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Scenes from Art Basel Miami Beach

December 4, 2009 |  1:19 pm

At Art Basel Miami Beach this week, the mood was low-key, almost solemn, with more than 250 galleries from 33 countries and five continents on hand for the biggest art fair in the country, drawing collectors, dealers, artists and others. Dealers from Los Angeles competed with their counterparts from New York, Berlin, Mexico City, Tokyo, Johannesburg and elsewhere to woo multilingual collectors braving heat, humidity and staggeringly high heels.

Marc Spiegler, event co-director, told the media that "uncertain times demand initiative.” 

Artbasel2 Works by more than 2,000 artists include promising work by newcomers and museum-quality pieces.

Among the memorable works: Colorful mobiles by Venezuelan Elias Crespin; a small exhibit about Duchamp’s second career as a professional chess player, complete with chess sets from Yoko Ono and Man Ray; delicate works on paper by Judy Pfaff; and etchings by Elizabeth Magill. Among the highlights from L.A.-based dealers: Mixografia's John Baldessari's large-scale limited edition prints that graphically illustrate the letters of a computer keyboard, Amanda Ross-Ho’s cut canvas paintings from Cherry and Martin gallery on La Cienega and L.A. artist Tam van Tran at Suzanne Vielmetter’s Culver City gallery.

Though big spenders like Las Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn and Los Angeles’ Eli Broad have been on hand, Vielmetter and others speak of better sales at the low end than the high end. But sales have improved from last year, says Vielmetter, when the economic slump “had people paralyzed by fear.”

Slybasel There seem to be consistently big crowds at the Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska for the five paintings by actor Sylvester Stallone. HRH Princess Michael of Kent, a consultant to the gallery, says two of Stallone’s paintings, priced at $40,000 to $50,000, were already sold to Las Vegas’ Wynn for his Bellagio hotel, although such blue chip art as the $12-million Yves Klein painting, “Ant 125,” still awaited a buyer. 

New to the art fair this year is the “Oceanfront” section near the beach featuring large multicolored sound and light installations designed by L.A.-based artist Pae White. Also competing for attention are perhaps a dozen smaller fairs in various sections of Miami and Miami Beach.

Collectors and others are also flocking to several museum-quality private collections, key to the area’s high art profile.

Among Miami Beach's most rewarding exhibitions, for instance, is a relatively small one put together at the Sagamore Hotel ("the art hotel"), which fills the hotel lobby, guest floors and stairwells. Back in Miami, Debra and Dennis Scholl’s waterside home becomes an annual curated museum, this year hosting 500 invited guests on Thursday.

At the Rubell Family Collection, in a renovated warehouse, Jennifer Rubell's large-scale wall installation features fresh hanging donuts for guests (including this writer) to eat. Also open to the public is the new de la Cruz Collection's Contemporary Art Space, as well as the fine Margulies Collection at the Warehouse which includes sculptures, videos and classic photography.

--Barbara Isenberg

Top photo: French collector Helene Jourdan-Gassin, left, and photographer Mary Russell walk through "The Final Curtain" by John Dogg at the Rubell Family Collection during Art Basel Miami Beach on Thursday.

Bottom photo: Actor and painter Sylvester Stallone, left, and wife Jennifer Flavin talk to members of the media in the Galerie Gmurzynska of Zurich where some of Stallone's work is represented. Credit: Charlotte Southern / Bloomberg

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