In January of 1985, Londons provincial art establishment was blitzed by a cultural invasion of foreign origins.
The second International Contemporary Art Fair, held in Olympia Hall, was the first truly international contemporary art fair London had ever seen, featuring an explosive array of artworks from 22 countries, including Russia, Poland, the former East Germany and the U.S.
The then-young hack, Waldemar Januszczak -- today the principal art critic of the London Times and star TV art presenter -- wrote a review in Londons Guardian with scathing comments about certain of the invaders:
"The depths to which New York addicts will sink for a tiny helping of non-materialistic sustenance are astounding," he said, adding that it was better to walk among galleries that "offered the visitor a peaceful retreat from the hurly-burly. . . the sensible approach of the English galleries."
Januszczak was referring to an exhibition of American graffiti artists that included 30 paintings and drawings by the then little known Jean-Michel Basquiat (whose name wasnt mentioned in the review). As it happened, the works went entirely unsold and the gallery responsible -- my very own -- returned home empty handed, feeling like the victim of a local smear campaign.
Over 19 years later, Basquiat paintings cost millions and London has more art on show than at any other time in its history.
This fact is clearly illustrated by the weekend of Oct. 15-18, 2004, when the city hosted no less than three contemporary art fairs -- Frieze, Zoo and Scope -- which featured, all combined, an estimated 3,000 artists from 225 top international galleries.
A long way from the closed-minded provincialism of the early Olympia contemporary art fairs, the core of Londons new celebration of internationalism and cultural tolerance is the second annual Frieze Art Fair.
Founded and organized by Frieze magazine publishers Amanda Sharpe and Matthew Slotover, this years Frieze fair was sponsored by Deutsche Bank AG.
Although there were over 1,000 applicants, only 150 galleries had the honor to pay £190 per meter (up from £180 last year) for booths that totaled between 24 and 120 square meters of space. (The British pound is at record highs relative to the dollar: £1 = $1.84.)
The Frieze operation grossed £1.5 million this year from approximately 8,000 square meters of space (4,000 of them rentable), up from last years £990,000 for 5,500 square meters (2,250 rentable).
Over 42,000 visitors (up from 27,700 last year) withstood autumn rains, hour-long queues and the steep admission price of £12 to see 150 galleries (up from 124 in 2003), including American powerhouses Gagosian, Matthew Marks and Barbara Gladstone and their British and European equivalents, White Cube, Lisson, Victora Miro and Hauser and Wirth. Lesser-known galleries came from as far afield as Beijing, Melbourne, Moscow and Auckland.
The Frieze Art Fair estimated total sales at £26 million, up from last years £20 million.
In an era where digital reproduction is commonplace, painting and the idiosyncratic touch of the artists hand has made a welcome return.
German painters were the flavor of the fair. This was in no small part due to the Saatchi effect -- this time around, a media blitz concerning his forthcoming "Triumph of Painting" show, which opens on Jan. 26, 2005, at the wood-paneled Saatchi Gallery at the County Hall.
Dealers can be cautious about revealing both asking and selling prices, though one exception is the indomitable Gerd Harry Lybke, director of Galerie Eigen +Art of Leipzig and Berlin.
Lybkes policy of transparent sale prices is not only a breath of fresh air, but a sign of health for his gallerys artists -- he has nothing to hide. And no wonder -- his entire stand sold in less than two hours.
Neo Rauchs impressive Wasser flew off the wall for €180,000, destined for a major museum. Uwe Kowskis Staub (dust) sold for €14,000; Matthias Weischers Selbst (figure) for €18,000; David Schnells Schaukel (swing) for €12,000 and Hutte (hut) for €8,000. (The euro, too, is doing well against the dollar: €1 = $1.27.)
Works by Jonathan Meese were in great demand. At Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Meeses Der Teufel (Satan) quickly sold for €25,000 and Tapferkeit (courage) for €14,500. Tal Rs The New sold for €18,500.
