At AIDS Bash, André Balazs Descants on Art Basel

Last night, we met up with André Balazs—the hotel magnate behind a cartel of boutique sleeperies, which includes the Mercer in SoHo, L.A.’s Chateau Marmont and the Standards. Looking dapper in a form-fitting gray suit that had a subtle sheen, Mr. Balazs, 50, had just flown back to New York after a weekend at Art Basel Miami and was among the guests at the 12th annual holiday dinner benefiting ACRIA, an AIDS research and education initiative.

We asked Mr. Balazs about this year’s fair. “Every year it’s more and more of a circus and a phenomenon,” he told The Daily Transom while standing in Donna Karan’s Urban Zen boutique on Greenwich Street in the West Village. The store, filled with calming music and some sort of overpowering exotic incense, had been turned into a makeshift entrance, leading guests towards a larger dining space next door. “Everyone in the [art] business tells me they’ve never done better, and yet, at the same time, the whole thing is taking on an air that goes way beyond the art world or anything that has to do with art,” he said. After saying hello to a chic-looking, pink-cheeked couple walking by, Mr. Balazs, who received a joint masters degree in journalism and business from Columbia, added, “I’ve never seen such an influx of people interested in branding and using some marketing opportunity to push culture.”

Despite the recent buzz suggesting that the American-European art bubble can’t continue to inflate at its current rate without bursting, he remains somewhat confident. “I think it can sustain itself for a while,” he said.
Over the weekend, art-world kingpins Jeffrey Deitch and Simon de Pury spoke at the Raleigh, Mr. Balazs’ hotel on Collins Ave. in Miami. Addressing the art-world Henny Pennies, Mr. Deitch apparently brought up a point that struck the hotelier. “Art has now integrated itself into our economy in ways that was never true before,” said Mr. Balazs, who, after recently refinancing some of his hotels, found himself at the center of a media maelstrom that, he claims, added up to a much-ado-about-nothing mess. “It’s become like music, like fashion, and now it’s art. And on every level—starting with the top, down—it’s now more something you do,” he said, pausing for a moment. “In other words, someone’s more likely to buy a small print just as they’re likely to buy a nice handbag. And that, perhaps, is a new trend, a new direction.”

So, did Mr. Balazs buy anything while he was down there? “I hate buying in that atmosphere!” he said, throwing his head back with a laugh.