Installation view of GRIMM’s booth at Frieze New York, 2018. Photo by Renato Ghiazza. Courtesy of GRIMM.
The art collecting crowd appreciates pampering, which is why fairs go out of their way to show VIP collectors every courtesy: fleets of BMWs to transport them to and from fairs, private lounges (and often lounges within lounges) stocked with refreshments, quiet preview days away from the maddening crowds. These are people whose entire lives are climate-controlled.
It was unsurprising, then, that many weren’t in the mood to stick around Frieze New York on its two VIP preview days, when temperatures in New York reached into the 90s and even the sturdiest bouffants began to wilt. Why stand under a tent with sweat running down your legs when you could return to the comfort of your five-star hotel, Tribeca loft, or Park Avenue Classic Six?
“The fact that the climate was so out of hand on Wednesday definitely impacted gallery performances,” said Andreas Gegner of Berlin, London, and Los Angeles’s Sprüth Magers. “A lot of galleries just lost business opportunities. Wednesday is the people who are buying...those are the people you want and need to meet at an art fair.”
Gegner said he suspected that by Thursday, the second private preview day of Frieze, a new feature this year, word had gotten around about the temperature conditions, causing others to stay home or skip Frieze in favor of TEFAF’s spring fair in New York, which opened to VIPs Thursday at the Park Avenue Armory.
“It was meant to be a second opportunity for galleries to meet collectors and it was very quiet,” Gegner said. “In the past, Frieze has always managed to create a very enjoyable environment...This year, unfortunately, due to the extreme weather conditions, they weren’t able to deliver that environment.”
Numerous other dealers agreed that the heat chased their clients away, leading to slow sales on Frieze New York’s first VIP preview day on Wednesday. Yet other dealers reported robust sales during the fair, which closed on Sunday—especially at lower price points. The divergent results underscore the precarity of the gallery business, when a few degrees, a light snow (such as the one that inaugurated The Armory Show in New York earlier this year), or the presence of this or that collector or advisor can mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful art fair.
Installation view of Mor Charpentier’s booth at Frieze New York, 2018. Courtesy of Sean Fader and Mor Charpentier.
Collectors are always fickle and fair directors have no more control over the weather than anyone else. But dealers seemed especially attuned to the lack of comfort and its concomitant impact on sales at this seventh edition of Frieze New York, coming as it does at a time of heightened sensitivity to the instability of the gallery business model—especially for those galleries working with less established artists.
“If we don’t sustain the art world at every level...the art world cannot exist,” said Sean Kelly, speaking from a recording studio set up in his booth where he was taping interviews with collectors for a new multimedia initiative called Collect Wisely. “You cannot run an art fair with 10 large, corporate, supermarket galleries, therefore, its sustainability should be important to all of us.”
Collect Wisely engages collectors in conversations about passion, aesthetics, and connoisseurship, with a goal of reorienting the conversation away from an artwork’s value or potential return on investment, which Kelly said has become too much of a focal point. He pointed to the ever-greater share of the collecting base hailing from the financial industry as one reason for that shift in focus.
Kelly said he wasn’t sure about the “tax” on big dealers, mentioned by David Zwirner recently at a conference, to help subsidize fair participation for smaller peers. (He described the proposal as “rather patronizing” towards the younger galleries.) But he has spoken to fair organizers about the issue and said they’re “very aware of the problem.”
“The serious people who are running fairs are concerned with this and they do want to have these conversations and they do want us all to work together to formulate a response,” Kelly said. “But I’m not in a position to suggest to the Armory or Frieze or Basel that it’s their responsibility, that they have to take action. This is not somebody else’s problem, this is our problem.”
Saâdane Afif, The Fountain Archives (2008-2018). Courtesy of Sean Fader and Mor Charpentier.
Carlos Motta, Monstrum triceps capite vulpuis, draconis, & aquilae, 2018. Courtesy of Sean Fader Mor Charpentier.
