Bartering at Basel: The Art of the Trade

Art Basel Miami Beach is all about selling (while getting a tan), and judging by the ear-to-ear grins of Larry Gagosian et.al. at the just-wrapped fair, sales were brisk and gallery pockets were fat. Naturally, Swervewolf was on the prowl down in Miami and looking for a cut of the action. After quickly flipping our entire stock of priced-to-go Chinese contemporary at the convention center, we got down to our core business and opened up an Argentine-style pulpería and trading post in the lively Wynwood district in conjunction with the massive Art of Basketball exhibit (which also sold out early).

Swervewolf modeled its version of the trading post on the thousands of grassroots barter clubs that popped up during the Argentine economic meltdown of the early 00’s, when down-and-out citizens began bartering both goods and services to make ends meet during the chaos. The way the barter club concept works is simple: A farmer with a toothache comes to the barter club with, say, three chickens with a real market value of 15 barter club credits. A hungry dentist comes to the barter club and offers his dental services at 5 credits per hour. The barter club processes the transaction between both parties, and each goes home satisfied, the dentist with his chickens to eat and the farmer with a pulled molar. In the barter club system – at their apex in 2002 there were about 5,000 operating in Argentina – the currency unit is called the credit.

The Central Bank of Swervewolf printed its own unique currency, quantitatively easing 20,000 bills that bore a remarkable resemblance to the Argentine Patacon, one of the multiple banknotes that emerged when the official Peso flailed during the country’s economic crisis. The only difference between the Swervewolf Patacon and the old Argentine Patacon was that our currency was backed by a significant commodity, namely, tasty wine from Bodega Elena de Mendoza, whereas the Argentine government edition was backed by delicious air. Swervewolf does not get down with fiat money – as opposed to the Dollar or the Euro, to name a few, which are not backed by anything nearly as delicious as wine.

In the video above, watch Basel-goers immediately take to the trade concept. Notable street artists like Poster Boy, Shiro, Miguel Paredes, and Blanco swapped their creative services. Magazine writers bartered stories. Major art collectors traded inside art-world information for a number of goods, including Bodega Elena Malbec, empanadas, Shake Shack burgers, artist-designed gear, custom yerba mate gourds, and other items. One guy traded his Miami bus pass. Another girl traded her designer shoes. Photographers traded professional pictures. Someone traded a ride back to New York in their van. I traded a guy who wanted to take a picture with my girlfriend. Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but bartering with vino-soaked bills at Art Basel is.

Video above.

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