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by Rosetta Stone
Our theme this month, children, is naughty, naughty, naughty. Begin with the current online Artnet Auction, "Femme Fatale," Dec. 3-15, 2009, a collection of provocative prints devoted to the girl who has everything, a lot of it belonging to someone else. From Queen Elizabeth to Elizabeth Taylor and Patty Hearst, for a complete lineup, click here.

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Down in Miami, the 2009 installment of Art Basel Miami Beach had its share of off-color moments. Most shocking was the opening-day move by Asher Edelman, the cut-throat 1980s corporate raider turned art dealer, who had U.S. marshals seize four artworks right off of the booth walls of Galerie Gmurzynska from Switzerland. The dispute was over a $750,000 Robert Ryman painting on metal, reportedly damaged in transit, but Edelman took art worth ten times as much. Barbarous!

In the end, according to Edelman -- placidly manning his own stand over at Art Miami -- Gmurzynska paid him the money he was owed and the artworks were returned to the Swiss gallery and rehung in its booth.

Then there was Christian Haye, the handsome young New York art dealer whose booth was altogether empty, and not because of a conceptual artwork. Besieged by debt (one dealer said he owes as much as $2 million to his star artist, Julie Mehretu), Haye may pull up stakes and move his operation to Berlin. (Later, Haye emailed to say, "I don't owe Julie any money whatsoever. WTF?").

Most outrageous in terms of art was probably Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s new 48-minute video, Los Penetrados, featuring more than 50 naked couples in a room, all doing it "doggy style," man on woman, man on man, white on black, black on white, in  a mechanical orgy of sexual endurance, presented by Galería Helga de Alvear from Madrid. That Helga, what a troublemaker.

Risque, too, was the large double-nude painting by Eric Fischl at the booth of Galerie Jablonka from Cologne. Titled Sisters of Cythera (2009), the two robust femmes -- no doubt rendered from the same model -- certainly look as if they could be kin to Aphrodite, who was said to make that Greek island her home. The price? A healthy $750,000.  

Still drawing crowds was the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in an 11-foot-tall equestrian portrait by Kehinde Wiley based on a Peter Paul Rubens painting in the Prado, on view in the booth of Deitch Projects. The picture sold to a European museum for an impressive price of $175,000 (with discount), insiders say.

Other sales included David Hammons’ huge untitled drawing from 2001, made by bouncing a basketball on paper, which hangs on the wall with a suitcase jammed behind it (darling, it’s called "traveling" when a basketball player moves without bouncing the ball) at Jack Tilton Gallery ($1,000,000), and David Salle’s lovely new ten-foot-wide painting (done in his ‘80s style) titled With All Due Respect Sir, We Need Modesty Blaise (2009) at Mary Boone Gallery ($320,000).

Still other sales included Anselm Reyle’s untitled bright orange biomorphic pedestal sculpture from 2005 at L&M Arts ($350,000), and Sterling Ruby’s looming American Risk (2009), a red-white-and-blue drip sculpture shaped a little bit like a cobra ready to strike, at PaceWildenstein ($200,000). All prices include a notable discount, presumably.

Our friends over at the Art Newspaper reported still more sales, including a Roxy Paine stainless steel tree sculpture to supercollector Eli Broad at James Cohan Gallery for $500,000, and at David Zwirner, both a painting by Neo Rauch for $1,250,000 and a neon installation by Jason Rhoades for $450,000.

With action like this, it’s clear that the spirit at Art Basel Miami Beach was jolly, at least at the high end. The fair was smart to take the entire convention center hall, resulting in wider aisles, larger booths for the galleries and a more pleasant (and less crowded-seeming) experience overall.

Ignore the complaints of fair visitors who got lost. Don’t they know it’s all about the dérive?

"People are taking their time," said Jim Oliver, a director at Boone Gallery, "but they’re still buying." Gone is the frenzy that characterized Art Basel Miami Beach in 2006 and ’07, and also gone is the nervousness about price levels that marked the fair’s 2008 installment. "We’re optimistic," added Oliver, "that the market is back."

ROSETTA STONE is a New York writer.