A Donkey and Damien Hirst Dominated Frieze New York’s Fast-Paced Opening Day
The fifth edition of Frieze New York opened to VIPs on Wednesday morning, welcoming over 200 galleries from 31 countries to the fair’s iconic, curving tent on Randall’s Island. This year, as if to spite the gloomy weather, the fair entrance is outfitted with a giant, jovial, diaper-wearing parade balloon by Alex Da Corte, Free Money. Part of the fair’s Projects sector, the balloon beckoned collectors into Frieze’s aisles as the clock struck 11.
Just hours later, São Paulo’s Mendes Wood DM noted a banner start, having sold out of a series of six resin and steel works by Neïl Beloufa in the fair’s first hour. (A desk by Beloufa, similar to one in the 31-year-old artist’s current solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, was on hold as of 6pm.) These were among early sales in a fair well-known for its strong opener, largely due to its location outside of the city. Major collectors tend to come on day one and not return. “We always sell tremendously well at Frieze,” said the gallery’s international head of sales Martin Aguilera, who also noted the sale of a wall sculpture by Sônia Gomes, on the heels of her inclusion in Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s inaugural show of women artists, and photographs by Paulo Nazareth on the range of $18,000–35,000. By the close of opening day, the entire booth had sold out. “New York is a big market for Brazilian art,” said Aguilera, noting that the city’s “savvy collectors that are trying to expand their collections to other regions” are increasingly looking to Brazil when doing so.
Next door, Berlin’s Esther Schipper had moved front and center with what was likely Frieze’s largest booth. (The gallerist sits on Frieze’s committee and one year ago merged with fellow Berlin gallery Johnen.) The booth centers on a 1997 installation of an unlit bonfire by Liam Gillick, which had yet to sell midway through Wednesday’s vernissage. “We’re the first booth at the North entrance, so you basically fall into our arms,” said director Florian Lüdde, accounting for the heavy traffic through the booth throughout opening day. Schipper did, however, sell two “cloud city” works by Tomás Saraceno in the fair’s first few hours: K2-24 b /M+I (2016) was placed with a private collector for €80,000 and another from the series for €75,000. The artist opened a new solo exhibition, “AEROCENE,” with Schipper for last week’s Gallery Weekend Berlin. The show features a “chamber concert” composed by the movements of a live spider on its web. “It’s a good moment for him,” added Lüdde of Saraceno’s ever-growing acclaim.
What is likely Frieze’s most expensive booth—Damien Hirst’s solo with Gagosian Gallery—was unveiled on Wednesday after much anticipation, following news last month that the two art-world power brands had rejoined forces. (Hirst had left Gagosian’s stable in 2012.) “This is sort of the announcement of his return to the gallery,” said the gallery’s Jona Lueddeckens. “You basically have the most significant work by Hirst covered,” including spin paintings, a formaldehyde-preserved ram and two small sharks, and butterfly canvases. “You really see that he’s one of the most significant living artists,” said Lueddeckens of the booth, which a number of fair-goers also pointed to as something of a historical relic of a much frothier time in the art market than that of 2016.
In the fair’s Spotlight sector, dedicated to solo presentations of 20th-century work, Pippy Houldsworth was caught in high spirits. She had just placed Mary Kelly’s major 30-part work, Corpus, Preliminary Artwork (1984), with the Centre Pompidou Foundation for the permanent collection of Paris’s Centre Pompidou. The asking price was approximately $250,000. “There’s very little early work remaining by Mary,” said Houldsworth of the series, which pulls from the notebooks of middle-aged women to unearth their collective thoughts about life at that particular stage. “She really is one of the most influential female artists working today.” According to Houldsworth, the sale was among the abundance of museum interest that’s already marked a successful first outing at the fair for her gallery.
Among a deluge of other vernissage sales, Pace Gallery saw success with work by Fred Wilson, placing five major sculptural works by the artist (price range: $25,000-165,000) in the fair’s first hours. This precedes Wilson’s upcoming inclusion in a group exhibition at the gallery in June, and the artist’s solo exhibition at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in August. Meanwhile, Lisson Gallery sprung well off of its much buzzed-about New York gallery’s inauguration this week. The gallery reported selling half of the works in its booth on Frieze’s opening day. Those included pieces by Lawrence Weiner, Pedro Reyes, Ryan Gander, Haroon Mirza, and Stanley Whitney on the range of $20,000–100,000.
Paul Kasmin fared particularly well, having quickly sold out his solo booth of paintings by Walton Ford on opening day. “It is a rare chance to see a small but important show by Walton Ford,” said the dealer of the six new watercolor, ink, and gouache paintings, which had found buyers for between $400,000 and $700,000. The works recount the escape of a female black panther from the Zürich Zoo in 1933. Having fled her cage, the big cat lived for two months in the wild before being captured and killed for food, the entire affair spurring media fervor in Switzerland and beyond.