Over at Modern Art, rumors about Demar Blow being bought out by co-partner Stuart Shave didnt seem shake investor confidence.
Shave said Meeses sculptures and paintings were snapped up by the close of the opening preview. Meeses bronze primordial skulls, lusciously coated with an antique patina, set on contrasting wood veneered plinths -- Soldier of Fortune, Widder and Friedrich Nietzsche -- all sold for €20,000 each.
A touch of humor came from irreverent duo Sue Webster and Tim Noble, whose Serving Suggestion, a sexually charged version of the English staple (a replica of baked beans and sausage), sold for £35,000. One had to laugh at the reactions of prudish viewers staring at what appears to be a generic tin of beans, when suddenly, a glistening red sausage slowly surfaces and stands shockingly erect -- only to disappear again into the saucy soup.
More obviously perverse was Tom Sachs Nazi Bondage Babe (2002), which sold for $80,000 at Sperone Westwater. Two super-realistic wax works by Evan Perry amused the punters looking for a bit of the "real." Back of Norb (2002) sold for $20,000 (ed. 3) as did Gerry (2004) (ed. 3) for $40,000. Guillermo Kuitcas 1986 untitled abstraction of a theater seating plan (75" x 92") sold for $175,000.
"These days, Italians are coming to London to buy," said the impossibly good-looking Gian Enzo Sperone.
A quiet but major force on the London contemporary scene for decades, Anthony Reynolds has given his booth the air of a museum. My Neck is Thinner Than A Hair by the Atlas Group in collaboration with Walid Raad is a moving set of 100 digital prints of Middle East car bombings from the An-Nahar Research Center, Beirut. It was bought by the Frieze Art Fair Special Acquisition Fund, which will present the work to the Tate Modern -- a well-deserved acquisition. The original asking price was £50,000.
Mark Wallingers lightbox in three parts, Seeing is Believing (1997), sold both editions at £60,000.
The Andrea Rosen Gallery went against the grain, juxtaposing old with new, showing a group of paintings and etchings by Old Masters -- Bosch, Dürer, and Remboldt -- alongside works by David Altmejd and Nigel Cooke. In another section of the booth was a sub-show titled "Lines" that featured works on paper by LeWitt, Martin and Riley.
"We had so little inventory left, I decided to show a few older artists," said a smiling Rosen.
Altmejds large sculptural installation Brother and Sister Project (2004) sold for $35,000, as did his Untitled for $6,500. Nigel Cookes eerie painting Blind Driver (2004) sold for $60,000.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery declined to quote prices for works by Richard Prince, notably for one of his "Marlboro Man" photos. "It is not the policy of the gallery to have our prices quoted," said the haughty attendant. What genius! The gallery manages to sell things without saying what they cost.
Marianne Boesky sold Takashi Murakamis Marimo (2002) for $175,000. Yoshitomo Naras Q@A went for $150,000. How much higher can these markets go, one wonders?
More down to earth, the Jack Hanley Gallery sold seven paintings by low-gressive front-man, Chris Johanson. "I could have sold lots more if I had them" said the genial Hanley.
Perhaps thanks to the influence of a recent show at the Approach Gallery in Londons East End, Johansons imagery is starting to seep into the gene pool of Londons artists, galleries and collectors. At Hanley, a typical, tongue in cheek Johanson work, Untitled (2004), sold to an English collector for $12,000.
Leo Koenig sold groove-master Eric Parkers Let the Good Times Roll (2004) for $39,500. Brandon Lattus suite of five inkjet panels of translucent archetypal internet imagery Miracle Mile (2003-04) (ed. 6) sold for $29,000. Torben Giehlers florescent starburst painting The Poet (2004) sold for $20,000.
Toby Websters Modern Institute of Glasgow continues its upward trajectory. Three works are Tate Modern bound, sold to the Frieze Acquisition Fund: Scott Myles misty screens, titled After the Mountains, More Mountains (2004); Martin Boyces yellow mesh-wired fence Untitled (Gate) (2004); and Alan Kane and Jeremy Dellers Souped-Up and Tea Urn (2004).
