Like a casino, void of natural light and any sense of time and with about the same odds of beating the house, so goes another iteration of Art Basel Miami Beach. Fittingly, gaming impresario Steve Wynn made the rounds towed by a towering blonde, presumably due as much to his eyesight issues as anything else.
But perhaps a better analogy would be a high-end trading floor, peopled by Prada-clad climbers rather than stock-exchange jobbers in their lab coats. Unlike the Swiss version of the fair, Miami is as much (if not more) about the plethora of parties as high-end art transactions. There was John McEnroe dropping big dollars on artworks; Val Kilmer, as noted for his weight as his pink cowboy hat; Naomi; and the usual gaggles of Steve Cohen hedge-fund cronies.
With more art coursing through the system than ever before, even at recession-diminished volumes, itís a wonder so much content can be absorbed at all. But compared to 2008, Miami 09 was a rousing success. Even Sylvester Stallone, whose mature works were displayed at the Galerie Gmurzynska booth, found buyers for his expressionistic abortions (for $50,000 and up), as he triumphantly made his way around the fair in oversized black sunglasses, all the better to appreciate the works of his peers.
As Stalloneís apotheosis might suggest, art collecting is a macho sport. Inevitably, reference is made to the male organ, both in the artworks and the small talk, as it was this week with gossip about the exploits of Tiger circulating madly. When I thought I recognized someone in the bathroom who was engaged with both hands on two phones, I realized I didnít know him but couldnít help noticing he was packing something that might have been his own personal cell phone tower dangling down below. And it dawned on me that much of the swagger of the mostly male horde of collectors is akin to feral animals swinging their assets around in an effort to prove who has the largest, most important. . . collection. It's still the family jewels that count.
I found myself engaged in a shootout when I attempted to buy a painting on behalf of a client. As I negotiated via text message with the proprietor of the gallery to settle on a satisfactory purchase price, a friend informed me that someone was in the booth simultaneously trying to wrestle the work away from me. Normally when a dealer claims further interest from elsewhere in the very work you are after, it gives rise to nothing more than disbelief, but in this case it was perfectly so.
Off I scurried to the scene, which with 260 galleries unsystematically installed throughout a massive convention center, was no easy feat. An acquaintance sat in one corner of the both, his back turned to me, unaware that he was engaged in battle with an unknown-known opponent. Though my bid was more than 10 percent less than the collector was offering, he wanted a 24-hour holding period to make a determination; I was willing to pull the trigger then and there.
Notes were exchanged out of the sightline of the seated client, illustrating auction history, a must with secondary market goods. Based on my relationship with the dealer and my willingness to commit, I ended up with the work. Welcome to the land of anything goes.
KENNY SCHACHTER is an art dealer and director of Rove London.