Cristina Ruiz: The price of budget travel: a day in Athens

Removing pre-arranged seats from a flight unleashes the basest, darkest instincts of humankind. So to fly Easyjet, “Europe’s leading airline”, is not just to travel cheaply but also to be a voluntary participant in a psychological experiment akin to those carried out by the CIA in the 1950s. When the gates to the flight open, who will pause to help the weak and vulnerable? Who will race ahead trampling them cruelly underfoot in a bid to secure a coveted window or aisle seat?

Gagosian's Greek gallery, under the oranges

To keep travel costs low—others may complete this spot challenge more quickly but nobody will do it more inexpensively—my travel today consists of not just one Easyjet flight, but two: the first from Rome to Athens and then, eight hours later, another from Athens back home to London. If the value of the spot print I get as a reward for completing this tour is inversely proportional to the luxury of my travel, then I’m in luck.

The horror, the horror!

I land in Athens just past noon and jump in a cab. This is a loud, messy, sprawling place but the Gagosian Gallery is in a tranquil side street lined with orange trees in the centre of town. There are six spot paintings here and Christina Papadopoulou, who is manning the desk, tells me some are for sale but declines to say which, if any, have sold. My guess is none of them have. There are of course major contemporary art collectors in Greece, not least Dakis Joannou and Dimitris Daskalopoulos, but if they liked Hirst’s spot paintings, they’d own one by now. This global spot extravaganza is designed to appeal to new collectors and they’re probably in short supply in Athens right now. Even those with money will balk at the perceived frippery of spending it on coloured spots as the economy goes down the toilet.

My spot challenge card is stamped with the usual Gagosian efficiency and within minutes of stepping inside the gallery my work in Athens is done. Before embarking on this European tour, I was worried that I would struggle to get my card stamped in each gallery in the time I had available. Would the designated person be available or would they be out for lunch when I raced by? I needn’t have worried. Stepping into a Gagosian gallery abroad is like walking into a foreign embassy. Amid the chaos of cities like Athens and Rome, each Gagosian outpost is a little bubble of efficiency where all the staff are friendly, good-looking (do you have to be under 30 to work here?) and speak perfect English. If Gagosian opened a chain of hotels, I’d stay in them.

And so, with the European leg of my journey over, I head back to the airport and return home to London. I have seen six shows in five cities and I am ready for a break.

Meanwhile, three people have now completed the entire tour. All three are bloggers or journalists: Valentine Uhovski, the Russian-born, New York founder of the website Art Ruby, was the first; Jeff Chu, a journalist for Fast Company magazine was the second; and Tan Wong, a founder of the art blog Arrested Motion, was the third. None revealed how much they had spent on their global tour. Others are close to finishing the challenge.

The Art Newspaper is proceeding at a slow but steady pace and will resume the tour on 2 February with whirlwind trips to Hong Kong and then New York and Los Angeles where, if everything goes according to plan, our challenge will end on 9 February.

The running tally

Easyjet flight, Rome to Athens to London: €124.98 ($162)

Taxi from Athens airport to Gagosian gallery: €35 ($45)

Taxi back to Athens airport: €35 ($45)

Total today: $252

TOTAL SPENT SO FAR: $782.75

Published Tue, 24 Jan 2012 19:06:00 GMT

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26 Jan 12
16:12 CET

SHAUNA ISAAC, SEATTLE

Not a huge fan of Hirst but I do think it's pretty cool that he and Gagosian are setting a challenge for viewers to go all to all the Gagosian galleries to view different spot paintings. What does it say about us as viewers if we're willing to go to all ends of the earth just to catch a glimpse of some spots?

25 Jan 12
15:6 CET

JASMINE MONTGOMERY, LONDON

Well Hirst is an evil genius! Part of me thinks... what rubbish, a bunch of silly spots that look like an Emma Bridgewater mug. The other part of me, to which I listen grudgingly, thinks that he has redefined the experience of viewing art, making the pilgrimage to worship the masterpiece totally relevant to our globalized, interactive, "me" as hero world! After all, in today's world, perhaps the cost of a work of art should be measured in its carbon footprint rather than in dollars.

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Cristina Ruiz

Over the next six weeks, Cristina Ruiz, our editor-at-large, has taken up the challenge to try to visit all 11 Gagosian galleries showing Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Follow her as she blogs about her travels here.