Buyers were more deliberative and the artists were younger, but there were still plenty of sales and buzz at London's Frieze Art Fair ...
The work on display at London's Frieze Art Fair, which opened to VIPs on October 14th, was as covetable and intellectually intriguing as ever. The gallerists had come from New Delhi to Doha, from San Francisco to Seoul—not to mention that well-flown axis from New York to Berlin and the East End of London. Sales were reportedly much better than last year, when shopping was stalled by the shock of financial freefall. As Andrew Silewicz, a director at Sprüth Magers Gallery, admitted, “You know that you're in a recession but, for a recession, it’s not at all bad.”
Artists seemed to have responded to recent times. Zero, a Milan gallery, had a completely empty white-walled stand except for a small painting by Victor Man of a hand and a puff of smoke. New York's Gavin Brown's Enterprises devoted its booth to canvases by Rirkrit Tiravanija that were covered in newspapers with the phrase “THE DAYS OF THIS SOCIETY IS NUMBERED” written in large colourful letters. Madrid's Galeria Helga de Alvear displayed a sculpture by Elmgreen and Dragset that evoked one of Giacometti's walking men, but this one dragged a ball and chain. “The Giacometti estate are making so many, we thought we'd join in,” joked Michael Elmgreen.
Collectors were certainly contemplative. During the boom, deals were done in the first few hours of the five-day fair. This time, prospective buyers tended to put works on reserve, promising to deliver their verdicts after sleeping on it for a few nights. A handful of fantastic museum shows were helpful in bringing in the out-of-towners. John Baldessari's super-cool retrospective at the Tate Modern, Ed Ruscha's sublime survey at the Hayward Gallery, Anish Kapoor's persuasive site-specific sculptures at the Royal Academy and Sophie Calle's grippingphotographic confessions at the Whitechapel Gallery made London the place to be this week, whether you were in the mood to buy or not. Amanda Sharp, co-owner of the fair, explains, “The original thesis behind the fair was that we could have a critical mass of activity in London in October. London has a great artist community and great institutions. We wanted the whole city to get behind it.” This momentum will no doubt see the fair through to more ebullient times.
Museum endorsements encourage sales. At the fair, a mountain painting by Ruscha sold for just over a $1m, and Kapoor wall pieces sold for somewhere just under. Baldessari, an influential proponent of Pop-Dada, has long been an “artist's artist” and is now a connoisseur's artist, but he’s never been an art market star. He was represented by a good range of work on several stands, including a large wall sculpture entitled “Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133” (2007), which sold to a European collector for $400,000. Baldessari, who is 78 years old, used to tell his students, “You have to make the new work to sell the old work.” Now, the old work lends more depth and allure to the new.
Dealers adopted a wide range of stand strategies. Some brought works on paper by recognised artists, which made for a safe combination of name recognition and lower price points. Marianne Boesky, for example, sold out her display of 15 watercolours by Barnaby Furnas priced at under $35,000 a piece. Other dealers hung their stands sparsely with trophies that evoked the distinction of their gallery brand. Michael Werner Gallery, which was participating in Frieze for the first time this year, had a stand that included many works well above the fair's average price point, including a $2m Sigmar Polke. “We're feeling positive. We've met new collectors and curators. We've had good talks,” said Kadee Robbins, a Werner Gallery director.
On the whole, the art on display was smaller—mercifully there was scant evidence of the giganticism that had infected boom-time sculpture—and younger. Some established dealers, such as New York's Tanya Bonakdar, Anton Kern, and Andrew Kreps, had dropped out, while the fair's new entrants tended to represent rising artists. Moreover, Frieze had introduced a new section, called “Frame”, where fledgling dealers presented solo shows of young talent.
This year's inaugural Champagne Pommery award for the best curated stand went to Salon 94, a sophisticated New York gallery, which displayed, among other things, a large-scale “Flight Fantasy” installation by David Hammons, a legendary Harlem-based artist. The work consisted of human hair (one of his signature materials) and chandelier crystals on wires, which emerged from a warm red and gold patterned wall (pictured). The work was bought by Dimitris Daskalopoulos, a Greek collector, for over $1m. Mr Daskalopoulos already owns three small but exquisite works by Mr Hammons, which Londoners hope will be exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery when his collection is shown there in 2010.