Following George Condos superb sold-out show at the Sprüth Magers Lee Gallery in London, Luhring Augustine had no problem selling the 1980s masters The Smiling Priest (2004) for $25,000. Rachel Whitereads Untitled (1993), a Hesse-like casting of a door in amber rubber, sold for $275,000. Her plaster door, In Out V (2004) sold for $150,000.
Sprüth Magers Lee reported remarkable sales, including Marlene Dumas series of 17 drawings, shown in Documenta in 1992, for a staggering $475,000. Andreas Gurskys giant Cibachrome Fukuyama (2004) flew off the wall at €250,000, as did Christopher Wools painting Minor Mishap (2002), which went for $95,000. Minimalist master Donald Judds Untitled (1988) (one of the first sculptures from the prized "Menziken Series") sold for $185,000 and Cindy Shermans Untitled (Clown Series) photograph went for a tidy $60,000.
Although Timothy Taylor did not immediately sell the fine Philip Guston painting Inside/Outside for $1.6 million, rumor has it that another similar Guston painting sold back at the gallery for over $2 million. Taylors success story of the fair was the little-known Tim Braden. Twelve paintings were sold, including the Vuillard-like Baba (2004) for £5,500. Alex Katzs 2003 painting of his wife, Ada (2003), sold for $135,000.
Over at Larry Gagosians, artist Michael Craig-Martin, who taught many of the yBas, displayed works on custom-made wallpaper, which allowed his vibrant paintings can be interlocked into an allover field of black and white line drawings. "The more paintings you buy, the bigger the discount," he joked outside the fair.
A work by Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Shape of Things to Come -- a construction not unlike their incinerated masterpiece Hell -- sold for £450,000 at Jay Joplings White Cube.
Although Damien Hirst works were conspicuously absent at Joplings booth this year, the Gelatin group picked up the slack with an array of pickled toy stuffed animals in jars at Massimo de Carlo. Their Untitled (2003-04), a series of five specimens sold for €4,000. Paola Pivis Untitled, a block of densely packed colored ribbons, sold for €50,000.
The Lisson Gallery sold two graceful sculptures by Anish Kapoor: the freestanding stainless steel Spire (2004) for £125,000 and the imploding white fiberglass wall piece White Dark XII (2004) for £175,000.
At Salon 94 was David Hammons This and That (2001), an installation of a taxidermied slumbering cat nestled among a crescent of canned Alpo dog food -- an animal presumably living on the edge, as we all are.
Unreported goes the significant amount of purchasing and trading of art works between dealers this year.
The downside of this type of trading is the effect it has on the overall look of the fair to those outside the trade. It resulted in far fewer made-for-the-fair projects and much more trade-like stock inventory being exchanged. Dealers concur that the heavy artillery still seems to be reserved for the grandee of all art fairs, the upcoming Art Basel 36 in Switzerland.
Sorely missed was a London version of Basels Liste -- a special projects exhibition.
Luckily, it was found outside Frieze in the form of "Expander," an extraordinary show of paintings, sculptures and videos with themes of estrangement and enchantment curated by Mustafa Hulusi at the Royal Academy -- a must see.
My criticisms aside, Amanda Sharpe and Matthew Slotover should be applauded for helping to kick-start a sleeping giant.
Londons Oct. 15-18 weekend -- the Frieze, Zoo and Scope fairs, plus the parties and outside events, all punctuated by Damien Hirsts Pharmacy evening sale at Sothebys New Bond Street (where over £11.1 million of Hirsts works were sold in just three hours) combine to paint a most convincing picture of Londons rising importance in the international contemporary art market. The Frieze Art Fair has become the touchstone of international exchange in a city that just 20 years ago was considered a backwater of contemporary art.