Despite a reputation for iconoclasm and hauteur, art magazines have typically been the 97-pound weaklings on the muscle beach of the art business.
The Frieze Art Fair has changed all that.
Frieze magazine founding editor Matthew Slotover and publisher Amanda Sharp had already made their 12-year-old glossy the arbiter of everything cool about Brit Art. Now, the Frieze Art Fair, Oct. 17-20, 2003, with 124 top contemporary galleries from Europe and the U.S., has made the magazine a force in the art market as well.
The fair may even turn out to be profitable, no small achievement in its first year. With more than 7,000 square meters of rentable space at 180 per meter, revenue from the gallery participants totals 1.3 million. Add in admission charges of 7 a head for about 30,000 visitors -- the queues to get in could be impressively long -- and you're talking about real money.
What's more, Frieze has contracted to do it again in 2004 and '05. London's first international contemporary art fair, according to many observers, is perfectly positioned as the essential autumn event within the now-crowded art-fair calendar, along with Art Basel Miami Beach (winter), the Armory Show in New York (spring) and the Basel art fair in the summer. As such, Frieze is pulling business away from the other fall fairs in Berlin, Vienna, Cologne and Paris.
The weather certainly cooperated, coming in sunny and cool. London looked beautiful. The fair was held in Regent's Park, just north of the Oxford Street shopping district, in a kind of gabled white warehouse structure designed by architect David Adjaye. Large block letters spelled out "Frieze Art Fair" on the faade, with a hint of fluorescent magenta shining out from underneath.
Outside, the building was surrounded by trees in their autumn finery, along with several pieces of plop art -- a white enameled "snowman" by Gary Hume, a black bronze hare "thinker" sitting on a rock by Barry Flannagan, a yellow pretzel-shape by Franz West.
Inside, the gallery booths were laid out in an irregular grid, with Marian Goodman, Hauser + Wirth, Matthew Marks and Lisson up front and center by the entrance and the corners held down by Patrick Painter, Waddington, Haunch of Venison, Yvon Lambert and Thaddaeus Ropac. Architect Adjaye made his booth walls quite high and sturdy, but gave the building a translucent roof, to let in sunlight, and a low ceiling of white scrim. The carpet was a rich chocolate brown, a beautiful color that unfortunately showed all manner of lint and white bits of trash.
The lovely restaurant, with a menu provided by Mark Hix, chef of the Ivy, got high marks -- even though a maitre d' was turning away prospective diners who had no reservations.
The fair's centerpiece -- at least as far as its younger visitors were concerned -- was a 12-foot-tall, 32-foot long ramp covered with grassy sod by the Italian artist Paola Pivi. Untitled (Slope), as it was called, was designed to allow visitors "to roll down at their leisure." Hello, Jack and Jill!
But what of sales? Despite some complaints that the work on offer was predictable, the majority of dealers were doing knock-out business. According to one dealer, the crowded reception -- some 8,000 visitors, when admission was free -- was "a feeding frenzy." White Cube director Jay Jopling said he sold out his booth, including a 95,000 bronze crucifixion scene (in an edition of five) by Jake and Dinos Chapman with the McDonald's Hamburgler standing in for Christ. Harry Lybke of Galerie Eigen + Art (Liepzig/Berlin) had two large paintings by the much-in-demand East German artist Neo Rauch, and both were sold, at $120,000 and $125,000.
Los Angeles dealer Patrick Painter joked, "As usual, I'd rather be surfing, but I did mid-six-figures in the first two hours." One prize in his booth is a gnarly stumplike lump of oil paint that is a 1997 sculpture by painter Glenn Brown titled Sound of Music (price: $40,000). Painter is partnering with Reiner Opoku, an art entrepreneur who currently operates a bar called A11 in Cologne, to open the Opoku Painter gallery in the Rhine city. The plan calls for a premiere in February 2004 with a show of works by Douglas Gordon. "I see the L.A.-Cologne axis as the wave of the future," said Opoku.
"London is simply a more energetic place than Cologne, Milan, Berlin," said Bruno Brunnet, director of Contemporary Fine Arts (Berlin). He suggested that the success of Frieze would encourage Berlin galleries to put aside their differences and redouble their efforts to improve Art Forum Berlin, which was held at the beginning of October. Along with his partner, the estimable Nicole Hackert, Brunnet had brought to the fair a prize mural-sized Rake's Progress by Jorg Immendorff (price: 380,000) and a lovely sculpture by Urs Fischer, a hot young artist who has just turned 30 and lives in Berlin and Los Angeles. Fischer's chain-saw-cut fiberboard and Styrofoam sculpture of a sexy woman sitting on a table, covered with a poured, bright fluorescent orange "frosting" made of sugar and paint, was priced at 25,000 euros. Fischer has shows scheduled at the Kunsthaus Zurich and Pompidou in Paris next year.
Waddington Galleries was one of the few dealers to bring classic moderns to the fair. Curiously enough, the first thing sold was a 1972 Pablo Picasso ink drawing. Also sold was a 1952 Giorgio Morandi still life (prices not disclosed). Also on hand were works by Matisse, Motherwell, Chamberlain, Morris Louis and a large 2002-03 yellow painting of a kitchen by Susan Rothenberg, who has an exhibition in the gallery coming up later this month. Rothenberg's large works sell for about $285,000.
