MIAMI BEACH, Dec. 2 – It’s been a busy few days for NetJets, the private aviation company: 160 of its luxury planes were to land at Miami International Airport by week’s end, more than 10 times the usual number for this time of year.
They are ferrying the rich to Art Basel Miami Beach, the contemporary-art fair that has become a fixture on the cultural world’s travel schedule in just three years. NetJets is a sponsor. So is the Swiss banking company UBS, which is offering its high-net-worth clients, primarily $10 million and up – perks like tours of private art collections, free admission to local museums, V.I.P. lounges, and endless parties. BMW, another sponsor, has donated a fleet of cars to shuttle collectors around the Miami Beach area. The jeweler Bulgari, also a sponsor, is advertising in the special daily editions that The Art Newspaper, a monthly, is publishing for the week.
If spending millions of dollars on art was something done in private a few years ago, conspicuous consumption is back. At this spinoff of the highly successful 35-year-old fair in Basel, Switzerland, young, hip hedge-fund managers, Fortune 500 executives, and A-list actors are shopping side by side in a spree fueled by new wealth, a hot art market and the headlong pursuit of membership in a glamorous, elite club.
“It’s not just about buying art; it’s about buying a lifestyle,” said Sandy Heller, a Manhattan art adviser who arrived here on Tuesday night and expected to have shepherded six clients to all the art-buying spots around town by the fair’s end on Sunday.
Nancy Whyte, a private art dealer in Manhattan, agreed. “It’s one-stop shopping,” she said. “It’s the mall experience. It’s fashion, it’s parties, it’s fun all wrapped up in one.”
Over the five-day event, more than 33,000 people are expected to descend on Miami Beach to see and, as important, to be seen.
On hand already have been museum directors like Sir Nicholas Serota, head of the Tate in London, and Adam Weinberg, of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; in all, the fair’s organizers said, groups of trustees and collectors from about 80 American museums were expected. Among the collectors here already were Donna Karan, the fashion designer; Eli Broad, the financier; Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble; the television and theater producer Douglas S. Cramer; the real estate developer Jerry I. Speyer; hedge fund managers like Steven Cohen and Daniel Loeb; and the newsprint magnate Peter Brant. Actors on hand included Tobey McGuire, Michael York, and Leonard Nimoy.
Artists came, too. Generally, they flee events as commercial as art fairs, but even Robert Rauschenberg, 79, arrived in his wheelchair. “I don’t get out as much these days,” he said. “So this is a good place to see friends and to see art.” An hour before the doors opened on Wednesday, collectors began lining up to be the first into the sterile Miami Beach Convention Center. Talk centered around Henry R. Kravis, the financier, who with his wife, Marie-Jos’e, managed to get in before everyone else. The Kravises, along with Larry Gagosian, the Manhattan dealer, had flown in by private plane on Tuesday and had been given a private tour of the fair. So had Donald B. Marron, the chairman of Lightyear Capital. Then they disappeared.
The Kravises and Mr. Marron are exceptions. Most people here come to be a part of the scene – and to part with their millions as conveniently as possible. Prices ranged from a few hundred dollars for the works of emerging artists to $12.5 million for a Picasso.
“This is an event-oriented time,” said Amy Cappellazzo, a co-head of contemporary art for Christie’s worldwide, who was on hand to greet her many clients. “People these days don’t have the time to go to all the Chelsea galleries; they want things edited for them. They want to see art in a marketplace, ask what things cost and share their notes with their friends. They’d prefer to spend $500,000 here or at auction on something they could buy privately for $50,000. These people are traders, and they’re incredibly savvy about markets.”
Before the fair, local collectors opened their homes and collections to the art world. Carlos de la Cruz, chairman of Eagle Brands, the Anheuser Busch distributor for Dade County, and his wife, Rosa, gave a dinner for about 1,000 guests at their house and galleries overlooking Biscayne Bay. On Wednesday morning, Donald Rubell, a gynecologist, and his wife, Mera, a real estate developer, invited the art world to tour their collection, housed in a warehouse that the Drug Enforcement Administration once used as a depot for confiscated goods. “We’re expecting about 15,000 people,” said Dr. Rubell, the brother of Steve Rubell, a co-owner of the nightclub Studio 54 in the 80’s. On view were works by artists including Maurizio Cattelan, Richard Prince, Elizabeth Peyton, and Thomas Struth.
