The War of Art

Competing fairs are locked in a battle for collectors

"It's like a gun went off in the market," quipped Sotheby's president William Ruprecht to the Wall Street Journal after November's annual art auctions raised $491 million. Accordingly, Miami's Craig Robins now finds his name cited in print as much for his art purchases as for his real estate projects, with trend spotters parsing his new acquisition list the way brokerage firms monitor Warren Buffett's portfolio.

Bubble or not, it's a development both Vardy and Rudolf are quite literally banking on, hoping to feed off Basel's energy and tap into the freshly expanded pool of art buyers. For Vardy's part, she bristled at Rudolf's claim to be the torchbearer for the classics -- "He changed his show's name from Art Palm Beach to palmbeachcontemporary, not palmbeachclassical" -- and she was quick to cite the overlap of a half-dozen or so exhibiting galleries with her competitor. Moreover she suspects Rudolf's insistence on holding his fair the same weekend as hers is a deliberate attempt to siphon away patrons.

But Vardy chose to -- mostly -- hold her tongue, preferring to rely on the sound of pens meeting checkbooks. "Whichever fair's galleries sell the most will determine where this all ends up," she predicted confidently.

So follow the money?

"That's what this is all about -- for everybody."

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