NEW YORK — Wandering around the airy, massive tent that is home to the inaugural Frieze Art Fair, critic Jerry Saltz mused, “New Yorkers usually don’t cross water for culture, unless it’s an ocean.” But cross water they did, and in droves — though the tent was so large that it was at times difficult to determine exactly how many people were there.
Judging by the number of familiar faces and substantial sales, if not by the elbow room, Thursday’s VIP opening day on Randall’s Island was quite well attended. Artists Tracey Emin, Maurizio Cattelan, and Chuck Close were all spotted, along with a healthy crowd of art advisors, curators, and museum directors like Glenn Lowry, Thelma Golden, and Jeremy Strick.
“The fact that it’s limited to people who bother to get out here and people who can afford to get out here means it’s a more discerning audience,” said Joost Bosland, director of Capetown’s Stevenson Gallery. While the Miami art fairs may play host to P. Diddy and Catherine Zeta-Jones, there were few celebrities to spot here (other than Mark Ruffalo, engaged in a strange BBQ stunt at Gavin Brown Enterprise, to call attention to the dangers of fracking). The audience was professional, and though Thursday’s VIP opening had the jovial feel of something fresh and new, it was clear that serious business was being done.
At Cheim & Read’s booth, partner and sales director Adam Sheffer was practically giddy. “It feels like 2007 all over again!” he exclaimed. The booth sold several Jenny Holzer pieces — an LED sign for $175,000, a bench for $100,000, as well as a work via JPEG — as well as a Chantal Joffe painting for $65,000, a Louise Fishman work for $125,000, and a Bill Jensen for $25,000. Reportedly on reserve was the 2,000-pound Lynda Benglis sculpture oozing out of the corner of the booth, which required the gallery to reinforce the floors underneath in advance of the opening.
Within the first eight minutes of the fair, Lisson Gallery sold a sculpture by Haroon Mirza, the young British sound and installation artist who won the Silver Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, for $40,000, and proceeded to sell a bronze mirrored disk by Anish Kapoor for £500,000 ($809,100). London’s Victoria Miro sold several recent works “in the low to mid-six figures” by Yayoi Kusama, who has seen a rush of fresh interest on the heels of her Tate retrospective. “People are incredibly happy to be here,” said dealer James Cohan, who sold a number of pieces by Berlin-based Simon Evans for $30,000 to $75,000 by early afternoon. “They all say, ‘I guess this is going to become the fair in New York.’”
The swift sales continued over at Metro Pictures, where Robert Longo’s large, black-and-white close-up drawing of a waving American flag sold for $425,000 and a Cindy Sherman photograph from 1977 sold for $950,000. Casey Kaplan and Andrea Rosen reported selling out, or very nearly selling out, everything they had on the walls. Kaplan presented a solo show of Garth Weiser’s large, bright abstractions ($35,000-45,000 each). Rosen mounted a solo room of brand new vibrant paintings and wall collages by Elliott Hundley, all sold for $85,000, and an accompanying room of quieter work by Wolfgang Tillmans and Aaron Bobrow, among others. “I tend to bring work under $100,000 to Frieze,” Rosen said. “People who come here like to feel a sense of discovery, but also buy work they know is still reasonably established.”
Not every booth was built with brisk sales in mind, however. Stevenson devoted the majority of its space to a massive installation by South African rising star Nicholas Hlobo: the rubber tube snaked around the entire booth, festooned with colorful ribbons. (The gallery had yet to sell the piece by the end of the first day, though it had sold several of Hlobo’s smaller wall pieces.) Standard Gallery, from Oslo, devoted half its floor space to a towering installation of cardboard boxes by Matias Faldbakken, priced at £30,000 ($39,500).
“This is the kind of fair where people don’t always go for the obvious,” said Sprueth Magers’s Andreas Gegner. The gallery sold one of Jenny Holzer’s new paintings for $175,000 and a mauve wool painting by Rosemarie Trockel for £75,000 ($121,410). The gallery also sold several pieces for £18,000 ($29,138) by the German artist Astrid Klien, whose collages incorporating vintage movie stills, text, and paper look like the lovechild of John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger. (Though, to be fair, Klein began working in this now-familiar format a bit earlier than some of her peers, in 1979.)
Tang Contemporary Art, from Beijing, devoted its entire booth to an installation by Chinese artist He An entitled “I am Curious Yellow I am Curious Blue.” The artist stole various lighted signs from around the city in order to form the name of his favorite Japanese porn star. He then took the signs and dropped them from the roof of a building. The broken bits of porn-themed signage are still available for $50,000.
Somewhat creepy sculptures of or referencing the female form was a mini-trend at the fair: Athens-based Breeder Gallery was displaying Jennifer Rubell’s “Nutcracker,” a nude mannequin whose legs served as a fully-functioning nutcracker. Over at Galerie Perrotin’s booth, a hyperrealist sculpture of a young woman leaning up against the wall by French artist Daniel Firman could have easily been mistaken for an exhausted gallerina. (It turned out to be a plaster work entitled “Lea” — the latest in the artist’s “Attitudes” series, priced at $35,000.)
With Armory Show director Noah Horowitz and Armory Show co-founder Paul Morris spotted trolling the halls, there was much chatter about what this event might mean for the New York fair landscape. “It’s a much better range of galleries, and lots of them didn’t come to the Armory this year,” said dealer Sean Kelly. “But we did seven-figure sales at the Armory and we’re doing well here. So far, there is room for both fairs.”
“I think NADA, the ADAA, and Independent will be fine,” said art advisor Lisa Schiff. “The Armory, I’m not sure. Maybe just the modern section will stick around. Next year will be an interesting one, that’s for sure.”