I grew up in a house full of odd sculptures. A weeping black iron baby stood in the living room and elsewhere in the house is a semicircle of white figurines and a seven-foot-tall carved, wooden woman who resembled my godmother in an awfully coincidental way. I was surrounded by photographs, too — a Robert Mapplethorpe of Patti Smith, an image of a building in Paris being torn down and a devil child with red furry ears. Paintings, too. Lots and lots and lots of them. The Jane Hammond which stood above my crib is engraved into my memory. On top of my parent’s bed is Keith Haring ’s “radiant baby,” dedicated to my father, and a bunch of grapes.
What once the bare white walls of my home began filling with works my parents collected over their lifetime. It had always been their intention to surround themsleves with art, although the path to get there hadn’t always been so clear. My father dropped out of law school to pursue his real passion. He studied history of art at the University of Barcelona and opened his first art gallery in 1991. He met my mother a few weeks after opening, in an art gallery in New York. They began dating shortly after and married in 1995.
She became the director of the Barcelonian cultural center, Caixa Forum, while he continued developing the gallery and his name within the city and the art world. That’s how my home came to be: from the ground of Barcelona’s old district and pillars of worldly art.
I wasn’t always drawn to art. I remember being around eight years old and dreading when my parents would make me go to museums and walk mile after mile, seeing things that were beyond my scope of understanding.
One summer, my father needed help with inventory in the gallery’s warehouse. I had been in that place plenty of times before, but I hadn’t really ever seen it. Previously, I had seen the warehouse as a storage location that housed our winter clothes. Alarm off, lights on (only the ones needed to find the anorak and mitten-filled suitcases) and I would mindlessly skip past the rows of stacked paintings, marked meticulously with initials and numbers.
But that summer, walking into the archive was like entering a new realm. I felt like I was in a sacred space, one which made me want to whisper and tiptoe around, careful not to touch anything that hadn’t granted me its permission first. I haven’t left that realm since; it was the threshold that I crossed to begin the journey of becoming who I am today.
This March, when I was still in Ann Arbor, my father asked me to join his team in this year’s ARCO Madrid art fair. I had been looking forward to having something to look forward to, and this was it.
Fast forward to July 5, we took a train to Madrid and began the madness that is working at an art fair. Every day was a routine, but each was also different from the previous. ARCO began hectically and became calmer as the days went by. The first three days were only open to “professionals”: art collectors, artists and the press, and the remaining days were open to the public. Then, when the days ended, nights would also involve work, but a different kind of work — business dinners, award ceremonies and not enough sleep.
As thrilling as it all sounds, no one tells you about the body aches: from your cheeks after “smizing” for 12 hours straight to your toes from the boots that complemented the long blue dress you wore the day our majesties visited the stand. No one tells you about the struggle of dealing with visitors who are more interested in you than the work itself. Who tease you with a “do you come with the painting?” No one teaches you either about a proper wardrobe when it’s a 95 degrees-kind-of July. Or the burden of having to deal with four clients at once, of explaining an artwork so many times that you’ve internalized it like a mantra, of eating so many supermarket tabouli that you can’t think of couscous anymore without getting nauseous.
But I still found charm in all of this. There is something so rewarding about helping sell your first painting. There’s something so wonderful about getting to the hotel at night, watching the news and seeing yourself speaking in representation of the gallery. Something so enriching about seeing a team meticulously does their tasks, always with a slight glimmer in their eyes.
It was interesting seeing the works people tended to stop in front of — they weren’t the ones people asked about the most. I learned to distinguish the mere art-lovers from the art-buyers. The latter looked at works as if they were standing in their own homes: admiring with their arms crossed, checking the surroundings, breathing peacefully. I was surprised by one buyer, who took approximately two minutes to seal a deal, without even knowing who the artist was. It was love at first sight, I guess.
The art world is a network that involves a miriad of strings, each one pushing and pulling in different directions. All that is grand is suddenly small. Money is spoken in simple units: “what’s the price of this one?” — “fifteen.” The world shrinks to the confines of a single venue. Hundreds of languages are narrowed down to one: English. Interactions with complete strangers adopt a nearness that wouldn’t occur in other situations. And while the 24 hours in the day dilate to what feels like an eternity, it is an eternity I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in.
I can only remember that week as one of the greatest experiences and opportunities of my life. Leaving, I felt that I had not only learned so much about the art world, about business and about myself, but I had also harnessed the chance to strengthen the bond I already had with my father. I am fortunate to have mentors of what I love so close to me.
Daily Arts Writer Cecilia Duran can be reached at email@example.com.