Over at Lehmann Maupin, works by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm were a particular hit amongst the crowds. Wurm will represent his home country at next year’s Venice Biennale. This week, however, he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his live performances, “One Minute Sculptures,” which are being re-enacted at Frieze. The gallery sold four photographs of his “One Minute Sculptures,” as well as Fat Bus Model (white) (2016; €50,000–70,000) and Obedience (2016; €45,000–55,000).
Frieze garners equal acclaim for its strong curatorial component as it does for sales. And this year is no different. Helmed by curator Cecilia Alemani, Frieze Projects sees six specially conceived initiatives grace the fair’s aisles and exterior. Among highlights were Anthea Hamilton’s futuristic kelly green car, chock-full of mimes (after Italian architect Mario Bellini’s Kar-A-Sutra, 1972) and David Horvitz’s hiring of a professional pickpocket to drop small sculptures into the pockets of visitors. (I kept my bag open all day, but to no avail.)
Maurizio Cattelan’s infamous exhibition Enter at Your Own Risk—Do Not Touch, Do Not Feed, No Smoking, No Photographs, No Dogs, Thank you (1994) has also been restaged at this year’s Frieze New York. The installation sees a live donkey standing beneath a sparkling baroque chandelier and was conceived as “a portrait of the artist as a young ass.” Its initial iteration at Daniel Newbury Gallery was shut down within 24 hours and drove the building’s owner to terminate the gallery’s lease. (For those concerned about this donkey’s well-being, I checked; the 15-year-old guy was happily munching hay and gets a 15-minute break every two hours.)
Among the changes to this year’s Frieze was a shifting of the floor plan that saw the fair’s sections delineated in a much more structured way. The move is in line with a trend across the fair landscape toward more concentrated, boutique experiences that let collectors home in on their particular interests and keep dreaded fair-tigue at bay. Particularly strong in this regard was Frieze’s Frame section, which offers solo presentations by 18 young galleries. This year the section is cordoned off in its own rectangular plot on the fair map—one lauded by a number of those dealers for the particular attention paid to the section’s design make it stand out.
“There’s this lovely synergy effect in being closer to the galleries that are from your generation,” said Mathew owner David Lieske, whose solo booth of work by 26-year-old artist Cooper Jacoby sits close to High Art, a gallery with whom Jacoby also shows. “It’s important for the clients to break it up a little, to see galleries from a certain generation and price range together. It also protects us from being in direct conversation with blue-chip galleries like Marian Goodman.” By midday of the preview, Lieske sold two of the booth’s five wall sculptures by Jacoby, priced between $5,000-7,000. The works see polished scraps of Fordite (a vintage byproduct of the automobile industry) strung with chemically stripped gold chains and arranged, in the manner of an acupuncture chart, across a layer of honeycomb. He also noted the sale of one of Jacoby’s two fiberglass reliefs cast from drains and gutters across Los Angeles, priced at $9,000.
Also in Frame, Jonathan Garnham of Cape Town-based Frieze newcomer blank projects saw early success, having sold two of three large scale works by South African artist Igshaan Adams in the fair’s first hours. Priced in the range of $20,000–24,000, the wall pieces fuse common materials—braided nylon rope, washing lines, cheap beads—into elegant, woven tapestries that explore hybrid identities in race, culture, and sexuality. “We wanted to come to America to gain access to the curators, collectors, market; to have a foot in the door,” said Garnham, who recently sold out his first New York fair booth at The Armory Show, with work by Johannesburg-born artist Turiya Magadlela. “People are expanding their collections to include artists who don’t hail from major art centers, especially African-American artists and African artists from the continental diaspora,” added the gallerist. “That works very well for us. Ten years ago it didn’t feel like that.”
It wasn’t just collectors’ interest that has expanded in its geography this year, but their origins, too. Across Frame’s aisle, Simon Wang of Shanghai gallery Antenna Space, in his second year at Frieze New York, had immediately sold one work by Li Ming for $12,000 and had another on hold by early afternoon. “I’ve seen more Chinese collectors this year—double, or even triple,” he noted, suggesting that last year’s Venice Biennale, which opened the week before Frieze New York, may have posed a conflict for some Chinese collectors unable to travel to both events in such a short time.
Whether Frieze’s strong opening day sales can defy the general art market slowdown observed across fairs this spring remains to be seen. However, Frieze New York’s ongoing push toward a more boutique and regionally expansive experience in Frame and the greater historical depth provided in Spotlight chart a compelling path forward for the five-year-old fair. Rain or shine, collectors keen on a single trek to Randall’s Island: You’d be well advised to dive back in for a second look.