What Sold at Frieze New York Online
Lorna Simpson, Chicago, 2020. © Lorna Simpson. Photo by James Wang. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Yinka Shonibare CBE, detail of The African Library Collection: Writers, 2020. Photo by Anthea Pokroy. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.
What a difference two months makes. Around this time in March, art fairs in the Netherlands and the United States closed—the former very abruptly—just as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic came into full view, becoming two of the final “in-real-life” art industry events as the world went into quarantine.
In the aftermath of those final brick-and-mortar art fair weeks, led by TEFAF Maastricht and The Armory Show, wholly virtual art fairs have become the norm. And after Art Basel in Hong Kong’s online debut in late March and the Dallas Art Fair following suit in April, last week Frieze New York opened its first totally virtual edition (which continues through May 15th).
Shortly after the fair’s preview launched on May 6th, galleries reported a slew of sales in the six- and even seven-digit figures—Hauser & Wirth’s sales alone from that first day clocked in at more than $5 million. “We had more people log on in the first 15 minutes of the VIP preview online this year than we had walk into the fair during the first 15 minutes of the VIP preview on Randall’s Island last year,” said Loring Randolph, Frieze New York’s director.
George Condo, Distanced Figures 3, 2020. © George Condo. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Like visitors to the Frieze tent in years past, users of the Frieze Viewing Room website and app can explore the fair in a variety of ways—by fair section, say, or by gallery region. The online fair features more than 200 exhibitors spread across 10 sections, including strong curated and thematic groupings. Diálogos is overseen by leadership from New York’s El Museo del Barrio and is devoted to Latinx artists, while Chicago Tribute is focused on female artists affiliated with the Windy City and curated by DePaul Art Museum director and chief curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm.
“We’re trying to support our community as best we can,” Victoria Siddall, the global director of Frieze Fairs, said during a preview of the fair. “It’s about making sure everybody gets through this time and comes through the other side in decent shape, and that means everyone from galleries and museums to nonprofits and artists.”
Custom features of Frieze New York’s online offering try to recreate something of the intimacy of seeing and buying art in person, including guest books in each virtual “booth” that browsers can sign, and an augmented-reality feature in the app that lets users place two-dimensional works in their own spaces. Another novel feature more akin to the e-commerce experience is the ability to filter artworks by medium and price (and also, less successfully, by artist gender), taking advantage of most participating dealers’ embrace of transparent pricing.
Adam Pendleton, Untitled (OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK), 2019-20. Courtesy of the artist and Pace.
Paul McCarthy, A&E, Eva, HILDA, Santa Anita, session, 2020. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
“Price transparency has…played a vital role in our online platforms,” said Samanthe Rubell, a senior director at Pace Gallery, which reported 13 sales on the first day of the fair preview. “We’ve adopted this practice throughout our online exhibitions as we’ve seen it sets standards of trust and accessibility that lead to thoughtful and enriching dialogues with inquirers.”
This newfound comfort with public pricing helps not only seasoned collectors (and data-hungry art market reporters), but also would-be buyers who might be too intimidated by the lack of pricing to inquire on a work they like. “What surprised me is that a lot of galleries kept their prices posted even after the VIP preview, when anyone could visit the fair online,” Randolph said. “That helps a new person who might be interested in starting to collect work on the primary market—it provides a lot of valuable pricing context.”
Filtering the works on offer by price bracket, for instance, reveals that dealers are offering more than 30 pieces priced at or above $1 million at the fair. Ten of those works are in the virtual booth of New York’s Acquavella Galleries, including what is likely the fair’s most expensive piece: a canary-yellow painting with protruding wooden bars from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s most valuable year, UNTITLED (VENUS 2000 B.C.) (1982), priced at $5.5 million. As of Monday afternoon, the Basquiat had not yet sold, but Acquavella had found a buyer for a $1.5 million piece by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui.
El Anatsui, Metas III, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Acquavella Galleries.
