Money oils the party machinery at Art Basel Miami.
In a penthouse 39 floors above Miami Beach last night, 27-year-old Harvard Business School student Maria Baibakova greeted guests next to a huge canvas showing four beefy men in superhero costumes.
Less than 24 hours earlier the painting, “Intermission (Halloween Afghanistan IV),” a 10-by-14-foot work by Allora & Calzadilla, was hanging in the Gladstone gallery’s booth at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Baibakova’s father, real estate and commodities entrepreneur Oleg Baybakov, snapped it up at the VIP opening and was determined to get it to the apartment pronto. Maria helped negotiate the deal from a Harvard library, where she was writing a paper on contemporary art.
“It was a huge challenge to bring it in,” she said after flying down to Florida for a 25-hour stay. “We had to break down the canvas and then re-stretch it upstairs, but we got it done.”
The 200 guests included Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts President Reynold Levy, billionaire Len Blavatnik, hedge fund manager Adam Sender and Los Angeles museum director Jeffrey Deitch.
There were also representatives of Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, as well as top galleries Gagosian, David Zwirner and Gladstone, among others.
“Everyone who was there are my personal friends,” said Baibakova, who wore a black Stella McCartney dress with an exposed shoulder and low-cut back. “Miami Basel is an opportunity to catch up with them.”
The soiree was one of the more exclusive invites during the annual party madness at the largest contemporary art fair in the U.S. As its status and attendance grew (50,000 people attended last year), banks and luxury brands saw a networking opportunity and joined the fray, sponsoring parties, openings, book signings and dinners.
“It gets bigger every year,” Miami-based art collector Carl Schwartz said on December 4 in the packed lobby of Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art. “You can drink and eat yourself into oblivion.”
Some 4,000 people elbowed their way into the opening of video art pioneer Bill Viola’s exhibition “Liber Insularum.” Among them: Christian Slater, fashion photographer Bruce Weber and British artist Tracey Emin.
Most of them hung out in a spacious courtyard illuminated by Jack Pierson’s light sculpture spelling “PARADISE,” eating ham-and-cheese sandwiches and meatballs in tomato sauce.
Not far away, U.S. Trust sponsored a reception at the Rubell Family Collection, founded in 1964 by collectors Mera and Don Rubell. Guests mingled al fresco around a black Bugatti painted in orange with mathematical formulas by French artist Bernar Venet. Inside, oversize canvases by Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi and Colombian artist Oscar Murillo dwarfed the visitors.
Absolut Vodka, back in the art sponsorship business that began with Andy Warhol in 1985, commissioned art collective Los Carpinteros to erect a beach bar by the ocean and then hosted concerts and parties fueled by the company’s beverages.
The Royal Bank of Canada had a fleet of white Rolls Royces ferrying guests to dinners at the Versace mansion and Jean Georges at St. Regis, a panel on art lending over brunch at Setai and a personal tour of her collection by Rosa de la Cruz.
The events drew chief executives of Rolls Royce, Tanger Outlets and ARGO Group Ltd. along with Democratic party fundraiser Patricia Duff, collector Billie Weisman and art historian Sydney Picasso.
“A lot of our clients are big collectors and it’s our way to entertain them,” said Richard Fitzburgh, the RBC senior vice president of wealth management, who organized the program. “We also meet new clients this way. People who come to Art Basel in Miami are the wealthiest people in the world.”
At the home of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, a batting cage and installations by Andrea Bowers competed for attention with Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe paintings and an enviable view of Biscayne Bay. A-Rod, in a white shirt and blazer, chatted with Damien Hirst.
Owen Wilson showed up with publisher Peter Brant, Demi Moore made the rounds and Whitney Museum of Art chief curator Donna De Salvo looked a little lost among a bevy of models in improbably short skirts and dangerously high heels.
Despite the glam-party lure, some visitors kept their exposure to a minimum.
“It’s a pleasure to be selective,” said RoseLee Goldberg, founder of the Performa biennial in New York. “I only go to two events a night.”