At Galerie Barbara Wien (Berlin), a buyer snapped up Hans-Peter Feldmann's 1990 David for 5,500 euros. A plaster cast of the head of Michelangelo's famous underdog, Feldmann has colored the thing with pink skin, blue eyes, yellow hair and red lips like some kind of classical tart. A metaphor for the contemporary art experience, perhaps?
Sadie Coles had no trouble finding a collector for Sarah Lucas' £70,000 Pearly Bunny (2003), a chair with a pair of stuffed panty hose covered with luminescent mother-of-pearl buttons. Gagosian Gallery sold a large, alive-with-brown-brushstrokes painting by Cecily Brown titled Wood for $60,000. Timothy Taylor was doing rapid business with Marcel Dzama drawings in brown and green at $1,000 each. Taylor also made what might be the largest sale at the fair -- $650,000 for Philip Guston's painting Ledge.
At the Modern Art booth, London power-dealer Detmar Blow sold Tim Noble & Sue Webster's show-stopping Sunset over Manhattan (2003), a silhouette of our fine city made by shining a spotlight on a row of bullet-riddled tin cans, for $75,000. At the small booth of New York dealer Leo Koenig (now rail-thin and looking a decade younger), the first thing to sell was a "living room set" made of scrap wood and thrift-shop cast-offs by the comic Austrian collaborative Gelatin. Including a couch, table, lamp and two stools, it sold right away for $5,500. When it comes to art that you can sit and rest your feet on, the hard-working critic can only say, "Yes!"
Other sales were courtesy of London collector and Tate Patron Candida Gertler, who helped raise 100,000 for a Frieze Art Fair Acquisitions Fund to buy works from the fair for the Tate collection. Among the acquisitions were a marble sculpture of a highway cloverleaf by Yutaka Sone at David Zwirner, a work by Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonakdar and works by Anri Sala and Fikrit Atay.
More bargains were had at Aspreyjacques, where an entire suite of collage-drawings by L.A. art star John Pylypchuk had sold out at 250 and 500 apiece. The center of the Aspreyjacques booth was filled with Pylypchuk's construction of jagged white-painted plywood, a kind of wacky model Mount Everest, complete with hanging black clouds and threads of polymer-drip rain, not to mention a crouching yeti and climbing cat-eared creature (price: $17,000). Pylypchuk has a show at the gallery coming up in January. But before that, Aspreyjacques opens an exhibition of hand-painted photos from the 1970s by Robert Mapplethorpe on Nov. 20.
Another blue-ribbon booth was that of 303 Gallery, which artist Karen Kilimnick has fitted out in best British drawing-room style, with crown molding, chandeliers, brass sconces, gilded pseudo-Rococo furniture and even a faux-marble fireplace with a bouquet of purple delphiniums and yellow roses. And, of course, a group of 10 pictures of princesses, manor houses and white stallions. The price range is $30,000-$50,000. "One more and they're all gone," said gallery proprietor Lisa Spellman. Hard to believe that 303 celebrates its 20th anniversary next March.
Max Wigram, the celebrated curator who co-organized the controversial "Apocalypse" exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2001, recently opened his own gallery in London. Called MW Projects, the gallery used its booth at Frieze to introduce a group of photographers whose works focus on everyday life with a certain serenity. "The philosophy is an acceptance of the world the way it is," said Michael Briggs, director of sales for the gallery. Among the artists are Paul Cunningham, Toby Glanville, David Hughes, Nigel Shafran and David Spero. The photographs are all priced under 5,000. In reaction to the decade-long Young British Artists movement, call it "Quiet Sensation."
Among the print dealers on hand was Counter (London), publisher of the popular Counter Editions, with a new c-type color photo in edition of 100 by Gillian Wearing. Called Olia (2003), it shows the model wearing a plastic, flesh-colored face and torso mask -- of herself. The special launch price at the fair was 250, which goes up to 350. At the booth of London dealer Paul Stolper was a portfolio of prints titled "Diamond-Dust Vol. 1," including glittering works by Peter Blake, Peter Liversidge, Peter Saville, Linder and Simon Periton. Notable was Gavin Turk's self-portrait of himself as Joseph Beuys done in the style of Andy Warhol. The editions were moving fast at 4,700.
Also spotted at the fair -- A paint-slathered skull on a mirrored, jewel-shaped end table from 2003 by Jim Lambie, titled I Believe in Miracles (price: 13,000), at Toby Webster's Glasgow gallery Modern Institute (Glasgow). . . . A set of large wall drawings by Turner Prize winner and scientist manque Keith Tyson at Haunch of Venison, his new gallery (price range: 10,000-50,000) . . . The pale blue nylon nightgown worn by Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby set in lightbox set into a wall of the Frith Street Gallery booth by 40-something East Londoner Cornelia Parker (price: 25,000).
And more -- a large black-and-white photograph of a kind of Amor & Psyche kiss made by South African artist Tracey Rose with her dealer, Christian Haye, at the booth of the New York and Los Angeles gallery The Project (price: $5,000 in an edition of six). . . . A flower-filled door by 2003 Turner Prize contestant Anya Gallaccio at the booth of Blum & Poe (price: $10,000). . . . And a wall of Negative Quasi Bricks by weather-artist Olafur Eliasson at Neugerriemschneider (price: 1,000 euros per brick).
Considering that Eliasson's installation in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall of his The Weather Project -- a bright yellow sun disk floating in clouds of mist -- has taken the city by storm (so to speak) since its opening on Oct. 16, the souvenirs of his art at Neugerriemschneider seem like a particularly good buy.