MIAMI — Mera Rubell was taking time out from greeting the hundreds of visitors at her family’s sprawling contemporary art center here to vent.“It’s the height of arrogance to dismiss — — ,” she began.

Jason, her son, interrupted: “It’s arrogance. It’s a completely uninteresting story.”

For the moment her husband, Don, had given up on trying to get a word in.

The Rubells, deans of Miami’s bustling art scene, were pushing back against a chorus of complaints that has been growing louder in the weeks leading up to Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual art pilgrimage that began Wednesday and ends Sunday.

Prominent art writers and critics, including Sarah Thornton, Felix Salmon, Will Gompertz and Dave Hickey, have been attacking the art world, arguing that the staggering sums of money being spent on works are distorting judgments about art and undermining its long-term cultural significance.

“Money talks loudly and easily drowns out other meanings,” Ms. Thornton wrote in TAR magazine in a recent article, “Top 10 Reasons NOT to Write About the Art Market.”

In its special edition for the opening day of the fair, The Art Newspaper asked whether “the art world is facing a crisis of values” because of the “pernicious influence of the market on art.”

And in the eyes of many critics, Art Basel Miami Beach — or what Simon Doonan, writing in Slate last week, labeled a “promo-party cheese-fest” — has become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the art market. The fair’s extraordinary success in just over a decade, and its celebration of wretched excess, have triggered a backlash.

But the Rubells, along with a growing number of other prominent collectors, art dealers and curators, are having none of it. The backlash against the backlash has begun.

“The market supports artists,” Jason Rubell said. Given the limited amount of government support for the arts, he added, “it’s an industry that without commerce doesn’t exist. What do people want — to go back to the recession?”

Ms. Rubell was annoyed that critics seemed to ignore the social, economic and cultural transformation of Miami that the fair and collectors like her have helped bring about. She noted that the Rubells’ 45,000-square-foot art center — where one huge gallery is now filled with works by Oscar Murillo, a 26-year-old Colombian immigrant who lived with and was supported by the Rubells while he created dozens of mural-sized canvases — used to be a Drug Enforcement Administration storage center.

Outside, in the center’s courtyard, visitors like Martha Stewart admired the French artist Bernar Venet’s collaboration with Bugatti, the superluxury sports car brand, on a one-of-a-kind Veyron Grand Sport Venet car (a price hasn’t been set, a Bugatti spokeswoman said, but will undoubtedly be in “the higher end of the millions”).

“I’m grateful to Bugatti, Perrier, Bank of America and other companies,” Ms. Rubell declared. “Their support helps facilitate quality programs and opens exhibits like this” — the Murillo show — “to the public.”

In Miami Beach, at the main fair, the consumer-oriented glitter abounds this week: coffee carts with $20-a-glass Ruinart Champagne; Davidoff cigar rollers; BMW’s artist-designed cars; and Takashi Murakami’s $70,000-and-up commissioned portraits. One could almost imagine that the Barbara Kruger work on display at L&M gallery — a super-sized sign reading “Greedy” on one line and an unprintable expletive on the next — had an invisible subtitle telling the wealthy V.I.P.’s who had come to shop, “I’m Talking to You — Yeah, You!”

Of course, rich patrons have always supported artists, Don Rubell pointed out, from the pharaohs to the Medicis. Today, multimillion-dollar sales represent only a silk-thin layer of a deeply varied and thriving art market. The art world, Mr. Rubell asserted, is “actually becoming more democratic.”

“There’s 20 ancillary fairs” in addition to the high-end main event of Art Basel, he said. “Whatever amount of money you have in your pocket, you can enter this magical world of art.”

The notion that the art market contains multitudes is one with which Marc Glimcher, part of the family dynasty that runs the Pace Gallery, said he agreed.


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