Frieze New York, like many fairs, does offer galleries less expensive ways to participate. The Frame section for solo presentations of emerging artists has booths starting at $8,000, half the starting price of booths in the main section. Frieze’s section devoted to younger galleries, Focus, offers booths for 30% less than the main section’s $78.50 per square foot.
Los Angeles’s Anat Ebgi gallery participated in the Frame section, its first time at Frieze, with a dozen colorful, framed, hand-embroidered panels by the Palestinian-American artist Jordan Nassar. The works were hung over a U-shaped bench on which sat pillows embroidered by Palestinian women. Priced between $6,600 and $10,000, some panels had been sold before the start of the fair and all were gone by the end of Wednesday’s VIP preview—plus a few more that weren’t shown in the booth. They went to collectors in the Middle East, Los Angeles, Texas, and New York, among other places, said director Stefano di Paola.
Di Paola said that while the heat clearly hadn’t affected sales, it did seem to take a toll on the conversations and meet-and-greets that are a key reason galleries do fairs.
“People were interested in what we had, but they weren’t interested in necessarily talking about what’s going at the gallery, what else is coming up, what other artists are you showing,” he said. “The conversations on Wednesday were much quicker, and less in-depth than at other fairs we’ve done, and I’m attributing that to the heat.”
Alexander Apóstol, Color is my Business, 2012–2015. Courtesy of Sean Fader and Mor Charpentier.
Paris gallery Mor Charpentier also managed to sell despite the extreme weather conditions, said co-founder Alex Mor. He said most of the gallery’s collectors had left by 1 p.m. on Wednesday, but by Saturday they nonetheless managed to sell at least one work by each of the four artists they brought: a set of The Fountain Archives (2008- ) by Saâdane Afif, which feature framed pages of urinals in an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), for around €45,000; Alexander Apóstol’s Color is my Business (2012-2015), which comes in an edition of three plus two artist proofs, for $29,000; small 3D-printed sculptures by Carlos Motta, for €8,000; and False Flag (2017), photographs of typesetting sorts by the Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa.
“New York loves trophies,” said Mor. “But at the same time, it’s a big city and there’s a lot of different people who are also interested in discovering. I was surprised that they are able to buy without asking too many questions.”
Mor said his gallery only does fairs that are “financially positive,” with the exception of Art Basel in Hong Kong, which they view as a long-term investment. He said Art Basel in Miami Beach was typically an easier fair for them, since the gallery has a loyal base of Latin American collectors whose tastes lean towards conceptual art, whereas in New York “the visual part is very important.”
Zeno X, a Belgian gallery that represents a wide range of artists including blue-chip names like Luc Tuymans and Michaël Borremans, brought some of its newer artists to Frieze this year, said director Benedicte Goesaert.
“Frieze New York has an identity that is good for new and emerging artists,” she said.
She said this year’s edition of the fair was even better than last year’s, which was already good, something she attributed in part to the new layout of the fair (which split up the previous, single tent with two long aisles into smaller sections) as well as to the presence of more collectors in town for TEFAF and all of the shows and openings happening around New York.
Sales included Brooklyn-based Mircea Suciu’s painting The constant feeling of guilt (after Delacroix) (2018) for between $20,000 and $25,000, an untitled 2017 Paulo Monteiro work on linen for an undisclosed amount, an oil on canvas by Marina Rheingantz Galope (2017) for $25,000, and a mixed-media work by Dutch artist Mark Manders Landscape with Male Head (1992-2017).
Amsterdam and New York’s Grimm gallery also had a robust fair, selling two paintings by Caroline Walker (her solo show that opened Friday at the gallery’s location on the Bowery has also already sold out); Matthew Day Jackson’s LIFE, April 6, 1959 (2018), priced at $150,000; two works by William Monk, priced at $30,000 apiece; three works by British artist Alex Dordoy for £14,000; and multiple editions of Dana Lixenberg’s iconic 1996 photograph of the late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. wearing a Coogi sweater and counting a stack of money, which was on the cover of a magazine in the early 1990s.
