On one half of the ballroom at the W Hotel last Wednesday eve during Art Basel Miami Beach, you had the super-rich and trust-funded — Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping heir; Brandon Davis, the oil heir; Peter Brant, the newsprint magnate.
And the other half — like an art world version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video — was a group of post-art-schoolers with grown-out hair and functional, button-up shirts. They were the members of the Bruce High Quality Foundation, a five-year-old collective of artists based in New York City who have become the darlings of the art world. Vito Schnabel, the 22-year-old son of the artist Julian Schnabel, curated their show and brought his famous friends.
The Bruces, who keep their individual identities anonymous to protest the star-making machinery of the art market, are a rotating group of five to eight men in their 20s and 30s, most of them graduates of the Cooper Union. They’re known for subversive performance art, humorous videos and conceptual sculptures all infused with Ph.D. quantities of art history references.
One of the Bruces, who wore a blazer and a sunburn and appeared to be the group’s ringleader, said that the dozen or so sculptures at the W Hotel were selling for $12,000 to $60,000. And they were a highly intellectual jumble: one of them had an inflatable pool, stuffed animals and a video monitor playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Some had been sold to collectors, he said, before the show even opened.
“Instead of living in a cave, we decided it would be better to observe the art world up close,” said another of the Bruces, who had a baby face and a thrift shop polo shirt.
Around 9 p.m., an assistant announced that it was time for dinner out by the pool. A tall, lanky Bruce sauntered through the thronged lobby quoting Samuel Beckett and Allan Kaprow, a pioneering Fluxus artist. But when he pushed through the thick doors there seemed to be miles of palm trees, canopied daybeds and steamy pools that looked like the grotto at the Playboy Mansion — no dinner in sight. Luckily Jacqueline Schnabel, Vito’s mother, was passing with her daughter Lola and the artist Francesco Clemente and led the lone Bruce to an area with a full bar and a long table set with candles.
“It’s fascinating to see how millionaires interact,” said the ringleader Bruce, the one with the sunburn. “They are just human beings, but they really are on another planet.”
Mr. Schnabel had invited most of the guests, who now included John McEnroe and the actor Stephen Dorff. By about 11 the diners had polished off the last of their mahi-mahi, shrimp and sirloin, and most of the Bruces were huddled on a giant day bed puffing on cigarettes and knocking back cocktails.
Several guests slipped out to the next party. The singer Santigold was performing at the Raleigh Hotel; a party for Another magazine was under way at the Delano; and Ebony Bones’ concert was on the beach. Mr. Schnabel, in a tan suit, began dancing a jig to a bebop remix, setting the mood for the Bruces’ after-party. “Help!” said the Bruce in the thrift shop polo shirt. “We’re trapped!” It was hard to tell if he was kidding.