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Art Basel Miami Beach: Dealers Expect A Profitable Fair Despite Economic Woes

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MIAMI BEACH, Florida — The collectors are back.

That's what Art Basel Miami Beach organizers and galleries are expecting. They say recent auctions and art fairs have indicated that collectors are again acquiring high art and that they are not afraid to reach into their pockets and spend money this year during the fair, which opens Thursday and ends Sunday.

"It was quite clear that the American collectors were back and participating," Bonnie Clearwater, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, said. "So, there seems to be a lot of optimism."

Dealers agree.

"I think they are buying again," said Steven Henry, director of the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. "I wouldn't say the market has rebounded in full. ... I think what you are seeing is slightly more confidence in the economy."

Henry will be bringing about 30 works from about 16 artists, including Sherrie Levine's bronze Coat.

Jane Cohan of the James Cohan Gallery in New York says her expectations are very high since gallery sales are back up to pre-recession levels.

"It's been really growing over the course of the fall. The last three or four weeks have been really good," she said. "I think the auction market really gave a lot of buoyancy to the market and has built consumer confidence. I think people are back at feeling OK at spending on art."

In mid-November, Andy Warhol's "200 One Dollar Bills," brought in $43.8 million at auction at Sotheby's, more than three times its highest pre-sale estimate of $12 million. Meanwhile, at Christie's, sales of postwar and contemporary art totaled $74.1 million, within its pre-sale estimate of $66.9 million to $94 million. At the Frieze Art Fair in London in October, organizers said there were reports of "significant sales from new and established galleries exhibiting at the 2009 fair."

Marc Spiegler, co-director Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, says it is always hard to predict sales. But indications are "pretty optimistic."

"People were predicting that dozens if not hundreds of galleries would close and that hasn't happened," he said.

Museum curators are expected to come.

"The number of museum groups from all over the United States and the rest of the world is on par with last year and previous years," he said. "When you have good art that's available, there's a market for it. ... The art market is still part of the general economy and those people feel confident about their economic situation and those who want to buy art will buy art."

Spiegler said this year's fair is more streamlined, something that has been in the works for years, and not a repercussion of the recession. The younger galleries, which in the past have been placed in containers in a different section of Miami Beach, will now be in the main convention center with the older galleries to allow access to top collectors and curators.

Clearwater said the North Miami museum has bought at almost every Art Basel Miami Beach.

"We are looking for works that would be related to works already in the collection," she said. "With the economy ... the dust has kind of settled. I believe the general feeling is that we have passed the worst ... feeling more confident about making these kinds of purchases."

Isabella Maidment, gallery assistant at Pilar Corrias Gallery in London, said this is the gallery's first time at the fair. It opened the same week the economy hit rock bottom.

"For us, it's not a problem. ... We think the strength of the artist's work will hold out ultimately," she said. "We're hoping for a very positive response."

They will be showing a solo presentation by Ulla von Brandenburg, which will include two handmade quilts.

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