“I really see collectors buying out of passion and also looking at younger artists again, not driven by the art market that much, also buying what they love,” said director Sebastiaan Brandsen. “If it’s the right price they’ll pursue it.”
He said this year they sold “quite a bit” through art advisors, but also a fair amount to collectors directly, which is a change from when he first started doing Frieze and only sold to advisors the opening day. The Notorious B.I.G. photograph, for example, sold to a lot of younger collectors, he said, noting that “it’s quite accessible in price,” with smaller sizes starting at $3,000 and large ones beginning at $15,000.
Thaddaeus Ropac still managed to sell his higher-priced works, although he too noted that the heat was not good for business. Although artists in the booth—Robert Longo, Robert Rauschenberg, Georg Baselitz—would not have been out of place in the flower-festooned halls of TEFAF New York where early sales outpaced those at Frieze New York, he prefers to participate in Frieze, which he said “is more our identity. It’s contemporary, this is what started this week in New York, this is Frieze Week.”
Ropac said he thought the high prices anticipated during the New York auction season later this month were not necessarily the top of the market and that the growth of the art market would only continue, especially with the addition of more and more Asian collectors. The net effect, he said, is “more demand,” with many of the gallery shows for his artists selling out. He gestured to the booth, pointing out all the new work he had brought, much of it from 2018.
“There’s a lot of new material, and everyone wants it,” Ropac said. His was one of the few booths at Frieze moving a lot of high-priced work, such as a Baselitz painting, Sie werden gehen, sie sind gegangen (2017) for $850,000, which was bought by a British collector and will go back to London; Longo’s Untitled (Split Ram) (2018) for $850,000; and a 1990 Rauschenberg, Star Park (Borealis), for $675,000.
At Lehmann Maupin, multiple works by McArthur Binion sold: DNA: Study: (Frieze) (2018) for between $150,000 and $175,000, Ink: Work (Vermillion) (2018) for between $80,000 and $100,000 to a New York based collector, and ink: work: iv (2018) for between $50,000 and $75,000 to a Michigan collector who was new to the gallery. Binion's dna: transition: i (2015) sold for between $50,000 and $75,000; and DNA: Study: Zero (2018) went for between $150,000 and $175,000. One work by Shirazeh Houshiary, the large painting Sap (2018), sold for at least £200,000, while Cascade (2018) sold for at least £100,000. Cecilia Vicuña’s painting Gabriela Mistral (1979) went for between $65,000 and $75,000. The artist’s first solo show at the gallery opens later this month, as does an installation of a quipu woven sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum. Vicuña is also among the artists highlighted in this year’s edition of The Artsy Vanguard, a new, annual list of the 50 most influential talents shaping the future of contemporary art practice.
Lehmann Maupin director Fionna Flaherty said most works went to very high-level American collectors who were often museum trustees at institutions such as SFMOMA or Albright Knox. She also said she’d seen a lot of Asian collectors (Lehmann Maupin has outposts in Hong Kong and Seoul).
“There’s a huge contingency of Chinese and Asian collectors,” Flaherty said. “There are several groups who have organized trips to Frieze.” She noted that the many openings at museums and galleries, as well as TEFAF, made it a prime week to visit.
Frank Elbaz, who has galleries in Paris and Dallas, Texas, said galleries had to learn to operate regardless of climate conditions. He and one of his directors, Danielle Cardoso Maia, said interest was strong in works by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, whose work had recently featured in the New Museum Triennial. They sold two editions of the photograph Mother Reader (2018), one to the Harvard Business School Collection and another to a private collector in New York, and a curtain and neon installation, Leaning braid (2017), to a private collection in New York for $10,000.
“We will run the gallery according to weather forecasts?” Elbaz asked. “I’m not sure about this.”
But others said the weather was key, given the delicacy of the collectors. Asked about a selection of works on paper by artists such as Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell, which could have been vulnerable to the humidity, Robert Delaney of London’s Bernard Jacobson Gallery joked, “I’m not worried about the conservation issues, we’re worried about the conservation of our clients.”