The great underreported story of Frieze Week in London was Multiplied, the new prints-and-multiples fair backed by Christie’s, held at the recently refurbished showrooms of the auction house’s 85 Old Brompton Road space, Oct. 15-18, 2010. Certainly, new satellite exhibitions to the monster Frieze Art Fair are common -- but when a global art-market powerhouse which claims to have done more than $400 million in private sales last year launches its own branded art fair, that’s something to take note of.
So, what was the story of Multiplied? One thing was immediately striking: Walking the aisles, the enterprise definitely did not feel like the tony, white-gloves affair that one might expect from the Christie’s brand. Instead, it had more of the bustle and jostle of an open studios event, even including live printmaking.
At the VIP opening, stickers of Banksy’s signature image -- a rat wearing star-shaped glasses -- mysteriously appeared stuck on the walls around the fair. Well, what do you expect when his official publisher, Black Rat Press, is one of the featured spaces?
Exhibitors were offered booths for as little as £750 -- the "bare bones price," according to one -- with costs going up from there for more frills. Overall, the participants were a mixed bag, though the selection included the likes of White Cube, as well as distinguished public institutions like Whitechapel and the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
As for the art, it ran the gamut: Pricey editions by Damien Hirst -- £12,250 (unframed) for Fun, a mixed-media piece featuring a syringe, pills and some butterflies, at the stand of the artist’s company Other Criteria -- down to £275 for a signed Polaroid of Tracey Emin with a dog, from Emin’s official prints-and-multiples arm, Emin International. Swingeing London, a 1968 lithograph by Pop pioneer Richard Hamilton, was £8,840 at Richard Saltoun.
There were plenty of big art names -- but also a tendency towards stuff familiar from the wider world of pop culture. Eyestorm boasted Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid’s instantly recognizable graphics (£693 for Tea and Sympathy (Royal Silver), from an edition of 95). Sims Reed was offering some works by Gerald Laing featuring Rehab chanteuse Amy Winehouse, images that made the news when Winehouse’s manager bought one as a birthday present for her (£1,410 for Belshazzar’s Feast, from an edition of 90). The Vinyl Factory was featuring -- no joke -- a series of large hologram images of Grace Jones, a collaboration with the ‘70s icon by Chris Levine.
How satisfied were exhibitors with Christie’s inaugural foray into art-fair organizing? The Christie’s team got generally high marks for professionalism. As for business, Richard Parry from The New Dome called Multiplied "a great success in terms of sales," reporting £18,000 in turnover, to collectors from the U.S., Germany and Switzerland. (To put this in perspective, the "sweet spot" for prices of individual works at Frieze was reported by be "under $100,000" -- about £63,400 at the current exchange rate.)
On a still more modest level, David Henningham, of the newish Henningham Family Press -- at an art fair for the first time -- loved Multiplied, saying that his biggest success was a print by Eddie Farrell proclaiming the phrase "Credit Crunch" printed atop a cereal box. He sold all but five from an edition of 45 at a mere a mere £9.99 a pop. "Doing our bit in these straightened times," Henningham said.
Michael Woolworth of Paris’ Woolworth Publications had a less rosy impression of Multiplied. "Buying was sluggish, visitors were not of utmost quality," he said. "The exhibitors were generally frustrated." Woolworth sold about 30 works, primarily to French people living in London, he said.
James Pyner of London’s Post Box Gallery called the fair "good-ish," but "nothing spectacular." Next year, Pyner said, his preference would be to apply for the "Frame" section of Frieze (devoted to new galleries), or the just-launched Sunday fair, which was drawing favorable comments in general for its inaugural outing during Frieze Week.
Somewhere in the middle was Eyestorm’s Angie Davey, who reported selling works by Lucie Bennett, Peter Blake, Stanley Donwood, Mark Hayward and John Pasche, among others. Davey was enthusiastic, with a caveat: "The percentage of visitors buying was high," she said, "but we found that footfall was quiet, which meant fewer sales than we might have got from a busier fair."
The number one complaint -- shared by almost all the dealers Artnet News spoke to, and curious given the marketing clout of Christie’s -- was the perceived low visibility of the fair. Even those who had an overall positive experience, like Eyestorm, felt it could benefit from more of a push.
In the end, lurking underneath the conflicting impressions of Multiplied lays a bit of a contrast between the two worlds that it is devoted: large-edition multiples, which target an audience closer to the general public, and editions, which target higher-end collectors looking for an entryway into the fine art world.
Thus, Michael Woolworth emphasized that, "Our world needs consumers, not ‘big collectors’ you’ll find at Frieze, people who want to have a real piece of art in their home at affordable price." On the other hand, Julia Alvarez of Bearspace -- who said she had a great fair, doubling sales expectations -- thought that she benefited by limiting the largest edition to seven, by artists like Jasmina Cibic or Suzanne Moxhay, thus appealing to more collectors looking for something a little rarer.
Finally, it is not clear that Multiplied benefits from the split focus on the two worlds. The New Dome’s Richard Parry reported that fair visitors from Frieze "suggested they saw other participants as less galleries promoting particular artists, and more shops selling a range of decorative prints." James Pyner added, "I think Christie’s would do better to charge a small [entrance] fee and to edit and organize the selection of galleries more tightly" -- in other words to make this Christie’s fair seem more, well, Christie’s.
Some of these gripes can be chalked up to first-time-round freshness -- the fair was only really announced at the end of July, and several exhibitors noted the short time frame that had brought the whole thing together. The Financial Times reports that a repeat edition of Multiplied is already booked in for 2011. It may well undergo some fine-tuning on the way.