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“Art frazzle. Rat basel.” Typical reactions when friends hear I’m Miami-bound. I am a naif, a virgin; they’re sophisticated collectors and fair veterans, jaded johns and art tarts who mock the whole experience. But guess what? They’re all going, too.
Must shop for the trip. While browsing at Bergdorf’s, my Miami suspicions grow. In the third-floor dressing room, a New Yawk voice booms from one cubicle, “This look is hot! Yeah baby, I’m going to BASIL!” (pronounced here just like the herb).
In line for takeoff at Teterboro. Word is, NetJets sends more planes to Basel than to the Super Bowl. My host engages us in a debate: whether to upgrade his aircraft with a certain satellite that allows passengers to browse the Internet and use BlackBerrys freely in-flight. Hmmm. I say buy a Koons instead.
My girlfriends insist what you wear to the fair is all-important. Is this how dealers check you out? Assess potential clients with a sartorial once-over? “A Marni sundress and matching sandals,” one friend advises. So I’m in white Prada cotton and lugging my white shoulder Birkin. But once inside the convention center, I see anything goes. Lime green polyester, bulging fanny packs, Tevas, just like Disney World.
This fair is hard work. Even the VIP Collectors Lounge is full of the dazed and confused. I buy a huge Shirana Shahbazi color C-print on aluminum from Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s Salon 94, “Still Life with Skull.” I go to the Gagosian booth to meet with Valentina and zero in on a Ruscha drawing. Pretty soon the hermetically sealed atmosphere of the center deadens my senses. After a Kafka-esque search for the exits, I dream of the beach and the pool.
Cocktails, dinners and the after parties. The night after the Pucci dinner, the Goldrush party at The Strip Club is crazy raunchy. Andre B, Patrick MC, the Visionaire kids. Naked women grinding. I hear it goes ’til 4:30 a.m.
Night III starts with Larry Gagosian and Lyor Cohen’s dinner. A cool black cave-room with purple lighting. They’re blasting Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” as I enter straight into the hugs of Eva and Michael Chow. We’re drinking rosé Champagne with Sandy Heller, his major client Stevie Cohen, Emmanuel Perrotin and the Taharis when my cell buzzes and it’s Jay McInerney. He drives right over with Steve and Christine Schwartzman in tow. When it’s time to hit the Jimmy Choo dinner, Steve S. calls out, “Let’s go, girls” and Christine, Anne Hearst and I fall into perfect formation behind him and parade out, Charlie’s Angels style.
Editor’s note: New Yorker Helen Lee Schifter is visiting Art Basel Miami Beach for the first time.