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Artists often describe art fairs as three-ring circuses and Art Basel/Miami Beach, which ended Sunday, was no exception. There were dancing women and men (and those were the paid ones), bonfires, rock stars, screen sirens, billionaires and, oh, some paintings for sale. And while the frenzied buying had some more sober collectors speculating whether the overblown contemporary art market will deflate, the social bubble showed no signs of bursting. Indeed, this year the whirl was bigger than ever, with 300 private jets (up from last year’s 180) clogging the local runways in what’s become another obligatory stop on the international party circuit.

So while the likes of Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, a major collector of video art, flew in on her private red jet (her favorite color) to host a rooftop dinner last Tuesday night at Miami Art Central, even JetBlue flights were packed to the gills. “You know it’s major when every woman in economy is carrying a Birkin bag,” said literary agent David Kuhn (in town himself to fete artist Jack Pierson for the publication of his book, “Desire/Despair”).

“I love it,” said Becca Cason Thrash, who amused herself at the Ralph Lauren party supporting RxArt Wednesday night while waiting for her husband, John, to arrive so she could hit the fair. “When you go to Basel, Switzerland, it’s like a ghost town. But here there is so much to do.”

Name a brand and it probably jumped on the art bandwagon in Miami: Swarovski, Audemars Piguet, Luminaire, Banana Republic, W Hotels and even NetJets hosted soirees, and a swarm of representatives from Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, Imperia, Pravda and Dolce: 10 Cane rum descended on the town in a competition to host the open bars. Turkish developer Cem Kinay had a dinner for his new property, Dellis Cay, at Casa Tua, joined by investors Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Dennis Hopper, Martha Stewart and Steve Martin popped up all over town, and socialites from both coasts, including Renée Rockefeller, Samantha Boardman Rosen, Sandy Hill, Blaine Trump and Kelly Klein flew in to join their friends — Tamara Mellon at her dinner benefiting the Whitney Contemporaries on Wednesday night and Paul Wilmot at his Miami Shores home for a cozy buffet (complete with swimming male models) on Saturday. Meanwhile, the fair’s unofficial headquarters, The Raleigh Hotel, was over-run every night: Tattooed partygoers at the Devendra Banhart concert (hosted by Deitch Projects) even took a dip in the venerated pool in their underwear.

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Over at the Delano pool, crowds whooped and whistled while a scantily clad Dita Von Teese mounted a giant MAC lipstick that bucked liked a mechanical bull on Thursday night. As Donna Karan ran in to join co-host Narciso Rodriguez, good sports Leonard and Evelyn Lauder tried to fight their way through the mass of PYTs. “How do we get out of here?” joked Leonard Lauder. “Do we have to be airlifted?”

Not surprisingly, art fans like Sofia Coppola, Jay-Z and Keanu Reeves decided to play in a much lower key — Coppola was toasted at an intimate dinner Friday night, while Reeves relaxed on Yvonne Force Villareal‘s art-covered WOW towels at the casual dinner she and Mark Fletcher threw at The Standard hotel, hosted by Claire Darrow.

The exuberant commercialism left some in the industry ambivalent. “I think on the one hand, it can be a good thing. But on the other hand, you want to protect your artists,” said ubergallerist David Zwirner, who hosted one of the week’s most exclusive dinners, along with compatriots Barbara Gladstone and Shaun Caley Regen. Inside the Casa Casuarina, legendary collectors Don Rubell and Michael Hort powwowed at a table. “The art market is as crazy as the prices for women’s clothing,” joked Rubell. “It might not be a better investment, though,” retorted Hort. “You should come see what I have in my warehouse.”

Some art lovers simply stay out of the fray, like hotelier André Balazs. “I don’t buy at fairs,” he proclaimed at Design District developer Craig Robins‘ dinner on the lawn of his Sunset Island home. “They are too commercial. There are boat shows in Miami that are just like this.” Indeed, many dealers admitted artists don’t attend fairs lest it tarnish their creative image. One who did make the trip was conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, who recommended a secret survival trick. “Art Basel is a souk,” he said. “But luckily there is something called Scotch and it works.”

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