Rich People: Still Buying Art!

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Photo: Getty Images

About one-fifth of Bernie's Madoff’s client list has Palm Beach zip codes, but business is still pretty good at the town's big annual antiques fête, the Palm Beach International. Distressed-assets king Wilbur Ross, fashion doyenne Iris Apfel, and theater mogul Robert Nederlander are here shopping, and last night's party for dealers and collectors was at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago, where the crowd ate beef Wellington and danced to Carlyle Hotel headliner Hilary Kole. Said Ross, scanning a roomful of diamond-clad women in sequins, "This doesn't look like a depression."

Right off the bat, New York dealers at the fair sold an Andrew Wyeth (Adelson Galleries, "in excess of $5 million"), a Tiffany chandelier (Macklowe Gallery), and a small pile of diamonds and emeralds (Graff). Business is "better than I thought it would be," said fair owner David Lester. "People are scared to put money in real estate and the market — and the dealers were giving big discounts."

But don't mention the big "M." When decorator Mario Buatta asked one woman if she'd been burned in the Ponzi scheme, a handful of people surrounding him actually hissed.

Of course, the sales pitches reflect the new economy. Madison Avenue's Carlton Hobbs Gallery is trying to sell a $1.7 million pair of Chinese painted cabinets with the sunny observation that they were once owned by a Belgian Prince who “got into some financial trouble — but he recovered.”

And, for at least some of the super-wealthy, times are tougher. Shortly after the antiques fair (it goes through Sunday) opened, an announcer came over the loudspeaker: "The owner of the gold Rolls-Royce in self-parking, you left your lights on." Said Lester, "What's a gold Rolls doing in self-parking?"