Rashid Johnson, Untitled Anxious Men, 2014. © Rashid Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
While much of the action at the fair seemed to happen at lower price points, galleries still reported moving some big-ticket works, including at least three seven-digit sales:
- Hauser & Wirth sold a brand-new George Condo painting, Distanced Figures 3 (2020), for $2 million during the fair’s preview. It also sold a 2014 work from Rashid Johnson’s “Anxious Men” series for $650,000; a new mixed-media work by Paul McCarthy, A&E, Eva, HILDA, Santa Anita, session (2020), for $495,000; and a new piece by Lorna Simpson, Chicago (2020), for $350,000.
- London gallery Piano Nobile sold three works by the British painter Leon Kossoff, including the large-scale painting Study from ‘Minerva Protects Pax from Mars’ by Rubens (1981) for $1.8 million to a New York–based collector and Study for Copy of “Cephalus and Aurora” by Poussin No. 1 (1976) for $250,000 to a collector from the United Kingdom.
- In addition to the $1.5 million El Anatsui, Acquavella Galleries sold the 2019 Miquel Barceló painting Rentrer, priced at $210,000; the Damian Loeb painting Sooner Than You Think (2012), priced at $180,000; and a work by Tom Sachs.
- David Zwirner sold the new Suzan Frecon painting untitled composition in four colors (2020) for $400,000 and the Wolfgang Tillmans quadtych Lighter (passage) I–IV (2019) for $220,000.
- Brussels-based gallery Xavier Hufkens sold a large Thomas Houseago painting, Untitled (2019), for $350,000; the 2019 painting A Lazy Man by Zhang Enli for $275,000; a painting and a ceramic sculpture by Sterling Ruby for $75,000 and $50,000, respectively; and a neon sculpture and a drawing by Tracey Emin for $60,000 and $30,000, respectively.
- Pace Gallery sold the 2019 Loie Hollowell painting Expanding Figure for $250,000; the new Nigel Cooke painting Oceans (2020), also for $250,000; a nine-piece silkscreen-on-mylar work by Adam Pendleton for $135,000; and 13 photographs by recent gallery addition Nina Katchadourian from her “Sorted Books” series (2019) for $3,800 each.
- Amsterdam- and New York-based gallery GRIMM sold a Hollowell painting for $150,000; two William Monk paintings for $20,000 each; a Rosalind Nashashibi painting for £10,000 ($12,300); and a wall-based Letha Wilson sculpture for $12,000.
- New York’s Ortuzar Projects sold a 1972 painting by Dorothy Iannone for $150,000, as well as three paintings by David Robilliard for $45,000 each.
- Salon 94 sold a new enamel-on-metal painting by Marilyn Minter, Peak-a-Boob (2020), for $120,000; two Laurie Simmons works from 1984, Country Road: Kentucky and Birthday Cake, for $45,000 each; and four works by Alake Shilling ranging in price from $8,500 to $20,000.
Loie Hollowell, Expanding Figure, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Pace.
Several participating dealers highlighted how Frieze’s online platform allowed them to connect and have meaningful exchanges with new collectors—something that’s much harder to do in a cramped booth at a bustling fair.
“Being able to have a different kind of conversation is definitely one of the biggest upsides to an online fair,” said Xavier Hufkens. “Whereas discussions [in] the physical fairs usually tend to be rather hasty, the online platform allows our team to commit their time and attention evenly to all collectors. As a result, we are experiencing more in-depth exchanges.”
For London gallerist Maureen Paley—who sold a Wolfgang Tillmans photograph, paper drop (light) a (2019), for $100,000, as well as paintings by Kaye Donachie and Paul P for £18,000 ($22,300) and $12,000, respectively—the virtual format enables a different quality of engagement with collectors. “We have connected with both previously known collectors and some who are new to us,” Paley said. She added that “the analytics the platform provided for the participants is an invaluable resource for both short-term and future reference.”
Marilyn Minter, Peek-a-Boob, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
Frieze New York’s online fair format also succeeds, even in its lengthened 10-day virtual run, in its ability to conjure something like the sense of urgency that visitors to a physical fair might feel. Unlike conventional online shopping experiences, the limited-time availability of the works in Frieze New York’s virtual booths (at least within the context of the fair’s platform) helped push some long-building transactions across the finish line.
