October 4, 2017
Big Sales at Frieze Preview—$2.75 M. Koons, $2.5 M. Polke—Point to Continued Strength in London Market
Nate Freeman

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A year after a Frieze Week that was steeped in fear and uncertainty about what effects the then fresh Brexit vote would have on the market, the VIP previews for Frieze London and Frieze Masters today saw a swell of patrons who showed up early to stroll through the muscular offerings that galleries brought to sell. Collectors were out in force—including Steve Cohen, Dasha Zhukova, Don and Mera Rubell, Martin Eisenberg, and Beth Rudin DeWoody—and they snapped up work priced solidly into the seven figures.

Dealers said that the city is as much of an art capital as ever and that those involved in art commerce have no reason to worry, especially given that Prime Minister Theresa May has effectively delayed Brexit until 2021.

“I think Brexit is a very stupid idea, and my theory is that it’s going to just fade away and be abandoned,” Lisson Gallery’s founder, Nicholas Logsdail, told me during a recent interview. “Hopefully everyone will forget about it, until it’s just forgotten.”

London’s continued power as an art-fair city has much to do with the critical mass of big-wattage museum exhibitions it can offer in more than a dozen institutions around the city, a slew of must-see gallery shows, and an auction week that has only been bolstered by the decision of Christie’s to cancel its July sales and double down on its Frieze Week sales.

This has all transpired as a host of other major fairs have weathered a variety of issues that have dissuaded collectors from visiting. Art Basel Miami Beach was haunted by the Zika virus last year, and some hotels will be closed this year because of damage sustained during Hurricane Irma. This past spring, Frieze New York was the victim of a crowded moment for the art world jet set, as it was scheduled right before the Venice Biennale and two weeks before the May sales in New York, forcing collectors to pick and choose when to come stateside. The fair brass for Frieze New York even cut the festivities from five days to four.

(Some here in London mentioned that the idea of going to an art fair in the United States now, given the events last Sunday in Las Vegas, is unsettling. Governmental bodies have implemented gun control across the pond, and, annually, there are two gun deaths per 1 million people in the U.K.—in the U.S., there are more than 100 gun deaths per 1 million people.)

With the summer’s Grand Tour over and not a drop of rain in sight, London seems like a solid bet for where the market is strongest right now. Thaddaeus Ropac opened a new gallery in London this past April—instead of opening a first space in, say, New York—and said he chose the location based on the art infrastructure already in place. He has up at his Mayfair gallery Robert Longo’s first-ever solo show in London. He said picking the British capital for his next outpost was “the natural next step.”

“You don’t really need an argument for London—it’s here, it’s vibrant, it’s present,” Ropac said at his booth. “It has the most successful museum in the world for international art, the Tate Modern. And it’s very international—everyone passes through London.”

And there’s the fact that he can make very substantial sales very early at this London fair. This year, in the opening hours, along with the $2.5 million Polke, he sold Robert Rauschenberg’s Orange Squeeze (Urban Bourbon), 1992, for $1.5 million, and Georg Baselitz’s Zero Mobil (2014) for €1.1 million (about $1.29 million).

Elsewhere at Frieze London, Pace Gallery sold 16 drawings by Loie Hollowell to different collectors, Jack Shainman sold Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Bathers), 2017, for $875,000, and David Kordansky nearly sold out his booth, which featured the work of Will Boone.

Over at Frieze Masters, the sales came at a slightly more deliberate pace, which befits the more serious vibe of the fair—the serious collectors come later in the week when the frenzy has subsided, or they come check out a piece and sleep on it before committing. Blum & Poe hadn’t found a buyer for any of its eight works by Julian Schnabel, all made in 1994 and priced between $325,000 and $525,000. And this despite the fact that Schnabel had taken time off from pre-production on his Vincent van Gogh biopic to come by and, in true Schnabel fashion, dramatically sign the booth’s wall.

“I love this fair because it’s so slow,” gallery co-owner Jeff Poe said. “People come and really take their time to consider the work.”

It’s all a matter of finding the right buyer, especially when it comes to certain art. The Venus Over Manhattan booth at Frieze Masters had works by John Dogg, a fictional artist reputed to have been created by Richard Prince and the late art dealer Colin de Land who showed at de Land’s East Village gallery in the 1980s. The booth took five years to assemble—the work is hard to track down—and the tire at its center is priced at $250,000. (There is also a very real catalogue raisonné for the fake artist, and it comes with Prince’s approval. Printed in the back it says: “Upon review of this publication, John Dogg commented: ‘Handshake drugs I bought downtown.’ September 26, 2017.” A Wilco reference, perhaps?)

Setting aside elusive artists, the fair’s most elusive object has to be Darren Bader’s Proposal for a Fragrance at the booth of Sadie Coles HQ. The work is activated when its buyer combines at least 37 perfumes to create a fragrance that the owner will then try to sell. When I asked about it, a gallery rep took a bottle of perfume on the table and gave it a pump to send a plume of odor into the air.

It can be yours for $12,000.