Even in tough times, contemporary art sells

Morley Safer is back on the art beat, and although he doesn't like much of what he sees at Miami's Art Basel, there's no denying that sales are strong.

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Dennis Scholl: It's really what a willing buyer will pay to a willing seller in the art world. So, when you go and look at a piece of art, the price is what you negotiate. There's no fixed price per say. And prices move up and prices move down very quickly in the art world, particularly with young artists.

Morley Safer: And have you made some mistakes? Or have they all been pretty...

Dennis Scholl: Well, we've bought a thousand pieces of art in my life, so we've made plenty, plenty of mistakes in my life. I mean we have, yes, and you know what you do? You just bury them in the backyard and forget about them.

Two hundred sixty-five dealers are invited and they're willing to spend up to $150,000 for the privilege of showing their wares. Am I, are we, such philistine slobs that we wonder about the value of some of this? Is this art that dazzles the eye, or makes us think? Do baby blue translucent bathroom fixtures prick the imagination? Does that toilet seat raise our spirits or is it directing us to the men's room? Or is this the biggest scam since Hans Christian Anderson trotted out the emperor's new clothes.

One thing's for sure: it's no joke. Look at this graph. Contemporary art sales last year totaled about five and a half billion dollars. And that only includes auction prices. Private sales like these art fairs could be worth billions more. Recession? What recession?

[Adam Sheffer: Good. Deal.

Buyer: Perfect.

Adam Sheffer: Cool. Great. I'll bill you.]

Tim Blum: The real fundamental thing is we're here to sell a lot of art.

Tim Blum, a partner in Blum & Poe, a Los Angles gallery renowned for discovering the sharpest of cutting edge art.

Morley Safer: Some of the art that you sell could probably be described as difficult?

Tim Blum: Oh, absolutely. 100 percent. I mean, we kinda specialize in that.

Morley Safer: You have to explain to a potential buyer--

Tim Blum: Yes.

Morley Safer: --why he or she might learn to love this?

Tim Blum: Yeah, often you do. A lot of folks are just buying. It's more like, "We need one of these things because everybody's getting one."

Morley Safer: Status.

Tim Blum: It's a status symbol. It's a speculative op-- mechanism.

Morley Safer: Do you sometimes have to grit your teeth? Even when you're making a sale?

Tim Blum: Yeah. We're very good at that. We're from Hollywood. We're in the acting game. Yeah. It's theater. This is all theater.

And Blum knows all the A-list collectors.

Tim Blum: There's people that are collecting art in a very beautiful, organic, autobiographical way where the art is a part of their lifeline. And then there's pure speculators. And then there's the people that just have so much money, and the art is the next-- is the next thing on the queue.