“The majority of [our] sales happened through conversations that did not start on the Frieze Viewing Room platform; however, the fair did create momentum and urgency for collectors to confirm sales,” said Liza Essers, the owner and director of South Africa’s Goodman Gallery, which sold Yinka Shonibare CBE’s sculpture African Library Collections (2020), priced at $85,000, to a European collector in the fair’s opening days. “Sales were mostly under $100,000 and totaled 15–20 percent of the gallery’s typical take-home at a Frieze fair,” Essers said.
David Robilliard, Person, 1987. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects.
Dororthy Iannone, Je veux te posséder malgré mes principes, 1972. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects.
Many galleries found success with works in the four- and five-figure range:
- Gagosian sold all nine paintings from its solo presentation of works by the German artist Katharina Grosse, with prices starting at €50,000 (a little over $54,000). (The mega-gallery had a much bigger success with the Frieze New York online viewing room on its own platform, where it sold Cecily Brown’s 2001 painting Figures in a Landscape 1 for $5.5 million on Sunday.)
- New York’s Fredericks & Freiser sold 10 paintings by Jenna Gribbon for prices between $6,000 and $20,000, and multiple pieces by Jocelyn Hobbie for prices ranging from $24,000 to $60,000.
- In the first hour of the fair’s preview, London- and New York–based dealer Timothy Taylor sold five of the six paintings in its solo booth of works by Daniel Crews-Chubb, for prices ranging from $20,000 to $45,000, to a mix of American and European collectors. By the preview’s second day, the presentation was entirely sold out.
- Lehmann Maupin sold Catherine Opie’s large-format photograph Rainbow Falls #2 (2015) for $30,000.
- Vielmetter Los Angeles sold 12 of the 15 colorful wood works by Sadie Benning on view in its virtual booth, for $20,000 each.
- Los Angeles’s Kohn Gallery sold two new collaged and embroidered paintings by Kate Barbee for prices between $20,000 and $22,000, and a painting by Caroline Kent for $12,500.
- Zürich’s Galerie Maria Bernheim sold out of paintings and drawings by Sarah Slappey, priced between $2,500 and $10,000.
- As of Monday evening, Dallas-based gallery And Now had sold seven of the eight Michelle Rawlings paintings in its presentation, for prices in the range of $5,000 to $7,000.
Alake Shilling, Untitled, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
Even for galleries that only made a small fraction of the sales they might have at the physical Frieze New York fair, the virtual version offered distinct advantages. Galleries didn’t pay anything to participate and didn’t have to cover the steep travel and shipping costs that typically come with participating in fairs like Frieze—according to economist Clare McAndrew’s “The Art Market 2020” report, published by UBS and Art Basel, dealers spent $4.6 billion on fairs in 2019, or about 36 percent of their external expenditures for the year.
In a moment when many galleries around the world are still closed because of the pandemic and many more are facing incredible pressures from the looming global recession, the prospect of a free, low-friction, and timed platform to connect and transact with collectors may have provided a crucial burst of commercial activity.
“Connecting with new collectors and enthusiasts is usually the biggest general value proposition of participating in fairs, so seeing this replicated in a new capacity in the online model is quite significant,” said Rubell from Pace Gallery. “While it cannot compare to Frieze on Randall’s Island, since Art Basel Hong Kong we’ve seen increased comfort from visitors with exploring art online generally and I’m seeing that reflected in the level of activity in our Frieze New York online ‘booth.’”
After Frieze New York’s virtual debut wraps up on May 15th, the next major test of the art market’s resilience and adaptability will come in the latter half of June. From June 17th to 26th, Art Basel will hold its second online-only fair (timed to the usual dates of its hometown edition). And beginning the week of June 22nd and continuing through the end of the month, Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s will find out if anyone will actually show up in person to their rescheduled bellwether auctions in New York—or if perhaps collectors will continue to opt for the safety of bidding on blue-chip trophies from home, even as the art world cautiously reopens.
For Frieze, part of the recipe for success online was in concocting something that conjured the atmosphere of the real-life experience. “We did as much as we could to create the energy of the actual fair,” Randolph said. “Dealers got excited, they had something to look forward to, and collectors came out to support artists and galleries.”