Pricey, but the Food's Free

Nobody said Art Basel was a bastion of high-mindedness.

As the hordes of well-washed, champagne-sipping masses poured in to the opening night vernissage yesterday, the first thing many saw at the door was a copy of The Art Newspaper, its front page blaring a report on Miami Beach hotel price gouging. As the fair has picked up steam during the last few years in Miami, the corporate vultures have begun to circle ever closer.

This year, you may notice the price tags — often taboo in the rarefied gallery world — beginning to appear next to art hanging at the beach convention center. Ralph Lauren, USB Bank, a crowd of upscale condos and Lexus piggy-backed on the opening night events to throw their own free-booze-and-eats soirees.

I'm loathe to admit it, but the Lexus party — at a glorious private house a few blocks from the convention center — was a good time and actually displayed some interesting video art, photographs and a massive, flowing wooden abstraction that seemed to wash from floor to floor up to the four-story rooftop deck. Dubbed the 460 Degrees Gallery, it was a solid show, considering the whole thing was flack job for the carmaker's new LS 460 (get it?).

You just had to wade through the pretentious mumbo jumbo first. "There is no map to innovation," the press announcement stated breathily. "The path to invention is laid with passion, confidence and, above all, uncommon vision." Whatever. Where did those coconut shrimp go?-Rob Jordan

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