Frieze London Report: The Fair Shines in Tough Times as Dealers Up Their Game

Frieze London Report: The Fair Shines in Tough Times as Dealers Up Their Game
Maria Nepomuceno's "Untitled" at Victoria Miro's booth
(Photograph by Linda Nylind, courtesy Linda Nylind/Frieze)

LONDON—Frieze Masters made a promising debut yesterday, but contemporary art is still where the excitement is. VVIPs rushed through the doors of the Carmody Groarke-designed Frieze tent at 11 am this morning — and strong sales were reported almost immediately. But there was no pre-crash hysteria on the floor: Times are tough, and competition is fierce. Perhaps as a result, most dealers made a particular effort, presenting booths of a remarkable quality. With its 10th anniversary, Frieze is reaching full maturity.

Ten minutes in, Hauser & Wirth sold Paul McCarthy's 2012 "White Snow Head" (2012) for $1.3 million. The monumental, toilet paper-pink sculpture is a popular favourite. It is part of a three-artist display conceived as a tribute to the late Swiss sculptor Hans Josephsohn, and features some of his brass wall-mounted pieces (20 of which sold for £10,000 apiece) alongside works by McCarthy and Jason Rhoades.

The gallery is present both at Frieze London and at Frieze Masters (where they are showing, among others things, works by the legendary feminist artist Eva Hesse and a stunning blue nude by Yves Klein). ARTINFO UK asked Hauser & Wirth Picadilly director Neil Wenman how the two fairs compared. “It's quicker here, but then the value is much higher at Frieze Masters,” he answered. “Traditionally, the masters market operates at a slower pace.”

Sprüth Magers also boasted a promising start, having sold a George Condo oil on linen (“Red Profile,” 2012) for $325,000, a Sterling Ruby collage for $155,000, and Jean-Luc Mylayne photograph (“No 500 (2/2), Mars 2006-Mai 2007”) for €60,000 — all to European collectors (who seemed to form the bulk of the buyers today).

The fair's saturation of images is aptly echoed by Thomas Bayrle's Frieze Project (“Sloping Loafers/Smooth”). Shoe motifs and the famous laughing cow are repeated ad nauseum in the fair's entrance corridor and a sitting area, lending it an occasionally dizzying psychedelic feel.

“It's been very lively,” said Victoria Miro co-director Glenn Scott-Wright. The gallery sold Yayoi Kusama's pink and gold canvas “Universe RYPK” (2010) for “a price in the mid-six figures in U.S. dollars,” he confided. Victoria Miro is also presenting a booth of William Eggleston photographs at Frieze Masters (together with Cheim & Read), and has shows by Chris Ofili and Elmgreen & Dragset on at the gallery, as well as a Kusama sculpture in the Frieze Sculpture Park. “We are not just doing business here,” added Scott-Wright, stressing the extra challenge of a second London fair. “We have five different venues we try to promote.”

Over at New York's Andrew Kreps Gallery, a multi-panel installation of paintings by Ricci Albenda was sold for $200,000. Their Marc Camille Chaimowicz carpet (£18,000) was still waiting to find a home at time of writing.

Vitamin Creative Space, from Guangzhou, was awarded the Frieze Stand Prize (sponsored by Pommery champagne), but many could have laid rightful claim to it. Casey Kaplan is showcasing a fetching solo presentation by Canadian Geoffrey Farmer, which involves cutout figures glued inside ceramic jars. Also noteworthy was Gavin Brown's pairing of small Alex Katz still-life paintings with a table by Uri Aran crowded with everyday miscellanea.

Newly introduced in London, the Focus section, for galleries under 10 years old, lacks the pizzazz of its younger counterpart, Frame (for galleries under six years old). And it is mainly the solo presentations that shine through. A highlight is MOT International's display of Elizabeth Price's video piece “West Hinder” (2012) — a good example of the elegant splicing of sound and images to which Price owes her recent Turner Prize nomination.

“Collectors are interested in the young but also in works that could be at Frieze Masters,” said Pace Gallery's Sarah Goulet, summing up the overall cheerful mood. The super-dealer’s sales include a large bronze (£35,000) by the British artist Keith Coventry, who recently joined the gallery's roster, a piece by rising star Adam Pendleton (£45,000), and five small works on paper by Yoshitomo Nara (priced between $35,000 and $50,000).

David Zwirner, the other American giant to have recently opened a London outpost, sported five new works by Carol Bove made specifically for the fair (priced at between $80,000 and $250,000). At time of writing, the gallery had sold a photograph by Christopher Williams for $40,000, a new piece by Michael Riedel for $75,000 — also produced for the fair — and a Francis Alÿs gun sculpture for $30,000 (not displayed at the booth).

Jean-Luc Moulène was a great success at Thomas Dane Gallery. Three of his “Bic” monochromes, made with biro ink, sold for €40,000 each to different European collectors, and so did his glass sculpture “Blown knot 6 3 2 (borronean) baria 5” (2012), which went for the same price. The gallery also reported sales of sculptures by Walead Beshty and Alexandre da Cunha, both for £25,000.

As often, the younger Frame section provides a welcome sense of irreverence in this smoothly run operation. Sometimes, it does good business too. By midday, L.A.'s François Ghebaly had sold over half of his sultry gay erotic drawings ($6,000 each) by maverick filmmaker Mike Kuchar. Carlos/Ishikawa are celebrating their entry to the big fair with an “on- and offline dating agency,” courtesy of the artist Ed Fornieles. In case you are wondering what this means, visitors are offered the chance to “adopt” a fictional persona and meet a matching stranger.

For all the dazzling sales figures, museum-quality works, and international blue-chip galleries, Frieze's openness to the cutting-edge is what has come to define it. In 10 years, the fair has grown, matured, known the boom, known the crash — but it has lost nothing of its signature, open-minded style. 

To see highlights from Frieze London 2012, click on the slideshow.

To see all ARTINFO's Frieze Week coverage, click here.