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Frieze Art Fair

by Rachel Corbett
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Are all the Americans at art fairs in Paris, Houston, Toronto? They didn’t seem to be in London for the Frieze Art Fair, Oct. 13-16, 2011. Frieze dealers overwhelmingly noted the shortage of American collectors in attendance compared to, say, those from Europe and the Middle East.

It’s not altogether clear how much that impacted sales, however, for the fair started off strong, with the early private viewing attracting glam VIPs like Elle McPherson, Gwen Stefani, Charles Saatchi, Dasha Zhukova and Antoine Arnault. Still, wandering around the 173 booths, it became clear that the buying spirit was less than buoyant this time around. The total value of the works on display was slightly less than last year, according to a Bloomberg estimate -- about $350 million, compared to $375 million in 2010.

German artists were the beneficiaries of the top two reported sales of the week. Number one was a huge new digital print by Gerhard Richter, titled Strip (CR921-1) (2011) and featuring hundreds of thin horizontal parallel lines in an array of colors, selling at Marian Goodman for $2.4 million -- a price likely boosted by the recent Christie’s London sale of Richter’s Candle painting for $16.6 million, which set a new record for the artist. Another big purchase was the $1.35 million reportedly paid at David Zwirner for the dark theatrical painting Haus des Lehrers (2003) by Socialist-Surrealist Neo Rauch. The gallery also sold a gloomy three-panel Marlene Dumas painting of female nudes for $550,000 and a Daniel Richter painting of neon monkey-like creatures to Indo-Chinese collector Budi Tek for $350,000.

Meanwhile, other big-ticket sales included a Takashi Murakami manga sculpture for nearly $900,000 at Galerie Perrotin, and Anselm Kiefer’s winged-stone painting San Loretto (2008) for about $700,000 at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. In the Frieze sculpture park, all three copies of Thomas Houseago’s 10-foot-tall black-bronze brute, Hermaphrodite (2011), sold to European collectors for $425,000 apiece.

“There aren’t as many New Yorkers as I thought there would be,” said New York art dealer Jack Hanley, who added that his booth had been largely visited by French and Belgian collectors. He sold a large, coarsely drawn map by British comic artist Simon Evans (b. 1972) for $30,000 and a handful of Shaun O’Dell's small, obsessive line drawings for $3,000 each. He did spot a few notable U.S. visitors, however. Members of the Helen and Charles Schwab family -- recently resident on the ARTnews top-ten list of collectors -- passed through, as did REM’s Michael Stipe, who was “very interested” in Hanley’s set of fluorescent silkscreen posters by photographer Thomas Dozol. “He always seems to come by my booth and to the gallery in New York,” he said -- it probably helps that Dozol is Stipe’s longtime partner.

“There’s been a lot of European interest, particularly for our Chinese artists,” like painter Li Songsong, said Pace director Katie Wellesley Wesley. Yet it was Tara Donovan’s delicate “drawing” of overlapping circles, formed by pushing thousands of pins into a dense foam board, that Wellesley Wesley said is “probably the most talked-about work at the show.” Rising star Loris Gréaud’s mirrored case containing lumpy, pupa-like masses melted down from an old Madame Tussaud’s wax figure of Charles Darwin was another popular work.

Pace is in the midst of intensifying its presence in London -- and perhaps competing for market space with White Cube, which opened an enormous third gallery in the city Oct. 12, 2011 -- with a new office-cum-private viewing space in Soho. Next year, Pace is opening a new gallery in Mayfair. Wellesley Wesley wouldn’t say exactly what exhibitions are in the works, but hinted that we’ll probably be seeing more from science-artist Keith Tyson in the near future.

The U.S. was represented, at least esthetically, at Marianne Boesky’s booth of western-themed works by Arizona-born artist Adam Helms (b. 1974). Still, the two works that had been sold were bought by a European collector. A triptych, Desert Mythology (2011), consisting of two large-scale charcoal drawings of figures that appear to have soldiers’ bodies and aliens’ heads and a light box that illuminates moody landscape and war photos, sold for $55,000. A six-panel silkscreen-on-felt series of distorted militant faces went for $40,000.

Helms’ solo exhibition at Marianne Boesky was a success last year, so senior director Adrian Turner said the gallery decided that Frieze seemed like “a good time to keep the momentum going.”

Over at White Cube, rumor had it that the VIP Americans weren’t coming until the weekend, stopping through before they head to Paris for Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Oct. 20-23, 2011, said sales executive Kimberly Brown. The Cube seemed to be doing just fine without them, though, having sold a dizzying mural-size photograph of a packed German nightclub by Andreas Gursky, Cocoon II (2008) for €600,000, an Antony Gormley steel standing sculpture, Spy, for £300,000, a new Mark Bradford painting for $400,000, and other works by Damien Hirst, Damián Ortega and the Chapman brothers.

Unsurprisingly, no Americans were hiding out at Tokyo and Kyoto-based Taka Ishii Gallery either. But that’s nothing new to director Jeffrey Rosen. “We’re a Japanese gallery so we’re on the periphery,” he said. “It’s not like there are people running to our booth.” Maybe not, but the gallery does particularly well with British institutions, he said. Buyers from the Tate Collection -- which had a £150,000 Frieze shopping budget this year -- nabbed two portfolios of small black-and-white photographs by the little-known duo Shozo Kitadai and Kiyoji Otsuji for an undisclosed sum. Another London museum purchased a still-life photo by German conceptualist photographer Annette Kelm (b. 1975) for $8,900.

Elsewhere, the Tate seemed to be buying works by women in particular, including from mixed-media artist Melanie Smith (b. 1965) and Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow (1926-1973) and a portfolio of 38 spare, swift-lined drawings by the Lisbon-based photographer Helena Almeida. Judging by that sale and the opening-day crowd at Madrid’s Galeria Helga de Alvear’s spacious booth, which was filled exclusively with Almeida works, it seems that the artist, who is 77, is finally getting the recognition she deserves. Six of the 11 works were sold or on reserve by the weekend, ranging in price from around €30,000 for a formally austere yet intimate black-and-white photograph of the artist slumped on the floor, I am there #4 (2005), up into six figures for her larger two-panel or grids of photographs.

Of course, at least one gallery seemed to attract the Americans. “We had quite a few,” said manager Nick Olney at the technicolor Paul Kasmin Gallery booth, outfitted with a kaleidoscopic Deborah Kass painting of neon squares and overlapping text, Frank’s Dilemma (2009), and a cartoonish pink-and-red Will Ryman rose sculpture, which we overheard one American collector considering for $650,000, provided it could withstand the “saltwater, wind and sun” at the beach where she presumably wanted to install it. She was reassured that the work had been made with “very durable” marine-grade paint.

RACHEL CORBETT is the news editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email