This week's Miami Art Basel, the world's most important art fair and normally a scene of champagne-soaked excess as wealthy art lovers convene to outdo each other on spending tens of millions on star artists, has a gloomy cloud over it as the art market experiences a dramatic dive. The hedge funders probably won't be snapping things up—even those who haven't been crushed in recent months are likely to deem big spending unseemly—while buyers from the emerging markets like India, the Middle East and China, who had recently swelled the ranks of serious collectors, won't be making an appearance.
The fair "could turn into a debacle for many people," says one pessimist gallerist. "Whoever depends on it to earn money has a problem." The only reliable participants are the Russians, who still plan to throw the lavish parties the gathering is known for. ("Maybe the glossy show is just financed by money on loan, but at least they don't let the downturn spoil their moods.") The hottest ticket is likely to be Maria Baibakova's bash, but even the 23-year-old daughter of nickel magnate and art collector Oleg Baibakov, who is opening up her own gallery in Moscow this month, is a harbinger of doom: In February, she thinks, "the prices could really fall."