Frieze Art Fair 09 Review –

Frieze Art Fair 09 Review –

'The Couple' by Louise Bourgeois

'The Couple' by Louise Bourgeois

Over the last month or so I have attented twelve art and antique fairs in London which have left me with plenty to write about and the need for a few days rest. Although the fairs themselves were frought with issues the general mood was positive and the outlook optimistic. Dealers have reported good sales in most cases and seem to be in a very optimistic frame of mind as the market continues to pick up. The biggest fair I attended was the Frieze Art Fair which is one of the most important contemporary art events in the UK if not the world. Although one cannot help but be impressed by the glitz and glamour of the Frieze art fair it was just not an enjoyable experience for me. To start with, the marquee was really hot which made just being at the fair physically unpleasant, but the real problem with Frieze is that it is too much like a supermarket. When visiting a supermarket one tends to only take notice of the brands they are familiar with or the products that are the most visually striking due to the sheer number of different brands and products available. The same goes for Frieze where all but the works of the most recognizable artists and the most flamboyant works of art get lost in the crowd. I came away from the fair with memories of works by artists whose work is instantly recognisable and distinguishable such as Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Takashi Murakami etc. I also have memories of other works by emerging artists that stood out of the crowd, but am unable to remember who they were because of the number of names and images swirling round in my head. Funnily enough, it was the big, bold works by the emerging artists that are reported to have experienced the highest level of success.

On a more positive note, quality was consistently high and sales are reported to have been considerably higher than last year. However, it is important to remember that a positive spin can be put on anything and that the likelihood of this years fair being any worse than last year was very slim. As far as figures go, sales of works priced at under 100,000 pounds were the most prevalent as one would expect with a show geared towards the work of emerging artists. Sales of works in the five figure range are reported to have been particularly strong which is pretty much the same trend reported by dealers at the 2008 fair. Six figure sales were few and far between, which is to be expected with a fair geared towards emerging artists and seven figure sales were even more scarce. There were, however, at least a few big ticket sales that are worth mentioning such as:

-A Louise Bourgeois sculpture titled ‘The Couple’ which was sold by Hauser and Wirth Gallery for US$3.5 million (about 2,150,000 pounds)
-Ruscha’s ‘A Riot of Atom’ which was sold by Gagosian Gallery for US$1.5 (about 900,000 pounds)
-A David Hammons installation which was sold by Salon 94 for US$1.5m (about 900,000 pounds)
-A Neo Rauch painting from 2002 titled ‘Harmlos’ which was sold by David Zwirner US$1.0m (about 610,000 pounds)

I honestly think that the biggest difference between this year’s fair an last year’s fair is that the dealers were in a better position to cater to the current market climate and have had the time to adapt their strategies to the buying trends. Dealers reported that buyers are still being cautious and are taking their time to make decisions which is, once again, similar to reports from last years fair. The market for contemporary art is not really in that much of a better position than it was last year but dealers have had more time to adapt to the conditions and make the best of a bad situation. One can take comfort in the fact that things haven’t got worse and that there is still money out there to be spent on contemporary art. There are undoubtedly signs that the market for contemporary art is poised to make a more speedy recovery than people thought which is somwhat of a scary thought.

The Zoo Art Fair was a completely different story but you will have to wait until my next post for more info.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

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