Although early rumors had it that the economic crisis would turn the opening of this year's Venice Biennale into a seriously unglamorous, penny-pinching affair, the rumors were proved very wrong yesterday, before the event even started.

"Is that Naomi Campbell?" asked Lynn Forester de Rothschild at the Hotel Cipriani, where Eli Broad was hosting a lunch for Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. (It was indeed Campbell, mingling with everyone from John Baldessari to Darren Star.) By nightfall there were still no Paris Hilton sightings on the Grand Canal, but several parties were humming: After 200 people filed into the Palazzo Contarini for a dinner toasting Elmgreen & Dragset's buzzy group show at the Danish and Nordic pavilions, the next stop was a bash for Brit artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen [see our March 09 story on him HERE], where so many reveler-packed speedboats jammed the dock that the scene looked like some high-glam version of spring break at Lake Havasu.

And the art? Three must-sees so far include McQueen's brilliant 30-minute split-screen work about life and death in Venice; the Punta Della Dogana, Francois Pinault's new exhibition space in the old customs house; and the Elmgreen & Dragset show, which spoofs the art market with a mock presentation of a trendy collector's home that's up for sale. The line for the show was already long at the opening hour this morning, and by afternoon -- when word had spread that the young male models in the house, posing as hustlers, had begun stripping naked -- it was noticeably longer.