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VIPs, exhibitors and members of the press get the party started at the Raleigh Hotel, which hosted the Art Basel Miami Beach welcome reception last night.

Exactly one year ago, the collector, dealer and sometime columnist Adam Lindemann was roundly criticised for an article he wrote in the New York Observer, in which he announced: “I’m not going to Art Basel Miami Beach this year. I’m through with it. It’s become a bit embarrassing, because why should I be seen rubbing elbows with all those scenesters, people who don’t even pretend they are remotely interested in art?”

In what he now says was a satire (he did indeed come to the fair), Lindemann exhorted those who care about contemporary art to “Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach” to “correct the ills of global art fairdom once and for all, and to send the dealers, the artists and especially the art-fair companies our message of protest”.

In the months since, however, others have started to express doubts about the state of the contemporary art world. Recently, a number of art-world figures have broken ranks, claiming that the high prices being spent on art invite trophy-hunters and oligarch investors, not serious appreciation.

Although there have always been complaints about the pernicious influence of the market on art, and the ease with which rich patrons sway taste, this was counterbalanced by the critical discourse about the cultural value and meaning of art. Today, the noise around the market has amplified, while independent critical debate is diminishing. “Art and money have slept together since the beginning of time. It’s the same as it ever was, only more so—there are more people with more money, spending more money more publicly,” says the critic Jerry Saltz.

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Charlotte Burns
The Art Newspaper

The rise and rise of the mega-gallery—intent on creating a global brand—has never been more obvious than this week at Art Basel Miami Beach. The fair’s floorplan is something of a blueprint for the increasingly hierarchical market, with the best spots in the convention centre given over to dealers such as Barbara Gladstone (H13), David Zwirner (J19), Gagosian Gallery (J13), Pace (C10) and, at the oceanfront entrance, Hauser & Wirth (K17).

“The market now concentrates on the bigger and the bolder. It isn’t just about multiple cities but also multiple sites in the same cities,” says dealer Thaddaeus Ropac (C11), who this year opened a second, larger, space in Salzburg and is soon to do the same in Paris.

At the extreme end of this increasingly competitive environment is the Gagosian Gallery, due to open its 11th space in its eighth city (Hong Kong) early next year. The gallery’s rapid expansion seems to play to today’s cash-rich but time-poor collectors. (Gagosian is rumoured to have sold seven works within the opening hour of the fair on Wednesday.) Other galleries have to play the same game—assuming they can afford to—or are forced to rethink their business models.

So how did art galleries become such big business? For those who believe that art belongs in the luxury goods market, the shift towards big-brand commercialism has been inevitable for some time. Look at the events around South Beach this week: LVMH, Fendi, Absolut and Cartier are all firms who know how to generate success from global marketing. This trend suits buying habits in some of the newer geographic pockets of wealth, many of which are temples to international brands.

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Melanie Gerlis
The Art Newspaper

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When the seventh annual Art Basel Miami Beach opens Thursday, AXA Art Insurance Corp. will host tours, dinners and a $25,000 artist award with the upbeat theme “The Thrill of Collecting” — in the same week U.S. officials announced that the country entered a recession last December.

While the world’s flashiest art fair tries to put on a brave face, the grim financial picture worldwide has cast a pall over the festivities and sales prospects. The fair’s main sponsor, Swiss bank UBS AG, has recorded about $50 billion in writedowns and losses.

“The world is a truly frightening place,” said Howard Rachofsky, a retired hedge-fund manager and Dallas-based art collector. “There’s collective anxiety, and except for those who are truly obsessed, the idea of going on an art-shopping trip doesn’t appeal.”

Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the event is the largest annual U.S. contemporary-art fair, with 250 exhibitors from 33 countries showcasing more than 2,000 artists. Booth rental and other expenses can push the cost of exhibiting above $100,000. Smaller fairs surround the main event.

Miami Basel follows a dicey season. Weak sales rattled contemporary-art exhibitors in October at London’s Frieze Art Fair. At November’s New York art auctions, prices plunged as much as 50 percent. Visiting dealers are counting on die-hards like Rachofsky to keep the contemporary-art market moving.

Quiet Chelsea

“Chelsea is really quiet,” said New York dealer Andrea Meislin, who is exhibiting at the smaller Art Miami fair. Manhattan’s Chelsea district is the U.S. mecca for contemporary art. Dealer James Fuentes, who is also based in New York and has a stand at the younger New Art Dealers Alliance fair, said: “Overnight in September we lost half the clients we regularly talk to.”

It’s unclear whether Miami will be an improvement. Unlike previous years, hotel rooms are still available in the wealthy South Beach district.

At the same time, veteran collectors say a weak economy has benefits. “We did a lot of quality buying in the early 1990s,” said Miami luxury car dealer Norman Braman, who heads the fair’s host committee. The early 1990s included the U.S. recession of 1990-91.

“For people who have money — and a lot of people still have money — this is a great time to buy art,” said fair co- director Marc Spiegler, with less competition, less waiting for hot artists to be available. “For a lot of people, the frenzied market was a little off-putting.”

Moderate Prices

“We’re bringing more moderately priced things,” said San Francisco gallerist Gretchen Berggruen, who will present works by Kiki Smith, Martin Puryear and David Bates, with prices ranging from $2,500 to $750,000. “We’ve priced things to be attractive, and in some cases, they are less than they would have been last year.”

Recession or not, there are plenty of parties and corporate sponsorships, as well as the 18 satellite fairs across Miami. HSBC Private Bank is among sponsors of the Design Miami/Basel, and BlackRock Inc. is sponsoring the less edgy Art Miami Fair.

Dinners and boozy soirees are planned by yacht broker Edmiston & Co., the ritzy Caribbean vacation spot Dellis Cay, and Cartier. Unlikely product placements include a beachside breakfast for Moncler SpA parkas and the screening of a Che Guevara biopic.

‘Make or Break’

For dealers at the satellite fairs, who are younger and less capitalized than those at the main event, stakes are high.

“It’s make or break time for a lot of people,” said Fuentes. “A poor performance in Miami could put many galleries out of business.” Fuentes’s NADA offerings start around $500 for Alejandro Cardenas’s delicate drawings.

Fuentes negotiated discounts with art shippers and installers and had frank discussions with his artists. “We have to be open and flexible,” he said. “It’s just a matter of rolling with the punches and trying to figure out solutions. I’m just crossing my fingers. I hope it’s going to be OK.”

Last year, fair organizers reported 43,000 visitors. There are no estimates yet for attendance this year.

Lindsay Pollock
Bloomberg.com

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