In 2016, according to the Artprice database, Great Britain was in third place in the contemporary art market behind the United States and China.
But Artprice bases these analyses solely on auction results. In fact, the London art market’s major annual event is the Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park (featuring 160 exhibitors), sharing the park for the sixth year running with Frieze Masters: 6000 years of history and 130 exhibitors of a more classical nature, housed in another tent fifteen minutes’ walk away.
The first observation on entering the fair is that the larger art dealers have gone to tremendous efforts.
This is confirmed by Victoria May-Siddall, the director of Frieze:
The Hauser & Wirth gallery, directed by Ywan Wirth from Switzerland, has created at the heart of Frieze – Hauser & Wirth are not taking part in this year’s FIAC, Paris – a booth devoted to the bronze age.
It’s a kind of mini museum where artworks in bronze from their huge roster of artists (Paul McCarthy, Subodh Gupta, Louise Bourgeois…) are interspersed with museum objects dating from the bronze age and objects bought online and placed under glass.
It’s hard to find one’s bearings in this jumble of genres. The endeavour may be creative, but it is perhaps not so commercial. The works on display are on sale for between 5000 and 2,5 million dollars.
Neil Wenman, senior director at Hauser & Wirth, explains the project:
As a bonus, contribute a donation to charity and you can leave the booth with a little bronze medal embossed with the profile of the gallery owner.
Gagosian is known for flexing its muscles at fairs (with big names and big prizes).
But this time adopts a subtler approach. Its booth displays no less than 96 small format artworks or works on paper, from a very diverse range of artists.
They are on sale from 3000 to over a million euros.
Among the finer pieces in this display, hanging alongside one another almost touching, between Balthus and Magritte, between Twombly and Jasper Johns or Richard Prince, there is a tiny blue monochrome piece by Yves Klein (36cm wide) for 550 000 dollars.
One of the cornerstones of the London art market is the Lisson gallery, where Nicholas Logsdail has been director and owner for 50 years.
To commemorate this anniversary, outside the fair he has also taken over an entire building in central London on The Strand, The Vinyl factory, with 45 largely big works.
The most impressive of these is an old sculpture by the British artist Anish Kapoor, which resembles a giant bell where the interior is covered with a powdery crimson material that gives the sensation of depth. It may not be for sale.
The entrance wall to the exhibition is covered in wallpaper designed by the famous Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei, depicting modern wars and migrations in the style of an antique frieze.
It had already been sold for 100 000 euros before the exhibition had even opened, as a set of five copies in digital format. It is then up to the owner to adjust it to the dimensions of their wall.
One of the stars of British art is Tracey Emin (born in 1963). This famous former Young British Artist tells the story of her sex life through variations of techniques and materials.
Her latest paintings, presented by White Cube at Frieze for 160 000 to 300 000 pounds, quickly found buyers.
With a craftsmanship that verges on abstract, they depict nude bodies lost amid lines and colours that sometimes recall Rodin’s erotic watercolours or Cy Twombly style.
Over at Frieze Masters the offerings tend towards a high-end range, such as Nahmad Contemporary from New York, whose star attraction is a large canvas (203x277cm) by the excellent American painter Philip Guston (1913-1980), known for having practised figuration and abstraction.
Its price: a little under 12 million dollars.
The most accomplished booth is without a doubt that of Dickinson of London and New York, dedicated to expressionist painters.
Among their more striking pieces there are several paintings by the German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) on sale from 2 million pounds, and a canvas dating from 1903 by the Norwegian genius Edvard Munch (1863-1944) depicting the uneasy cohabitation of two women (2 million pounds).
John Swarbrooke from Dickinson London explains “Street Scene at Night”, a painting by Kirchner from 1930-32.
Among the gems at Frieze Masters, which are numerous, we caught sight of an extremely rare little 1954 drawing by Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama (a museum dedicated to her has just opened in Tokyo) at the booth belonging to San Francisco’s Anthony Meier (550 000 dollars).
The market, in terms of supply as well as demand, has never placed as much value on safe bets.
But of course there are a few exceptions to the rule, like the sale of an undeniably excellent canvas – which looks like it was directly inspired by the work of Sigmar Polke – but by a young artist, Oscar Murillo (born in 1986), for the sum of 400 000 dollars at Zwirner’s booth.
What will become of the career of Oscar Murillo?
He himself doesn’t know, which is proof of his intelligence.
So what will become of the 400 000 dollars investment ?
Obviously the art market is still also about gambling.
Until 8 October. https://frieze.com.