Glitz and pieces

Art Basel Miami Beach, which opened to VIP guests in the Florida city this Wednesday, is the last of the major art market events of the autumn, coming after three other fairs and the auction season in New York. Even so, collectors still seemed keen to buy, and the major branded galleries, which often arrive with plenty of pre-sales, declared themselves pleased with initial results, although some other dealers found the going slower.

David Zwirner sold all the works (priced from $60,000 to $150,000) by sculptor Carol Bové, including its booth centrepiece, which went to the Jumex collection in Mexico City. And Cheim & Read quickly had eight reserves on a Ghada Amer as well as many firm sales. “I’d never have expected this in the midst of an economic recession,” said Adam Sheffer of the gallery. Rapper P Diddy bought a Tracey Emin neon for £45,000 at Lehmann Maupin, while Lisson gallery celebrated selling a remarkable 14 works on the opening day alone.

There is a definite Miami flavour to the offerings at the fair, with dealers bringing brightly coloured paintings, glittery works and – a particular favourite in Florida – mirrored and shiny surfaces, such as “MM ... Food” (2011), by Rashid Johnson, which sold for $75,000 (along with four sister works) at Hauser & Wirth. And reflecting these glitzy goodies are the people and the parties – an essential component of the Miami experience. Socialites, curators, art advisers, property moguls, hedge-funders and collectors, major and minor, thronged a mass of parties. They had their pick from dozens, including one thrown to launch a new Ferrari at the Herzog and de Meuron-designed Garage (guests were issued scarlet scarves to ward off the sea breezes in the open space) and White Cube’s epic bash at Soho House, with stone crab, roast boar and lamb, along with tequila cocktails and vats of risotto.

Swatches from the Bloom Collection

The autumn series of sales in Hong Kong showed some slowing of what had been a seemingly unstoppable market. Some sales did well but there was resistance to contemporary Chinese and international Western art. Two collections produced “golden gavel” results (when all the lots in a sale find buyers). Bonhams dispersed the fourth part of the Block collection of snuff bottles and achieved a 100 per cent sell-through rate. The icing on the cake was the new world record for a snuff from the Imperial Qianlong palace and highly decorative, in famille rose enamelling on glass. It made a huge HK$25.3m ($3.3m), going to an Asian collector on the telephone. Phillips de Pury also went “golden” with the Blum collection of Swatches, a 4,370-strong assemblage that included prototypes and never-commercialised examples. Sold as a single group, it made HK$51.7m ($6.6m), going to a buyer in mainland China.

However, Christie’s autumn series of sales, from traditional ceramics to contemporary Chinese art, saw some nose-dives. Only 57 per cent of its Works of Art sale on November 30 found buyers, with one of its star items – a Ming blue-and-white moonflask – left on the block. The firm’s Asian 20th-century and contemporary art sales were topped by a Zao Wou-Ki (which made an overestimate $1.7m) but works by Zeng Fangzhi and Zhang Xiaogang were unsold. The sale raised $39.4m – hardly peanuts, but the 24 per cent buy-in rate was disappointing. And works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons were bought in at a Seoul auction house sale in Hong Kong that raised just $8.6m, well under pre-sale expectations.

British TV presenter Anthony McPartlin – aka Ant of the cheeky chappie prime-time duo Ant and Dec – turns out to be the buyer of the Nat Tate painting at Sotheby’s two weeks ago. The £7,250 work is by a fictitious artist created by author William Boyd, who is apparently Ant’s favourite author. He bagged the work over the telephone from Australia.

The magic of a Hollywood legend, massive diamonds and glittering jewels, is being played out at Christie’s New York from Saturday for 10 days. The star is, of course, Elizabeth Taylor and the occasion is the $50m auction of her 2,000-strong collection of haute couture, handbags, accessories and film memorabilia – plus, of course, 80 lots of jewels in an evening sale that includes a whopping 33-carat sparkler.

Christie’s has cleared all its Rockefeller Centre space for the display, which will be followed on December 13 by four days of sales. But don’t just roll up – visitors need a timed ticket, available only online ( that costs $30 a pop. This is the first time the auction house has charged entry for a preview but, says a spokesperson, “In the event there are profits ... these will go to the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation.”

There is a back story to this: according to the New York Observer, five years ago Taylor cut a deal with Christie’s, pledging to give it her property for sale after her death, in exchange for a “private multimillion-dollar line of credit”. At the time she may have needed the money: her jewellery company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008.

Next week’s auction is likely to soar, as always when buyers are presented with a last-chance opportunity to grab a moment in cinema history. And unlike the Yves St Laurent sale, which had hardly any cheap lots, there is much for the slimmer purse. While the 33-carat diamond is estimated at $2.5m-$3.5m, there are cheaper trinkets starting at just $300 (for an art nouveau copper casket) and plenty more lots of minor jewellery, as well as costume and objects around $1,000.

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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