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ART BASEL, MIAMI 2009
"EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE, REALLY EVERYTHING"
by Anne Philippi
Published On: Sunday, 06, December 2009
MIAMI, FL- "Miami is out," warned a gallerist from Berlin on the phone. Nobody goes there, especially not art buying movie stars or rock stars or even TV-stars. And he's right. At around 11 am during the VIP collectors' walk-through there is hardly a celeb to be found. Conspicuously absent are also the rich girls with Bergdorf blonde hair and Balmain dresses, the tough guys who haggle in Russian, the bankers, and the Fifth Avenue ladies. All stayed home for the week, it seems.

Art Basel in Switzerland last June, however, was a different story. During that event the artwork had to compete with Brad Pitt as he strolled around shopping for Neo Rauch and Bruce Nauman, introducing himself to gallerinas with "Hi, I'm Brad Pitt." (Really?) Or Naomi Campbell's entourage of gas tycoons from Russia all dressed in leather jackets eating sausages by the hundreds and drinking beer like Evian. Or Roman Abramovich and his then pregnant art collector girl friend Dasha Zhukova in a stunning and expensive hippie dress, who bought a Warhol painting with a huge pistol on it. Nothing Freudian about that.

This morning, at the Convention Center on South Beach, folks are not so chic. Guys in shorts, sneakers and baseball caps, women in flip-flops and flats. The chances of landing at the beach or a poolside party during the day are as high as landing at Art Basel. The Miami Art Fair "look" is very low profile at best, a reflection perhaps of the patron collectors of Miami, Don and Mera Rubell. They love black sneakers and simple black outfits. (Memories of Yamamoto stuff.) Only that Madame Rubell is wearing a wig with black spiky hair a la Andy Warhol. "Without Andy" Rubell quips, "there would be no contemporary art."

The Rubells started their collection in the late 70s from a small apartment in New York. Don's brother, Steve Rubell, ran the Uber-Disco, Studio 54 at that time. Don recalls, "When he (Steve) went to bed, I got up." "But that era really inspired us," says Mera, who bought a Cindy Sherman photograph for 25 USD in those days. "And I developed a perfect way to collect: save 10% of your income every month and start buying art with it. That will always work no matter what economic crisis is happening."

This year, however, the big luxury brands seem to be doing better than the fairs, no real signs of cutting back. And it makes perfect sense to show off some luxe in Miami. The hotels are packed with wealthy guys while the hotel bars are overflowing with woman on the prowl. Miami during Art Week is a perfect place to catch a billionaire, or a minor millionaire. And Hotels are definitely hip to this trade. They treat it like an ancillary event to Art Basel, a performance art of sorts. The "W" wants to see your room keys after midnight. If you don't have one, you better sneak out.

There are so many parties done by so many hip fashion magazines on rooftops or X-Large pools, shop openings, and exclusive dinners that seem to multiply as the week goes on. "Netjets" owner Warren Buffet hosts a party together with Vanity Fair and Cartier, just a little thing for the everyday private jet user. At the recently opened "Mr. Chow" in South Beach, Warren's guests could go over their art shopping list in advance before any other collectors have access to the fair.

Audi presented their new A8 in a 3-day bash at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Lucy Liu hosted a panel with designer Tom Dixon and the CEO of car manufacturer. And Maybach cars drove stars trough the city while journalists tried to get interviews. From the looks of things, luxury brands are back to normal.

While the art world still has a ways to go, Marty Margulies, one of Miami's top collectors says it's still the perfect investment, "If you know what you are doing." But galerists have to consider new strategies, one of which is be stubborn or pig-headed. Laughing out loud, "Everything, really everything is negotiable," says one gallery owner to a young couple from NYC who just decided to buy a painting for $150,000.

Then again, there's the other strategy to survive: keep your pokerface and don't really talk about money. Shaun Regen, owner of Regen Projects has mastered this technique. She is the queen of the new cool, walking around in sunglasses with her aura of a Hollywood agent, not too approachable, keeping collectors at a distance.

Her colleague Jay Joplin, the famous gallery owner from London sporting black Clark Kent glasses, is the man who made Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin mega-stars. He also won't comment on dollar amounts. "I won't tell you anything about these things" says Joplin in the most extraordinary and über polite way that one can imagine. But Joplin wants to sell, for sure. He thought carefully about curating his booth for American audiences with new portraits of Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron by Richard Phillips. And it works. A few girls in new Balmain dresses look at them and giggle, which could mean they'll buy it...later. Or on the phone.

King of players, however, it doesn't really matter at which art fair, is still Larry Gagosian. Larry or "LG," as his staff refers to him, is like the German banker Josef Ackermann from the Deutsche Bank. He is tough, shines like an expensive gem and is totally inaccessible. LG does not talk to journalists. Instead, he sells. "I can ask LG for a statement, but you know…" explains the assistant. LG will never get backto me.

The Gagosian style wouldn't work for "Contemporary Fine Arts" from Berlin. Owner Bruno Brunett charms you and wants to party all the time like Eddie Murphy. That's why everybody loves him. Also, Bruno could be a character straight out of the movie "Cabaret" by Bob Fosse. He is wearing pink, metallic slippers, a suit, and has a voice you have to listen to. And, of course, he brought some "Schulli beer (Schultheiss beer) fresh from Berlin," he says. What does that mean? "We are liquid again!" toasts Bruno. I ask "Anything good about the crisis last year?" "Sure," Says Bruno's wife and gallery co-owner Nicole Hackert. "The art world is once again a good place for freaks. It's not just for the jetsetters. And I really like that."

In the afternoon Gallery Gmurzynska presents the perfect Hollywood mixture, Jetset and hipter with just a tiny hint of freak. Silvester "Sly" Stallone is showing off his new paintings. Sly looks good. He has done something to his lips. His suit is immaculate and the dark glasses work perfectly. He explains his painting and the philosophy behind them, "Toxic superman," he says.

"In this painting it's all about truth. It is against the phoniness." And if Sly says the word "truth" his lips move beautifully. Everybody applauds. The lady from the TV station is happy. She says, "Sly, I am glad you are here."

In late afternoon, the attention shifts from expensive and spectacular art to the wildest party of the coming evening. You could think so if you spot art collector Calvin Klein. "Cal, you have to see this" says his art consultant and moves Cal gently into the booth of Deitch projects. Mr. Klein looks at the Kehinde Wileys "Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II," it shows Michael Jackson as a king on a horse and Jackson ordered the piece shortly before he died. Cal likes it, somehow, but asks randomly when the party at the "W" starts.

That night Cal sits comfortably next to members of the American art jet set. Collector and Ex-Husband of Stephanie Seymour, Peter Brant has invited "tout Miami" for dinner and the wildest party down at the hotel disco.

The Jetset-Kids Alexander Dellal, Stavros Niarchos und Vito Schnabel, son of Julian, ordered Michael Jackson and Rolling Stones from the DJ and right now even the poker faces freak out and party. In their own way. Jay Joplin is moving his gentlemen foot, just a little, Larry Gagosian (with security guard) is throwing his suit legs in the air, just a little, and yes, he dances.

This is the moment when Miami beats Basel. The night. Air that never cools down. The strange drinks. The wild sky that makes people do the most incredible things. Even Madonna could not control it and bought the Delano hotel at one point, where you can still spot Dennis Rodman look-a-likes.

That Miami air, full of greed and sex, you cant breath that same air in Basel. Miami might be out. But, whatever!

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Anne Philippi is a former correspondent for German VANITY FAIR in Berlin. She now lives and works in Los Angeles as the as the West Coast editor for German ROLLING STONE.