As often happens, the end of anything is the moment when we ask ourselves “why”.
COLLECT closed late Sunday afternoon. It had been a day filled mostly with artists, students, and families with small children. Buyers were few and exhaustion was setting in. The big pack-up lay ahead.
It’s easy, standing on such expensive real estate, watching the hours fly by while the moments between red dots seem interminable, to question the point of it all. Obviously doing a fair like COLLECT is a mammoth investment. I marvel at the private dealers and artists who spend so much to make so little on this track. Few seek a life in the arts with the expectation of getting rich.
But rich we are – in ways that a fair like COLLECT always drives home to me. People engaging with people engaging with art ranks, for me at least, among the pinnacle moments of what it is to be human. And for the last three and a half days I got to watch that flow. And I got to imagine the stories behind the viewing.
This was one of my favorite stories: a father (I assumed) looking at art with (the young girl that I imagine to be) his daughter. They walked through our entire exhibit looking, talking, sometimes seriously, sometimes with obvious enthusiasm, sometimes with curiosity, always engaged. I imagined this young girl growing up, continuing to look at art, with the eyes that had opened in talks with her father, on Sundays, many Sundays, like this one.
Then they were gone. And in her place appeared a young woman, looking at art with eyes that I could only imagine had been opened years before, maybe in a similar way? In similar conversations, with another father?
…or mother? or teacher? or friend?
(Sorry, this is what happens in the long stretches between sales and discussions of annealing schedules – which hugely outnumber sales! – the endless watching and wondering)
Then I noticed a couple in the crowd relating to the work in a rather different way. He was looking intently. She wasn’t. He was clearly talking TO her about the work, but she wasn’t looking at it. Her head was cocked to one side, as if to tilt her left ear closer to him, listening, questioning, then listening intensely to his response. It was an animated conversation, among the most intense I’d seen all day. Then I noticed her white cane.
They moved very slowly through the crowd, discussing almost every piece. The obvious tenderness of their interaction surpassed any of my imaginings of people engaging with people engaging with art.
I lost track of them for a few moments, distracted – probably by another question about compatibility or devitrification or some such chatter – until the two of them suddenly appeared beside me and she, with jolting good humor and a smile that took me wholly off-guard, said “We met at COLLECT three years ago, you won’t remember, I wasn’t blind then. You showed a brilliant fused mosaic panel [by Giles Bettison]”
We talked for probably another half hour and I learned her story. It’s one I could never in my most vivid imaginings have concocted out of crowd-watching. It’s a story of the power of the visual arts to transcend seeing, to go to a place far deeper, to the core of what it is to care, to do and to persevere when the most central tool in the toolbox – sight – is taken away. I couldn’t begin to tell Julie Coakley’s story in this short space, but the impact of meeting her will likely be the strongest memory I take away from this fair – or any other – in the years to come.
And then COLLECT ended. A jumble of memories amidst hours of take-down and a jumble of boxes.
Exquisite work, remarkable visitors, a few sales, and lots of very precious memories all compressed and shrink wrapped onto two humble pallets for the long trip home.
And so the “why” of doing COLLECT? I’m not sure how to summarize it all, I guess there’s still a lot of reflecting left to do, but as the sun sets on this one, I am simply profoundly happy for a life that lets me/us connect with such a remarkable section of people as they see, do, and live art.
Au revoir. Auf wiedersehen. Arrivederci.