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One big art party in Miami Beach

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The most sought-after invitation at Art Basel Miami Beach, the four-day annual art fair spinoff from Basel, Switzerland, that began in Miami Beach in 2002 and opens Thursday, has always been the lavish garden party at the Key Biscayne estate of Rosa de la Cruz, the Cuban-born art collector, and her husband, Carlos, chairman of Eagle Brands. Held the Tuesday night before the fair opens, it's where prominent art world figures have sipped Champagne overlooking the ocean and viewed the couple's museum-quality contemporary art collection. But last December, after more then 2,000 people showed up to a dinner for 700 people, a few so unruly that they had to be escorted out by security people, de la Cruz pulled the plug on her celebration.

"Friends said, 'Just make people wear wristbands this time,'" said de la Cruz. "But I would be embarrassed to do that at a private house. I guess the fair has outgrown my home."

Such are the growing pains of what has become the biggest contemporary art fair in the world and increasingly a "must-stop" on international social calendars. Last year more than 35,000 people attended the fair, according to the director of Art Basel Miami Beach, Samuel Keller. This year, thousands more, with their asymmetrical haircuts, platinum cards and/or European accents, are expected to descend on the convention center in Miami Beach where 195 galleries from Sao Paolo to Tel Aviv will be exhibiting. And that doesn't even include the ever-expanding sprawl that has cropped up around the show, with alternative art fairs, rogue openings and parties held in slickly designed hotel lobbies, boozy dive bars and warehouses in emerging arts districts across the bay in greater Miami.

But when too many people arrive at the party, especially when an increasing number have more interest in the open bar than in buying art, is that a good thing? "Its starting to feel like Cannes Film Festival," said Jeffrey Deitch, the New York-based gallery owner whose party, the "it" event for the 10 p.m.-to-2 a.m. time slot on Wednesday night, was scheduled to have the Citizens Band, a loose collective of 26 artists, performing cabaret-style around the oh-so- chic Raleigh Hotel pool. "But I think it's healthy for the art world because it creates a dynamic situation."

If anything, the fair's appeal reflects a general mainstreaming of contemporary art. Art Basel Miami Beach is a trend-spotter's paradise, where the latest ideas in art, fashion and music are on display in one electric setting.

Naturally, the corporate world wants in. Gift bags stuffed with T- shirts, corporate banners and logoed invitations are now staples at the dizzying number of after-parties and receptions as brands including DKNY, Bombay Sapphire and Gucci piggyback on the fair's reputation. And Ferragamo will be host for a luncheon for area socialites on a yacht rented out for the fair by Esquire magazine.

Hotels have been booked up since early October, despite inflated room rates 40 percent above normal prices and four- and five-night minimum stays, according to Nicholas Christopher, president of Turon Travel, the official travel agent for the fair.

And R.S.V.P. lists for hot-ticket events such as Visionaire's "Taste" party for 500 lucky guests at the recently opened Setai Hotel, where rooms start at $900 a night, are full. This may be why many important art collectors and V.I.P.'s jet in on Tuesday before the fair starts for private viewings and dinners and leave town the day the fair opens to the public.

"Obviously we'd prefer attracting big collectors or art students than just a group of people who don't know what to do on the weekends," Keller said. "But we see no reason why one can't party while being very serious about the quality of art."

But the much-hyped socializing, instead of diluting the fair's purpose, may have the side-effect bonus of contributing to the value of the contemporary art market. "Collectors want the scene to be fun and have a good time," Deitch said. "It's part of the reason why there is so much excitement around contemporary art right now. Last year at a party we co-hosted with Taschen for Terry Richardson, Benedikt ended up naked in the pool. The fair shouldn't feel like it's work." Deitch was referring to Benedikt Taschen, the publisher of art books.

Exclusive private dinners at collectors' homes, like the one Craig Robbins is giving for Zaha Hadid, the Pritzker architecture prize winner, are not yet extinct, but are much harder to finagle. Robbins, a real estate developer, is starting a companion design fair at the same time as the art event, called design.05 that will show the work of architects and designers including Hadid, Ron Arad and Mattia Bonetti in galleries throughout the design district.

But this year, in the spirit of art's democratic nature, many events are designed to be more inclusive.

Collectors are now holding morning receptions, a safer way to let the public view their art, as most hard-core revelers will still be sleeping off their hangovers. But it will be worth setting alarms for the debut breakfast of the curated private collection of Ella Fontanals Cisneros, a Venezuelan philanthropist, in a converted boxing gym in downtown Miami.

The Delano Hotel is actually putting away the velvet rope for its Art Bar evening events featuring celebrity hosts including Lauren Hutton and Hadid. "Last year there was some frustration about not getting into parties because of tight guest lists, so we just decided to let everyone in," said Mark Tamis, general manager of the Delano. "It's not like the summer where we need to pick and choose to get the right crowd." Furthermore, the next young art star probably has better and more cutting-edge parties to attend. And the obsession with discovering this new talent has reached a frenzied pitch. At least four alternative fairs will showcase "emerging artists" this year. Scope Miami has 70 exhibitors set up in the guest rooms of the Townhouse hotel; Aqua Art Miami will have 35 at the Aqua Hotel; 60 galleries will try their luck at Pulse in the Wynwood district of Miami; and the New Art Dealers Alliance, a favorite among the hip cognoscenti when it made its debut at the Ice Palace Film Studios in downtown Miami last year, is a cooperative effort involving 83 galleries in 18 countries.

The art fair has kept pace by expanding its emerging artists section, called Art Nova, where 54 booths will sell works that have been made in the last two years. Most of them cost under $5,000.

"The problem is there is not enough young talent to meet the demand," said Dennis Scholl, a Miami-based collector whose recently renovated private collection space, World Class Boxing, will open during the fair with an exhibit by Julie Mehretu, a painter who won a MacArthur "genius award" in September. "But the thing is, you never know at which out-of-the-way exhibit one might turn up," Scholl said.

Which explains why chauffeur-driven BMWs will be prowling around the sun-bleached streets of Wynwood, an industrial area filled with wholesale outlets and factories across the bay from Miami Beach.

Miami's fast-track art scene is now firmly entrenched in Wynwood. Near the already established Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse are several high-profile offerings that will debut during this year's fair. The Paris-based gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin will open his complex, designed by Chad Oppenheim, the minimalist Miami architect, in a converted 1950s Miami Modern concrete building, with a show of emerging artists, and the Museum of Contemporary Art at Goldman Warehouse will unlock its iron gate a few blocks away with a virtual funhouse, called "Cloud City," by the Miami art duo Friends With You. One of Miami's most important dealers of young artists' work, Fredric Snitzer, recently relocated to the neighborhood and will have an opening by the emerging art stars Luis Gispert and Jeffrey Reed. The vacant lot next door is being converted into a drive-in theater with old cars as seating for art videos projected on a concrete wall. Still, the best place to spot new talent will likely be in plain view right on Collins Avenue in South Beach. The French proprietors of Le Baron, the Paris nightclub of the moment, are taking over the divey karaoke bar in basement of the Shelborne hotel for five nights, the perfect place for the art world inhabitants to collide late into the strobe- lighted night.

(C) 2005 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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