At Frieze London, the art world is moving towards normality

LONDON – It was “business as usual,” Russian art advisor and collector Alex Lachmann said on Wednesday as he made his way through the cr...


LONDON – It was “business as usual,” Russian art advisor and collector Alex Lachmann said on Wednesday as he made his way through the crowd of VIPs at the opening of the first in person London frieze art fair since October 2019. Then he raised his finger and added: “Almost”.

This week’s long postponed live editions of Frieze London and Masters of the frieze shows, featuring 279 dealers in huge tents at Regent’s Park, followed last month Art Basel as the international art trade tries to return to normal before the pandemic. New York frieze returned to a live format in May, albeit on a smaller scale.

In London, visitors to Frieze were required to wear bracelets proving Covid vaccination. They were also required to wear masks, but many did not, and the enforcement was lax.

Dating back to 1993, ‘Frieze Week’ is traditionally London’s time to host the mix of fairs, museums, auctions and exhibitions from the most fascinating and must-see dealers in the international art world. But Britain has changed, and so has the art world. Frieze is now majority owned by the Hollywood conglomerate Effort; Britannia, after Brexit, isn’t as cool as it used to be; and Hong Kong and Paris now rival London as hubs for the sale of contemporary art. And then there’s the little question of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

“Overall, I found Frieze Week to be at half mast,” said Wendy Cromwell, a New York-based art advisor who was part of a smaller-than-usual US contingent in London.

“Like in New York, things are much better than six months ago, but the city is not completely back,” she added. “But Frieze was buzzing. The character of the fair certainly reflects the current spirit of diversity and inclusiveness.

In the 1990s, Frieze was entirely devoted to young British artists (the YBAs); now artists of color are at the forefront and driving sales.

Brooklyn artist Simone Leigh, who will be next year the first black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, debuted at Frieze London with an eight-foot-tall glazed stoneware and raffia sculpture of its admired 2021 “Village Series”, on display by Hauser & Wirth at the front of its stand. It sold for $ 750,000 to a “respected collection” in the United States, the gallery said Friday.

Fair stalls showcasing black and female artists are now a regular feature after years of neglect in the trade. But what was different about this year’s Frieze was a new awareness of politics outside the art world bubble. For the first time, the fair included a specially curated “Unworlding” section, showcasing works by militant artists whose practices “are centered on the idea of ​​destroying the world as we know it”. according to the Frieze website.

The entrance to the fair was lined with LED artwork by Croatian artist Nora Turato, adorned with ominous slogans such as “everything you hoped for and everything you feared”. And in the “Focus” section, devoted to 35 young galleries, the dealers also presented pieces that made visitors think. Saudi gallery Athr posted “Eagle,” a provocative sculpture by Riyadh-based artist Ahmet Mater realistically modeled as a missile-laden “Predator” drone covered in sand. The price was around $ 220,000, according to the gallery.

As usual, the business for pre-21st century works at Frieze Masters was less frantic.

This year, exceptional pieces tended to be found far from the obvious booths of the big names. In the “Spotlight” section, devoted to avant-garde pioneers, San Francisco merchant Wendi Norris showed a surrealist sculpture from the 1940s in wood and feathers by Mexican artist Alice Rahon, who died in 1987. buyer at 65 $ 000.

With artists of color in the critical and commercial ascendancy, the 1.54 Contemporary African Art Fair continues to be a popular Frieze Week satellite event for collectors and their advisers. The ninth edition in London attracted 47 gallery owners, including Jack Bell from London, who presented works by the American-Ivorian artist Aboudia.

Aboudia’s graffiti-influenced expressionism is particularly attractive to Asian collectors, according to Oliver Durey, director of the Jack Bell Gallery. Right before the fair, the gallery sold four new paintings of Aboudia online to buyers in Singapore and Hong Kong for between $ 80,000 and $ 150,000, Durey said. A large painting by the Brooklyn-based artist also sold for a record $ 275,000 at an auction in Hong Kong on Sunday, according to the Artprice sales database.

Hong Kong may be fetching exceptional auction prices for emerging art, but on Thursday night, London maintained its credibility as an auction center for high-value art by the biggest names when Sotheby’s resold the Banksy who had sensational self-destruct at a Frieze Week 2018 auction. Then it sold for $ 1.4 million; now, marketed as a masterpiece of subversive performance art, the half-ragged canvas, renamed “Love Is in the Bin”, has sold for a record $ 25.4 million.

But overall, the London Frieze Week auctions are contracting. The set of 508 contemporary art lots offered by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips this week represents less than half of the 1,228 auctioned in the equivalent series in fall 2015, according to Pi-eX, a company of London based art market analysis.

While a combination of Brexit and Covid may have harmed traditional sectors of the London art market, such as its auction houses and Old Masters galleries, other players are finding new answers to the challenges of the world. ‘industry. This week also saw the debut of No. 9 Cork Street, an elegant complex of three rentable gallery spaces offered by Frieze as part of a further diversification of its publishing and fair business model.

New York merchant James Cohan occupied the ground floor of the space in the Mayfair district until October 23, showing a solo exhibition of textile wall hangings applied by Christopher Myers. Five of the seven works sold for between $ 30,000 and $ 50,000, according to Cohan.

“It’s a very effective way to have a presence in London with limited engagement and maximum impact,” Cohan said of Frieze’s Cork Street initiative. “It allows us to interact with our audience: we saw Brazilians, a lot of Europeans and a lot of Americans. It’s a surprisingly diverse audience.

Yet Art Basel and Frieze London have shown that international collectors have cut back on long-haul flights and are shopping more online. If this gives a glimpse into the future of the art world, then fairs will need to offer much more than many dealer stalls to attract an international audience in person.

“Frieze is always a very important fair,” said Li Suqiao, a Beijing-based collector who was in London for the week. “You see different types of art in a lot of different media, not just big name artwork. Plus you have the Tate Modern and all the other museums and galleries, as well as three auction houses, ”Li added.“ The only problem is, Chinese food is so bad. ”

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