A More Cautious Orgy

Photo: AP Photo/J Pay Carter

Art Basel Miami Beach kicks off at the start of December, and everybody who’s getting on those private planes—traffic is steady with last year, says NetJets—has the economy on his mind. There will still be star power: Steven Soderbergh and David Lynch are being saluted. Jeff Koons, Russell Simmons, and Marcel Wanders are throwing parties at the new Mondrian Hotel. A tight ticket is the coming-out party for the new owners of Phillips de Pury—“the Leonids,” Strunin and Friedland—to meet clients and collectors, sponsored by Tsum, the Russian department store they own. “Art Basel is still a marketer’s playground,” says hotelier Andre Balazs, who invited designer Marc Newson to showcase a new watch at the Raleigh. But with auctions and retailing in the doldrums, things won’t be quite so brash. Orders for liquor—Southern Wine & Spirits provides hooch for “official” Art Basel parties and many others—are down at least 20 percent from last year. Many events are doing just Champagne, to cut out the bartenders. The Guggenheim and New Museum are sending trustee and collecting groups, but the Modern isn’t. There’s no decadent Pucci party this year, though Tommy Hilfiger will throw an event. Fendi is coming, but its message is that in times like these, people should “buy less, but buy better,” says scion Silvia Venturini Fendi.

Pre-Fair Auctions
2007:Sotheby’s boasted its then-highest contemporary-art sale total ever, bringing in $315.9 million.
2008: This fall’s Sotheby’s auction made a mere $125 million, with $52.6 million in guarantee-related losses.

Hot Galleries
2007: Maccarone, which sold Paul McCarthy’s chocolate “Santa” with butt plugs; Rivington Arms was the alternative hit.
2008: Maccarone is a no-show. Rivington Arms is scheduled to fold in January.

2007: UBS was already suffering, having reported its first quarterly loss in five years due to subprime losses.
2008: UBS has lost almost $50 billion; its top wealth manager, a Basel regular, was indicted for aiding clients’ tax evasion.

2007: Exhibit A: the Accompanied Literary Society’s Swarovski-studded bash for the limited-edition book The Worth of Art.
2008: “Fifty percent of the events that I know about have been canceled,” ALS head Brooke Geahan says.

Satellite Fairs
2007: There were more than twenty, up from twelve in 2006.
2008: New fairs: Zero. Losses: Two—Flow and the Association of International Photography Art Dealers.

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A More Cautious Orgy