If you think Art Basel needs more places where you can sit in a palm tree-laden lobby and watch telenovelas, you should make your way to the fair’s Statements sector. There, the booth of London-based Laura Bartlett Gallery has been transformed completely into a lobby of a South American money exchange booth, complete with bright-colored flora, checkered tile floor, neon-teal walls, and a rickety stand with hand-painted signs advertising tarjetas prepagadas.
And the telenovela looked fairly legit, both in terms of its cheap lighting aesthetic and thematic development. The man on screen was apparently going through a contentious divorce, and was tearing his hair out while trashing a living room, screaming (according to the subtitles), “I’m going to lose everything! My cars!”
The telenovela is actually a video work written and directed by the Venezuelan artist Sol Calero, who turned the Bartlett booth into a work called Casa de Cambio, which resembles a currency exchange station in order to protest the vast manipulations of her country’s currency structure, in which vast corruption has resulted in wild, uncontrollable inflation. The conceit is this: on the first day, a gallery representative would be selling editions of a Calero work from behind the stand—the work is a stack of paper the size of cash Bolivars, the Venezuelan currency—that on the first day would cost one Swiss Franc, but would increase in price as the fair went on. By the time I got there on Wednesday, the price was up to 10 CH.
That’s just part of an eye-catching installation that consists of ceramic works in glass cases, paintings on the wall, and the palm tree structures behind the currency exchange booth. There’s also another TV showing five video works by young Venezuelan artists, all commissioned by Calero.
(And while it might be an incisive commentary on currency value, Venezuela’s out-of-control inflation, and the exchange rate for goods and services, this is an art fair, and the booth as a single work is on sale for €150,000—or $167,000, if the current exchange rate stands.)
After waiting in line for some time to speak with the woman behind the counter, she informed me of the current 10 CH price for the edition, and when I reached into my pocket, I realized that I only had 5 CH.
“Oh, that’s OK, I’ll give it to you for five,” she said. “The black market is real.”