Art Fairs Are Not Fair to Art

Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Saatchi

IDON'T go to the Basel art fair any more, which I used to enjoy greatly. Now I can no longer escape the feeling that the booths at Basel, so full of glossy art, will be full again for the next fair in their calendar with shiny agricultural implements in the Basel farmers' fair, or in the fair after that with medical supplies in the Basel pharmacists' fair.

There is something oddly disquieting seeing the reality of the art market in such high relief, the growing hordes of buyers and advisers, swarming over fashionable booths, the art seemingly reduced to mere merchandise.

I've always believed it is important for artists never to be allowed near art fairs, for fear that the disillusionment with being part of a meat market would traumatise them into abandoning their brushes. Although I now find fair booths a disrespectful way to display art, most artists accept their dealers' view that it's a good way to get your art seen and sold.

If you are as tediously pompous as me, it's easy to get hoity-toity about the aesthetics of art marketing, constantly bemoaning that art is being treated as a commodity. But of course art collectors were spivvy and profiteering even during the Renaissance.

And art is only a commodity if you choose to make it so.

I rather miss the thrill of exploration, the frisson of anticipation I used to enjoy when wandering around the world's art fairs. Then I became creepily fastidious about the context in which art is viewed.

That said, our house is usually full of messy stacks of paintings I'm too lazy to hang, with empty walls and nails poking out when the work goes off to some exhibition somewhere. Any day now we'll get round to hanging some of the piles of pictures sitting on the floor.

I once suspended a Marc Quinn lifesize figure upside down in a small but tall guest lavatory. It was a dark orangey rubber cast of his body, looking rather like a shed skin, dangling by its feet so that its head was alongside yours as you sat. I don't normally play silly games with art but the artist was coming over for supper, and I thought he would appreciate my connoisseurship.

There is a moment in every art collector's life when the few bits and pieces they have hanging on their walls have grown to be too many to display. When you buy something that doesn't fit into your home and has to be stored in an art depot, you're officially an art collector. Whenever I examine the extent of my obsessive/ compulsive relationship with art, I feel I am sliding into the world of the Collyer Brothers.

Homer and Langley Collyer were two American siblings who died in the 1940s, and achieved fame of a sort because of their overwhelming and uncontrollable hoarding of books, furniture, musical instruments and many other items, filling every square foot of their house in Harlem.

They were rarely seen, and had left booby traps in corridors and doorways to protect their collection from intruders. They were both found dead in their home, surrounded by 140 tons of collected items amassed over several decades.

Their parents were first cousins, and the sons were exceptionally gifted, with Homer getting his bachelor degree in admiralty law at Columbia University by the time he was 20. …