Subscribe to our RSS feed:

RSS Feed Button

New London Sun
by Joe La Placa
Just two weeks ago, this corner of Regents Park was a green stretch of grass strewn with golden leaves.

But today there stands the Frieze Art Fair pavilion, a massive 200,000-square-foot white tent designed by architect David Adjaye. It is one of London's biggest buildings, albeit temporary. In two weeks it will be gone.

It took just three years for Frieze to become one of the most successful contemporary art fairs in the world. Featuring a handpicked selection of internationally recognized galleries, much of what you see at Frieze today will be in museums tomorrow.

The third edition of the Frieze Art Fair, Oct. 21-24, 2005, drew a record 47,000 visitors, 20 percent higher than last year. An estimated 1,500 journalists came to London to report on the over 2,000 artists featured by 160 galleries from the U.S., Asia, Russia, Latin America, Europe and the United Kingdom.

Although not fully tallied, sales figures are predicted to far exceed last year's £26 million.

"We have done as much if not more business at this fair than we have done at any other art fair," said Nicholas Logsdail, director of the Lisson Gallery in London. "Between the fair and the gallery, sales are likely to be in the region of £2 million."

Such figures are a tribute to Frieze founders and co-directors Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover of Frieze Magazine. "Even with our healthy increase in visitor numbers there have been no queues; the third edition really has run remarkably smoothly," said Slotover.

Frieze's impact has been great since its inception three years ago, creating a new paradigm within London's cultural season known as Frieze Week.

With major collectors pouring into London with fistfuls of cash, the local economy thrives. A conspicuous absence of Americans this year can be attributed to the B & B factor -- terrorist bombs and Art Basel Miami Beach.

Nevertheless, hotels were jammed with visitors from all over the world. Restaurants and bars were bursting to capacity with dinners and parties.

Speaking of parties, where were the representatives of Tony Blair's Labour Party, the force behind "Cool Britannia"? None were sighted. The Prime Minister and London Mayor Ken Livingston should publicly thank Slotover and Sharp for helping to bringing millions of pounds worth of cultural tourism to the U.K. economy.

London has much to celebrate.

This year's top bash was hosted by Jay Jopling's White Cube at Sketch, the hot private club owned by Mourad Mazouz and boasting a three-star restaurant run by French wunder-chef Pierre Gagnaire. Celebrating Frieze's opening night, it was a flashback to the days of Studio 54. Outside the venue, black-clad bouncers hand-picked notables for entry, clearing the path for a still gorgeous Bianca Jagger among a hoard of other guests wielding invitations, all desperate to cross the threshold.

The capital's museums and galleries have ridden the momentum of Frieze, mounting their finest exhibitions of the season. Spectacular shows, like sculptor Rachael Whiteread's duel debut at the Tate Modern and the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Road, astonished any visitor who managed to escape the allure of the fair.

Further validating Frieze's momentum, auction giants Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams have repositioned their mid-season sales to coincide with the fair. For details of the record results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

Frieze has spawned three independent fringe fairs: Scope at St. Martin's Hotel; the Affordable Art Fair at Battersea Park; and, most notably, the spectacularly successful Zoo Fair at the London Zoo's Prince Albert Banqueting Hall and Mappin Pavilion -- just next to the bears!

Organized by director Soraya Rodriguez and backed by leading London collectors Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, Zoo featured 30 of London's best young galleries and publishers, introducing new talents like Ed Kay (Dicksmith Gallery), Tom Gallant (Museum 52), Paul Fryer, Polly Morgan and Martin Sexton (T1+2).

Opening a day before Frieze, Zoo immediately saw sales that were fast and furious. Collectors like Charles Saatchi (who later bought 17 works at Frieze, including three works by the young German artist Michael Bauer) and Vanessa Branson (wife of Virgin's Richard Branson) raced to the gates to get the jump on the pack of international collectors who later descended on the fair.

"Forty G's in one hour, dawg!" joked Englishman Tom Hanbury, mimicking my American roots. Co-director of the hot East London gallery Dicksmith, he had sold art worth over £40,000 in under 60 minutes at Zoo.

Riflemaker director Virginia Damsta reported sales of more than £170,000, virtually clearing the gallery's stock.

Frieze's numbers are bit more impressive. "Six hundred G's in one hour, dawg!" responded the booming West Coast dealer Patrick Painter at the Frieze Art Fair, slapping me five as he did the electric boogie down the aisle. Painter sold Georg Baselitz's black and white Zero for the Painter for ?225,000; Jorg Immendorf's Untitled (2005) for $105,000 and Mike Kelly's Hidden Profile (1994) for $250,000 -- all within the first hour of the fair.

Big ticket works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville flew off the walls at the Gagosian stand. Hirst's butterfly diptych Boy Meets Girl sold for an estimated $1.3 million.

"Frieze has been great," said Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, director of Gagosian in London. "We've done a lot of business. The price level one can achieve has markedly improved."

But it takes more than just money to buy at Frieze. Speed is essential. Minutes after the opening, Singer George Michael and his partner, Dallas gallery owner Kenny Goss, attempted to purchase Paul Graham's oversized image of Margaret Thatcher at Anthony Reynolds stand. But alas, the work, 8th April 2002, emblematic of an era when the Iron Lady ruled Great Britain with a tight fist, had already been sold for £20,000 to another buyer. Mark Walinger's Ghost (2001, ed. 2), a majestic black and white x-ray image of George Stubbs' most famous equestrian portrait transposed into a light-box unicorn, sold for £95,000.

