Bounding around his booth on the second day of Art Basel Hong Kong, the last art fair he says he’ll ever do, the veteran New York gallerist Jose Freire had the lighthearted, unburdened air of a college senior at graduation week. He’s become a big man on campus, too: ever since he gave an unusually candid interview to artnet News, explaining in great detail why the math behind participating in art fairs had become unsustainable for his Team Gallery, he’s been inundated by Instagram direct messages and emails from fellow dealers grateful that he broke the ice on the subject. “Gallerists complementing gallerists is really kind of touching,” he said.
“I’ve gotten notes, some as many as four pages long, from many people expressing a similar dissatisfaction with the way the system works,” Freire continued. “I’ve done 13 Art Basels, 13 Art Basel Miamis, and three of the Hong Kong fairs. I recently added it up and realized it all had cost me twice the budget of Moonlight.” He paused to let that sink in. (The film cost $1.5 million.) “I have faith in my program, and I can’t allow this mechanism to erode that faith.”
At the same time, Freire made it clear there was no bad blood between him and the fair. “Marc Spiegler came into my booth immediately during the install and we had a perfectly lovely interaction,” he said of the Art Basel director. “They didn’t do it. If we could find the culprit it would be great, because then we could say, ‘Aha, we’ve found the culprit!’ But no one’s the culprit.”
Instead, the source of the crisis many dealers feel themselves caught up in remains frustratingly amorphous. “Since I’ve started working in the art world there have been many crashes, and we used to always call them what they were, which was crashes,” Freire said. “Here, no one wants to say it’s a crash because the poles weren’t affected. A lot of it is just tied up with shrinking attention spans in the digital age.” Read more