Addicted to art: The A-listers who can't stop splashing cash on canvas

Story highlights

  • Celebrities have become major art collectors
  • Kanye West and Eva Longoria attended parties at Art Basel Miami Beach
  • Art advisers can negotiate deals on behalf of their celebrity clients

When you mix the neon-lit, art-deco splendor of Miami beach with one of the world's most bankable art fairs, throw in a horde of fashion designers and a seemingly unending list of parties, you'd be hard-pressed to stop the celebrities from showing up.

Still, this year's Art Basel Miami Beach, which wrapped last night, might as well have been staged on a red carpet.

Kevin Spacey, Adrian Grenier and Princess Eugenie were spotted hobnobbing at a party hosted by British artist Tracey Emin. At DuJour magazine's party to honor artist Marc Quinn, guests included Kanye West, Lionel Richie and Tommy Hilfiger, who co-hosted the spectacle.

Eva Longoria and Serena Williams were just two of the celebs who enjoyed a champagne-fueled private dinner hosted by Gerard Butler and Dom Pérignon at the W South Beach.

Cubist art collection donated to Met
Cubist art collection donated to Met


    Cubist art collection donated to Met


Cubist art collection donated to Met 01:52
World's most realistic finger painting?
World's most realistic finger painting?


    World's most realistic finger painting?


World's most realistic finger painting? 02:41
Chinese museum showcases other 'Ai'
Chinese museum showcases other 'Ai'


    Chinese museum showcases other 'Ai'


Chinese museum showcases other 'Ai' 02:55

"The parties are rammed, they're like catwalks, and there are tons of them," says Lucie Greene, the editor of LS:N Global, the trends network forecasting agency The Future Laboratory. "I've seen Pharrell Williams, Karolina Kurkova and Val Kilmer floating around. It's like the Coachella of the art world."

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Serious business

Don't be deceived. For many of these stars, Art Basel Miami Beach is about much more than lavish parties and bacchanalian nights.

"I've bumped into Jay Z and Beyoncé in Miami a couple of times," says Emily Tsingou, a private art dealer based in London and a regular at Art Basel. "They are celebrities, but they are also building up collections."

To make the most informed decisions, celebrities and other high-net-worths typically employ an art adviser, who will steer them toward art worth its price tag. Advisers also negotiate deals on their client's behalf.

Todd Levin, the director of the Levin Art Group in New York City, has been advising clients for more than 25 years.

"If an adviser does their due diligence, they will request and receive packing lists from galleries well in advance of the fair," he says. "An adviser will discuss with their clients any art works that may be of interest. Based on those discussions, they will isolate and purchase pieces in advance of the fair."

Of course, seeing a .jpeg image in advance is not the same as seeing the work in front of you. Advisers like Levin need to bring a comfortable pair of shoes for all the running they are likely do for clients.

"I may be working with one client when my phone receives a text from another," Levin says. "I will disengage for a moment with the first client and meet the second who requires immediate information on an art work they have just encountered."

Andrew Renton, a London-based collector, adviser and the director of the Marlborough Contemporary art gallery, has at times mapped out routes through the fair so that his clients can strike early.

"All the great stuff goes very quickly," he says. "There is not much room for dithering on day one. You might want to call your wish list a hit list."

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The need for speed was clear on December 4, when the fair opened its doors exclusively to VIPs. Within hours they had dropped tens of millions of dollars.

New York's Van de Weghe Gallery reported that an American collector purchased Gerhard Richter's "Abstraktes Bild (595-3)" for $3.2 million. The gallery also sold "Beautiful, I Pushed the Controls and Ahead of Me Rockets Blazed, I Don't Want to Be a Dead Artist Painting". The 2005 spin painting by Damien Hirst, which has two expired credit cards embedded into it, went for $580,000, or $29,000 for every word in its title.

On the lower end of the spectrum, London's Lisson Gallery sold Ai Weiwei's "Jade Handcuffs" for 70,000 euros.

New York City's David Zwirner Gallery reported the sale of a Jeff Koons sculpture for $8 million to an unnamed buyer. The phantom shopper must have faith in photos: The sculpture was not physically present at the fair.

And while we don't know the names of all the buyers, Leonardo DiCaprio is probably on one of the buyer's lists. He was spotted on his cell phone directing his advisers to various works.

Officials will never know the exact amount of sales, only the sales that galleries choose to report. However, Dr. Bodo Sartorius, the chief technical officer at AXA insurance, an official partner of Art Basel, estimated that the art present in Miami this year exceeded $3 billion.

Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, says that the fair in Miami Beach is going from strength to strength.

"The 250-plus galleries showing at Art Basel represent the best galleries from across the world," he says. "Our exhibitors are reporting strong and consistent sales, including many to museums - not only on the first day but throughout the show."

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Bubbly and beyond

Despite all the glitz surrounding the event, there is an element of democracy at the fair. Gallerists selling works care little about what films you've been in or whether you have an Oscar on your mantle. They're most concerned with making a sale.

That means that VIPs cannot always expect the VIP treatment.

"It doesn't matter if you flew in on your private jet, you are still going to have to stand in line for a sausage like everyone else," says Renton. "I've heard of collectors who have someone in tow whose only job is to line-up for provisions along the way."

Given the potential indignity of having to queue, it's only natural that celebs will want to regroup when the sun goes down. But their encounters are not all air kisses and froth.

For the most serious collectors these parties are a gateway to like-minded people, and a chance to learn more about new artists.

"Through those parties and the socializing something else is formed in Basel," Renton says. "You find that these moments are great points for meeting people you've been trying to speak with from around the world for a long time. An art fair can focus that."