring at a large, loud oil on canvas take on consumerism: “Fabulous. Just fabulous.”
“Five million,” said the rep, “and worth every penny.” Mr. Met didn’t answer – but did strike a pose, staring intently…

Two well-coifed 60-ish women studying a life size impressionist painting of a nude beach scene: “No, I think he is looking past her, he is not even looking at her.”

Two couples, golden years, transplanted Northerners I’d guess… “You know those art classes they give at the (?), I think I’m gonna take a painting class.”

The Leger smalti mosaic was a wow. So were photo portraits of young women in their kitchens, outfitted with thick suicide bomber belts made of magazines and books. The Picassos – humbling, the slow-motion video of popcorn kernels bursting – mesmerizing. 

I love bring my daughters to Art Basel, though this year I lost out to their more pressing activities.

Last year, my little one commented on a small, graphic Andy Warhol – simple black and white flowers on a fuchsia background.
“I could do that,” she said.
A man walking by who heard her looked down and told her so earnestly, “Yes, you could. But he thought of it first.”

What a simple, telling lesson in art appreciation.

The art that I love, that sends me, that hangs on my walls: tropically-colored cubist pastels I bought in Havana from a street artist named Antonio; dreamy watercolors from a local artist in Isla Mujeres; my daughters’ art class interpretations of Georgia O’Keeffe’s florals, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Henri Rousseau’s post-impressionist jungles. I have on display some my own mosaics, acrylics and photographs. (I started college as an art major, but a broken right wrist mandated a change of direction).

I often wonder, would those earn a second take, a moment of contemplation, a fun comment or two from the Sunday crowds at Basel?


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