Miami heats up art mart

Two hundred galleries set up shop at event

MIAMI — Some may compare Art Basel — the 5-year-old Miami Beach art fair — to Mardi Gras. Or a “Supermarket Sweep” for the art world.

But a more accurate template may be film fests and markets in Cannes, Berlin or Sundance.

Two hundred galleries from around the world set up shop at the Miami Beach Convention Center to show work from 1,500 artists. As with the movie financing game, the hedge funders have money to burn — with art and commerce pitted in a tug-of-war for attention.

And, like any agent who unloads a director’s latest pic for $10 million in an all-night bidding war, a cadre of dealers are clucking about booming sales.

“Seedy and greedy” was how one collector described this year’s edition of Art Basel, owned by marketing unit MCH Swiss Exhibition.

Although the fair is still home to legit dealers, curators and collectors, it also has become a destination for scenesters, socialites and schnorrers.

Weekend event saw journos trolling for daily news of bank-breaking acquisitions; overcrowded, over-branded parties; and, of course, star sightings (Sofia Coppola, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Steve Martin and Dennis Hopper were in town).

Ground zero was poolside at the Raleigh Hotel, where attendees buzzed about Keanu Reeves’ whereabouts with the same enthusiasm with which they discussed up-and-coming artists.

Collins Avenue, meanwhile, is the Art Basel Croisette. Here, hotels from the Raleigh to the Delano double for the Carlton or Majestic, complete with shmoozing at the pool and lobby reconnaissance.

As with Sundance, the social scene draws a cross-section from the worlds of art, fashion, design, media, business and entertainment. While indie rockers Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah plugged in for a soundcheck at a party promoting an Andy Warhol docu, a poolside agent talked about a studio deal developing back in Hollywood.

And, as in Cannes, the hotels’ garish sponsored blowouts are marked by queues, wristbands and frustrated, clipboard-carrying publicists. However, the hotter tickets tend to be dinners in manses outside town.

And, just as Sundance spurred snubbed directors to create their own fests, alternative fairs such as Scope and Pulse have gained some heady buzz of their own.

At Art Basel, established collectors do most of their wheeling and dealing before the show opens. At major film fests, lineups are front-loaded so that the real movers and shakers can make headlines and get out of town before amateur hour begins.

Reflecting Art Basel’s schizophrenic nature, one exclusive party featured a pool stocked with frolicking eye-candy male models while some of the top names in the fashion and art worlds pretended to be engaged in more serious matters.

A studio exec might’ve pitched the scene as David Hockney meets the Playboy Mansion.