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Art Basel Comes to Miami

CondeNast Portfolio 2008

...... Just when I'm beginning to wonder what the hell it all means, after three hours of wandering among the brilliant cubicles, I run into Michael Lynne, the co-chairman of New Line Cinema and a longtime collector whose passion predates the current art boom.

When I ask him what he's bought, Lynne shows me a cheap plastic bag labeled Shanghai Supermarket and extracts what looks like three packs of Chinese cigarettes. "This is the coolest installation here," he says. "ShanghART, which is the top gallery in Shanghai, has reproduced an actual Chinese supermarket, right down to the cash register." Lynne shows me his receipt, the authenticating document.

"Three bucks," he says. "You've got to check it out."

Needless to say, I rush right over to admire this gleaming faux mini-mart, with its orderly rows of empty noodle packets and empty soda cans. It's a slick opportunity to bust my cherry at Miami Basel: buying a few empty cigarette packs along with an empty Durex condom box embroidered with Chinese characters, saving my receipt, and getting 50 cents change for my fiver. It costs half of what I paid for my mango smoothie at the Raleigh hotel this morning. The installation is self-destructing, since the gallery is selling off all the products—or rather all the packages, which have all been scrupulously emptied. The dimpled, presumably Chinese gallerina qua shopgirl smiles at me.

Curiously, or perhaps significantly, there doesn't seem to be any great crush around the Shanghai Supermarket; in fact, the place is empty when I arrive. It's peaceful, the only place in the entire convention center that seems remotely conducive to contemplation. The scene outside the shop window looks like some kind of pagan festival. And without the soundtrack, it all seems vaguely ridiculous. Here, among the rows of empty noodle boxes and milk cartons, simulacra of life's necessities, I have found a moment's refuge from the riot of consumption outside. It's a fleeting moment.

Festival novice though I am, I feel pretty confident that if ShanghART raised its prices by a factor of $1,000, or even $10,000, it would be doing a brisk business here. Elsewhere in the convention center, Chinese artworks are selling for five and six figures, the rise of Chinese artists being one of the signal developments of the 21st-century market. In fact, the entire Pacific Rim is on the ascendant. On opening day, according to the Art Newspaper, the Blum & Poe gallery sold Murakami's Daruma the Great, a monumental comic portrait of the Buddhist sage, for $1.5 million, along with works by Tatzu Nishi and Chiho Aoshima......

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