Chelsea Handler, Will Ferrell Join Miami Basel VIPs

"Buster Keaton" (1988), a Jeff Koons sculpture, sold to Los Angeles billionaire collector Eli Broad at Art Basel Miami Beach. Broad also bought the Ed Ruscha "Honk" painting on the left from Gagosian. Photographer: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Steve Wynn bought a Roy Lichtenstein and Eli Broad picked up a Jeff Koons sculpture on the opening day of Art Basel Miami Beach.

“We are drawn to this place like moths,” said Wynn, the billionaire casino executive, as he left the Gagosian booth where the 1980s Lichtenstein painting he acquired had an asking price of $900,000. “I’ve bumped into everyone here: Wilbur Ross, Tommy Lee, Diane von Furstenberg.”

The largest contemporary-art fair in the U.S., which runs through Dec. 9, opened yesterday to invited VIPs and offered works assigned a total value of as much as $2.5 billion by AXA Art insurance company.

The fair’s 11th edition includes more than 260 galleries featuring about 2,000 artists and pieces as costly as a $30 million Mark Rothko at the Helly Nahmad booth.

“There are directors of museums here from all over the world, there are collectors from all over the world,” said billionaire Miami auto dealer Norman Braman, chairman of the festival’s host committee. “The young collectors who want to buy works for $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 are here -- the young artists who have come here to work in this community as well.”

Soon after the doors opened at 11 a.m., newsprint mogul Peter Brant gave a tour to Owen Wilson, talk-show host Chelsea Handler showed up with hotelier Andre Balazs, and actress Marcia Cross talked with art consultant Barbara Guggenheim.

Actor Will Ferrell accompanied his wife, Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, a board member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“I am just a trophy husband,” said Ferrell, sporting aviator shades and a baseball hat. “I love art and it’s a fun thing to come to.”

Steady Stream

Galleries reported a steady stream of sales throughout the day. Early on, Broad bought a 1988 Koons sculpture of an almost-life-size Buster Keaton. The asking price was between $5 million and $5.5 million.

Barbara Gladstone sold pieces by Rosemarie Trockel, Anish Kapoor and Mike Kelley ranging from $125,000 to $1 million for Kapoor.

Pace gallery quickly sold out the entire edition of a 2012 Michal Rovner video titled “Crossing,” with each of three units priced at $150,000. Nearby, Paul Kasmin sold all but two of its 15 Ivan Navarro light sculptures at $65,000 each.

Sean John Combs and his entourage stopped at the Fredric Snitzer booth to admire sculptures of cigarette butts by Jon Pylypchuk, inspired by the artist’s attempt to quit smoking.

“He hasn’t been successful,” said gallery co-director Richard Arregui. “But the works have been loved by the public.”

Each cigarette was priced at $5,000 and about 20 percent sold, with Combs putting one on reserve, Arregui said.

Sewing Mom

Emerging art galleries were doing well too. At the booth of Dublin’s Mother’s Tankstation gallery, fans of 34-year-old Japanese artist Atsushi Kaga snapped up about 20 drawings of naughty bunnies and bears, with prices starting at $1,500.

The artist’s mother, Kazuko Kaga, was also there, working away on a sewing machine as she stitched together bags featuring an image made by the artist and priced at $50.

“When I was a child, my mother made bags for me to take lunch to school,” said Kaga. “Now we collaborate and I can bring this childhood memory into my practice.”

The worries about the fiscal cliff and changes in the U.S. tax policy didn’t seem to weigh on fair goers.

“I don’t see the fiscal cliff having anything to do with the art world,” said Broad.

Love Art

“Anyone who collects art for an investment is crazy,” Braman said. “You buy art, you collect art because you love art. That’s the way my wife and I look at it.”

“The fiscal cliff hasn’t affected the stock market,” said James Chanos, founder and president of Kynikos Associates Ltd., as he gestured to the busy booths around him, “and it doesn’t look like it’s affecting the contemporary art market.”

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