Midway through the first day of Art Basel Miami Beach, not much was happening yet, at least when it came to selling big art. Indeed, ennui, we found, seems to be an art form: "Special performance by Terence Koh," read the invitation. At Art Basel Miami, Shamim Momin, Whitney curator and revered party girl, is co-curating a contemporary-art show in a midtown Miami construction site. Koh was the opening-day attraction. (Mysteriously titled "The Station," the site was hard to spot, until you found the "When life gives you lemons, add vodka" neon sign.) But Koh, playing hooky to visit David LaChapelle's opening party, arrived late and mostly chatted with friends.
A flustered Momin said, "Terence's art is about nothing. His performance is that he is not playing music." The artist, grinning in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and plaid hoodie, confirmed this. "This is my performance. This is me, performing." He added, "I am having an amazing time."
The noon opening of Art Basel Miami Beach, the art world's version of the running of the bulls, was a little more sedate this year. About 300 collectors filed in the first minute they could, perhaps half or less of last year's crowd, to be met by a smiling fair director, Marc Spiegler, and a raft of Picassos, Rosenquists, and works by other "classic" artists. First reaction of shoppers was that it's a safe, smart, solid art show, and that may be smart. Collector Larry Warsh, who owns Basquiats, Harings, and a raft of Chinese contemporary art, said he was looking "only for the top, the best this year, and that's only one percent of what's here" in Miami.
It's too early for big sales, but who's here? The air was thick with air-kissing at the Raleigh as Calvin Klein, Vito Schanbel, Tony Shafrazi, and Naomi Campbell bumped into each other at an elevator, not far from Chuck Close and Malcolm McLaren. But, everyone is asking, where are the Russians? Art dealers are hoping billionaires Roman Abramovich, and "the Leonids," co-owners of Phillips de Pury auction house, will hit town and start spending.
Separately, Swiss Bank UBS' publicity representatives called to tell us that, although they are the chief sponsor of Art Basel Miami Beach, the party at which a feather-wearing brunette gyrated on the stage was officially a fair party, NOT a UBS party. We stand corrected, and apologize. We are not sure, however, that assuring people you will not have half-naked dancers at your events is a optimal business move in this economy.
Coming soon: the art, the prices, the blowback.