Do Female Dealers at Art Basel Have to Wear Heels to Sell Art?

Do high heels and high priced art go together?

Jimmy Choo shoe detail seen Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images.
Jimmy Choo shoe detail seen Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images.

At the latest edition of Art Basel Miami Beach this past December, where armies of gallerinas and other art world femme fatales typically teeter about in sky-high heels, a glamorous girl tilted her leg to show me her shoes and said: “In Miami, these three-inch heels are considered flats.”

So, at the exclusive preview day of Art Basel in Basel on Tuesday (June 14)—the master fair of all art fairs—some of us breathed a sigh of relief when we noticed that many of the numerous VIPs in attendance were sporting more reasonable footwear, instead of towering heels.

Is this a reflection of the weather in Basel this week, which has been relentlessly rainy and sometimes cold? Or does it portend a larger shift?

An Art Basel fairgoer spotted en route to the fair on VIP preview day. Photo by Andrea Schwan.

An Art Basel fairgoer spotted en route to the fair on VIP preview day. Photo by Andrea Schwan.

“I think we’ve turned the corner,” as far as the choice between suffering to look glamorous or opting for comfort while navigating the world’s top art fairs is concerned, uber art publicist Andrea Schwan told me. She shared a picture of a fair-goer she spotted on the tram to the Messeplatz as evidence of this (see image above). We both agreed it was a good thing.

It also seemed to have been a big consideration the previous night at a fabulous party thrown by VOLTA art fair, where guests were treated to farm-to-table cuisine at—you guessed it—a farm outside Basel, where sheltered guests nonetheless had to make it to the barn through a torrential downpour.

But back to Art Basel, where we were in front of the Luxembourg & Dayan booth. Speaking of endurance, a ballerina was just then repeatedly performing a short but intense improvised dance accompanied by a violinist playing a passage of Igor Stravinsky’s score for La Pulcinella (1920).

Was it another form of suffering for art? Well, sort of. The piece, which drew an eager crowd of onlookers, is a hybrid of painting and performance, which originally debuted at Documenta 5 in 1972. It’s a re-staging of a Jannis Kounellis work Da inventare sul posto (To Invent on the Spot) (1972), with the dancer and violinist performing in front of a large abstract painting with pink brushstrokes featuring bars of music that represent the Stravinsky passage.

A restaging of a 1972 Jannis Kounellis performance at the booth of Luxembourg & Dayan at Art Basel. Photo by Eileen Kinsella

A restaging of a 1972 Jannis Kounellis performance at the booth of Luxembourg & Dayan at Art Basel. Photo by Eileen Kinsella

But lest we get too comfortable with the idea of comfort, gallery partner Amalia Dayan, who as usual, looked fabulous sporting elegant tan heels with a dark suit emphatically told us: “You cannot sell a painting in flat shoes…” before correcting herself: “I mean I cannot sell a painting in flats. I have to be wearing high heels.”

When we asked about the comfort thing, she simply shrugged and said: “I’m used to it.”

Apparently, she’s not the only woman art dealer who feels there is power in power heels. Dominique Levy, one of the top dealers in the world, recently gave a detailed interview to the New York Times where she discussed the cost and logistics for preparing for Art Basel.

She told the NYT that she remains in heels for the duration of the fair, echoing Dayan when she said: “I can’t sell art in flat shoes.” She did however, admit to needing a coping mechanism, telling the NYT that she brings an ice bucket so that she can soak her feet after the first four hours. “Then I can do another four hours,” she added.


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