Much as shopping malls offer everything from cafes to movie theaters to keep people shopping, the fair has a spa where the art-weary can disappear for a massage or a manicure, or even a nap.
Samuel Keller, Art Basel Miami Beach’s director, said he chose December for the fair because it’s a dead month. “The auctions are over,” he said, referring to the important fall sales in New York and Europe, “and we didn’t want to compete with the biennials. It’s not competing with the tourists who come in January and February.”
Mr. Keller said 600 galleries had applied for 190 spaces; who got in was decided by an international group of their peers. Dealers from around the world were pricing art mostly in dollars, though a few from Berlin or Paris quoted prices in euros.
Some seasoned fairgoers grumbled at the shortage of top-quality works and the large number of photographs. But such conditions, many said, are a function of the market. “The great things are getting harder to find,” said Alberto Mugrabi, a Manhattan dealer.
Still, the fair hadn’t been open an hour before Matthew Marks, the Chelsea dealer, said he had sold two prints, for $50,000 each, from Jasper Johns’s new “Bushbaby” series. He also sold a drawing from the same series, he said.
Some galleries invited artists to create special works for their booths. At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the Madison Avenue gallery, the installation artist Michael Bevilacqua spent three days creating a site-specific installation that combines Pop colors, decals derived from the pop music and cartoons, and bottles reminiscent of Morandi still lifes. Inside the booth are works ranging from a 1974 Lichtenstein painting priced at $3 million down to drawings by Kojo Griffin, an Atlanta-based artist in his late 20’s, priced at $1,800. “We purposely brought a range of young and established artists because there’s such a wide range of collectors,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a dealer.
That the fair’s photographs – often multiple prints of the same image – are selling like hotcakes doesn’t faze Ms. Mitchell-Innes. “It’s the similarity of images that makes it a plus,” she said. “People want them because their friends do. If it’s unique and there’s only one, it’s less appealing. For new collectors, it’s all about image recognition.”
A few blocks east of the Convention Center, rows of shipping containers along the beach were transformed into mini-galleries to attract younger dealers. While a booth in the main fair cost about $50,000, exhibiting in a container cost only $10,000.
But the containers were only one of several places people could go to see work by emerging artists. In the Ice Palace Film Studios in Miami, a nonprofit collective made up of young art dealers who call themselves the New Art Dealers Alliance put together a separate fair of 60 galleries from all over the world, from Brooklyn to Berlin. Zach Miner, one of the alliance’s founders, said it had 250 applications for 60 spaces. Booths cost $4,000.
“We’re piggy-backing on Art Basel,” Mr. Miner said. “It’s here people come to see the next generation of great art dealers.”
As word of mouth spread, an hour before the alliance formally opened its doors on Thursday, the place was packed. Besides the 30-something crowd trying to discover the next Warhol, seasoned collectors could be seen buying. Brooke Garber Neidich, a Whitney Museum trustee, was there. So was Mr. Speyer, who said he goes to fairs to “discover new artists.”
Among the artists whose works were particularly popular: 32-year-old Kirsten Hassenfeld, whose “Looking Glass” (2004), a whimsical papier-mache mirror decorated with leaves and chains, was on view at Bellweather, a Chelsea gallery; Ivan Navarro, 28, with his neon sculptures; and Kent Henricksen, 30, who has incorporated ghosts and hooded figures in paintings based on the traditional French fabric pattern toile de jouy, at John Connelly Presents, the Chelsea gallery.
Abstract paintings by Tam Van Tran, a 38-year-old artist born in Vietnam and now living in Los Angeles, were in demand at Cohan & Leslie, Chelsea dealers. One of his paintings made with beet juice was snapped up for $18,000.
“People started coming in while I was still unpacking,” said Andrew Leslie, one of the gallery’s owners. “It’s scary. I’ve been around long enough to see this market come and go.”