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After running an art gallery for 16 years, Stefania Bortolami is a diehard optimist. Otherwise, she likes to say, in her brisk Italian accent, “you cannot be an art dealer, because if you really think about it, it’s suicide. You’re selling dreams that, a few years down the line, might be worth nothing.”
But even she was frustrated in January when Art Basel, citing international travel restrictions, announced that it would postpone its 2021 marquee fair—the world’s most prestigious marketplace for modern and contemporary art—from its usual time in June to September. By the time she went looking for a room after the announcement, all the hotels she called were already sold out. “It’s almost like someone knew,” she said, sounding a note of conspiracy.
Aside from the omnipresent masks and hand sanitizer at her gallery in downtown New York, Bortolami could almost say things had gotten back to some version of normal after a year marked by crisis.