June 2001 – Cinquante/Fifty
Art Basel. I’m here with Sjarel Ex, director of the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, with whom I have spoken about the possible loan of works that I will buy.
To see whether we have similar taste, we’ve agreed to wonder around the fair separately for two hours and then show each other what has caught our attention.
In Art Unlimited’s enormous space I hear vaguely familiar music: the melodious and dreamy sound of a woman singing. On one screen a naked man runs down an empty highway; on the other a woman presses her face so hard against an apartment window that all her features are distorted. Her red lipstick leaves streaks on the glass. They’re my two recurring dreams: running but getting nowhere and being shut up behind glass while life outside is calling me.
‘Cinquante/Fifty’ is the name of this video installation by Pipilotti Rist, the artist whose work triggered my desire to share what I collect. I stand in front of the screens for a long time, hoping that the man will eventually get where he wants to go, and that one of the windows will swing open so the woman can let her hair tumble down like Rapunzel. But the video, like my dreams, is on a loop, endlessly repeating the same images.
Sjarel shows me the work that has caught his attention. It turns out to be ‘Cinquante/Fifty’. Ten minuts later I’ve purchased my first major work of art.
That year, in the Centraal Museum, I see the naked man running down the highway again. This is the first time that a work with which I am associated has been shown in public. It’s also the first time I’ve seen it since my purchase.
The feeling that comes over me is not one of possession. On the contrary, here in the museum, among the other works by Pipilotti, I realize that you can never own a work of art, even if you’ve bought it yourself. It belongs to the world, just as the tree in your garden is part of a larger whole. I am the guardian. The pride I feel comes from the idea that I have selected this work.
I hum softly along with the soundtrack and stand near the screen to observe the visitors’ reactions. A woman with long earrings squints to get a better view. A thin young man moves his hand to the rhythm of the music. A girl nudges her friend: ‘Take a look at this’.
I am a fly on the wall. A fly on Pipilotti’s wall.