Matthew Marks Gallery featured works by this year's Turner Prize nominee Darren Almond, along with Gary Hume and Katharina Fritsch. Marks' impressive effort -- the best at Frieze -- took the art-fair concept to a new level, organizing three separate solo shows that had an environmental feel about them. One furnished room, featuring a carpet by Hume and various works by Fritsch -- a giant tondo of Paris and tongue-in-cheek sculptures of a poodle and a mouse -- felt like you could move right in. Almond's black-and-white photo of a jumble of snow-covered beams, titled Minus 60,000, sold for £10,000, and his Station, a cast marble sculpture based on the underground logo, sold for £22,000.

Photographer David Bailey was busy snapping pictures of visitors in yet another creative interpretation of how to use a stand -- as a photography studio. The best of his bespoke portraits will be featured in the January issue of British Vogue.

The Wrong Gallery, traditionally Frieze's most subversive stand, this year featured a recreation of a piece by Italian artist Paola Pivi called 100 Chinese. The original 1998 version called for 100 Chinese people standing in a room, but due to size limitations, only 50 could fit into the Wrong Gallery stand. When confronted with the contradiction, Pivi replied "It's the Wrong Gallery. . .  so we always make something wrong there!"

One person who gets it right is Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro Gallery. Two of his magnificent new pots were on display, immediately selling for £26,000. Quotes from the Internet, a seemingly decorative object from afar, turns subversive upon closer inspection, challenging our ideas about what is "normal." Coming from Perry, who often appears in frilly dresses as his alter ego Clair, Carl Jung's "To be normal is the aim of the unsuccessful" takes on another dimension.

Speaking of pots, at Art & Public-Cabinet P.H., the Indian artist Subodh Gupta throws everything into his construction but the kitchen sink. Gupta's shining, stainless steel sculptures composed of kitchen items typically manufactured for the Indian middle class are like a Bollywood version of works by the late, great Arman. The compulsively arranged stainless steel cabinet Curry 2 (2005 ed. 2) sold for $50,000, while the Jeff Koons-like Bucket (2005 ed. 3), a stainless steel version with a 200 cm diameter, went for $70,000.

More steel was on view from South African Kendal Geers at Salon 94. Titled Akropolis (2004), a homonym of its Greek counterpart, the sculpture depicts a classical colonnade completely constructed out of barbed wired. The implied violence of the material has a particular poignancy to the artist. It was first used in his homeland in 1898 during the Boer Wars.

Any chess player would relish a game on Rachel Whiteread's Modern Chess Set at Luhring Augustine. Each piece is a painstaking replica of an item from the artist's collection of doll furniture, lovingly accumulated over two decades. The board is made up of old pieces of linoleum and carpet. Originally commissioned by RS&A (and now on view at Luhring Augustine's New York gallery), the set comes in an edition of five and sold for £90,000.

The indisputable popular favorite was the confounding crowd pleaser Madrileno No. 2 (2005) by Evan Penny, which sold for $80,000 at Sperone Westwater Gallery. A constant stream of spectators marveled at its oblique illusionism described by artist Mark Wallinger as "a Ron Mueck head crossed with the anamorphic skulls in Hans Holbein's Ambassadors -- it quite defies the eyes." 

Eyes were similarly defied, even outraged, by Spiritual Midwifery Rush (2005; ed. 3; $20,000 for the entire series) at Maccarone Inc. Artist Cory McCorkle presents a series of graphic color photographs capturing his wife giving birth. It's a rarely seen glimpse into the intimate joys and bloody violence of being born. Although 47,000 people saw the series at the fair, McCorkle refused my request to reproduce any part of it. Speaking through a gallery representative, he said he was concerned that the images could be rapidly distributed over the internet. "There is a difference between presenting the images as art objects and presenting them as jpegs on the internet," he said. I'll respect his wishes!

Rebecca Warren's new sculptures at Maureen Paley Interim Art reminded me of the demise of the narrator in Phillip Roth's classic The Breast -- he slowly turns into a giant pap. B (2005) has a lava-like base of ever changing forms, an experience not unlike looking at clouds, from which a giant breast protrudes, more like a nose or finger. It sold for an estimated £30,000. Watch for Warren's upcoming show in New York at Matthew Marks.

Jay Jopling/White Cube featured a four-meter-long painting by Martin Kobe. Sold for £55,000, Untitled (2005) is a shimmering, Cubo-Futuristic vision of confounding architectural forms. In complete contrast was Tracey Emin's Sometimes I feel so fucking lost (2005), a tapestry with a group of sensitively embroidered figures, selling for £135,000.

At David Zwirner, Thomas Ruff's jpeg nt01 (2004; ed. 3) is a black-and-white image of one of the nuclear test explosions that took place during the 1940s and '50s at Bikini Atoll. Taking low resolution jpegs from the internet as his source material, Ruff enlarges the small digital file to hundreds of times its original size, resulting in extreme pixilation of the image, a blocky, irresolute form of Impressionism. It sold for $120,000.

I could go on, but as they say, always end on a blast!

JOE LA PLACA is Artnet's London representative.