Art Basel Miami Kicks Off Cautiously, Optimistically

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Do do doo, doo dah do do Photo: Patrick McMullan

Art Basel Miami, contemporary art's annual collectors' carnival, opens today: 800 galleries showing all over the city at dozens of art fairs, large and small, But, so far, let’s call it a soft opening — only the regulars, nothing’s quite up to speed yet, and a chill’s in the air, with temperatures dropping to 48. The circle of empty condos ringing the city looms over the proceedings like a recession-era Stonehenge.

Still, even a subdued start to Art Basel offers sequins and spectacle. Last night, private-plane giant NetJets saluted Alex Katz at the Raleigh with dancers carrying fire batons; Swiss bank UBS offered a gyrating brunette in a feather headdress and G-string at the Delano; Takashi Murakami, in a giant flower-ball costume, was the hit of the Raleigh, though a group of class-conscious fashionistas protested as he and Simon de Pury were led to the front of the long line for the elevator to the penthouse.

But, as the major fair opens today at the Miami Convention Center, no one’s really focused on the parties. Like Black Friday for retailers, Art Basel is where and when many New York art dealers make a big chunk of their annual revenues. And with exhibition costs topping $80,000 at the main fair, including booth rental, shipping, and hotels, there’s a tension. “It’s a tough market,” says John Good, gallery director of Gagosian Gallery, who says he's brought the best Ed Ruscha in the country to the booth, opening at noon today. “We're cautiously optimistic — and optimistically cautious.”

Sam Keller, longtime director of the main fair and now on its board of directors, put an upbeat spin on the art market's recent swoon: "It changed just in time, before art became just investment and entertainment," he said. Of course, he was standing right in front of a half-nude woman in a feather headdress, so maybe not too much has changed.

Next, Terence Koh performance art … or is it? And a report from the fair floor. Who brought what and who is missing?