I will be blogging here every day of Frieze Week 2011 about the fairs, the shows, the parties and the people
Last night began with a last-minute invitation to see Tracey Emin do a reading from her book. Unfortunately, as I was stood outside the house in Fitzroy Square where she was doing the reading, occupied on the phone, applause drifted out of a first-floor window and people started to leave. I'm not sure I missed much, according to my friends inside, although the phrase 'acrid spunk' was mentioned as notable.
It was straight over to Haunch of Venison off Bond Street after that for Ahmed Alsoudani, an Iraqi artist whose brightly coloured work looks like a combination of Francis Bacon and Terry Gilliam. I was not wild about it and it seemed – in its Baconish quality – quite similar to the last Haunch show there, the Cluj painter Adrian Ghenie. Nevertheless, there were fun people in the recently renovated space.
I had intended to head home after that, but walking down Bond Street instead popped into the party at Marcus Watches to celebrate art writer and heir Adam Lindemann's IKEPOD range of timepieces, which include a Jeff Koons wristwatch and a Mark Newson hourglass, with aluminium 'nanoballs' instead of sand. Adam said that he had created the range to put the art before the technology. Watches, he said, are driven by the capabilities of tourbillons and such, and he wanted to put the design first.
On the auction front, we have now seen three Contemporary sales (Phillips, Bonhams' first one and Sotheby's) and they are not saying happy things about the art market and thus the wider economy. Bonhams' start lot, 1984 by Boetti, didn't get one bid, according to Judd Tully, and the sale made £2 million, well under its low estimate. Phillips de Pury made £8.25 million with a low estimate of £9.9 million and a buy-in rate of a third, again according to Judd, while Sotheby's, one of the two key sales, made £40 million, with a high pre-sale estimate of £48 million.
These are the cold, hard figures which show that the art world is juddering to a halt, just like the real economy. Frieze does not release figures, but it's operating in the same art ecology as the auction houses and so is unlikely to escape. Bad news all round.
How do artists feel about art fairs? Mark Nayler spoke to Michael Austin, a British fine artist who exhibited some recent paintings at last week’s Art London. ‘Maybe there are too many art fairs,’ says Austin. ‘There are a host of affordable fairs now – there are just so many. I think maybe people are saying, “Well I’m not going to that one because I went to that one.”’
There are advantages to exhibiting at fairs too, he says: ‘Your work is seen by people from all over the country, all over the world, people who maybe don’t read the magazines you advertise in.’ Austin did benefit from wider exposure at this year’s Art London, selling a beautiful painting of a horse’s head called, in no-nonsense fashion, Head VIII. It was, however, his only sale – whereas last year he sold every work he exhibited.
Ironically the very reason the fairs can be of benefit to the artists that exhibit at them – greater exposure, impulse purchases, browsers tipsy on complimentary champagne – is also why they are not reliable sources of revenue, says Austin: ‘In the economic downturn, they do tend to track a lot of weekend shoppers – people who just want to go along and have a look. If you have an exhibition in a gallery you tend to get people who are reasonably serious about buying. Not that I don’t want anybody to see the paintings – that’s great. But as far as sales go, it’s not so good sometimes.’
Austin is careful not to be too negative though, and clearly wants his work to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible. But even when exhibiting at a fair, he tends to stay away from the fairs himself, partly because he doesn’t need to be there, and partly, as he jokes, because ‘the worst thing is to have an artist there with his own work and people standing around saying, “Well, that’s bollocks!” Not that they would say that about my paintings of course.’
It was Frieze proper yesterday – the champagne cork had finally popped and we got the usual mixture of fizz and fine wine, if not vintage this year. The froth and foam were those guests who thought art looked better through sunglasses, but then there's nothing new there. Meanwhile, the overriding impression in the fair's main galleries – as at PAD (see below) – was the safer blue-chip brand names were on display.
Once again we had Frame to thank for some adventure. Frame, 25 young galleries with single-artist shows, is where risks are taken. Not all pay off – Ken Okiishi's rotating umbrellas left me bemused – but Nilbar Güres at RAMPA Gallery, Istanbul, was beautiful. Her photos of villagers in a remote region of SE Turkey using their mobile phones at the top of snow-covered hills – because the government had cut off their landlines to prevent local terrorism – were beautiful and a little anguished.
The large galleries at the centre of the fair – White Cube, Gagosian, Hasuer & Wirth – had their roster of stars on display, even if I failed to recognise Urs Fischer from his banana hanging in front of a light (left). (Honestly, the Gagosian gallerina looked liked she might throw up when I asked her who made Banana in front of Light.) The pieces were, by and large, more recognisable and less difficult than previous years; in tough economic times, if you see art as an investment – or at least something which has to retain its value – you'll want a familiar work from a familiar artist.
Even if you think most of Contemporary art is in bad taste, Christian Jankowski's collaboration with Riva, the Italian yacht-maker, is in the worst. You can buy a full-size boat from a stand at Frieze for €65 million, but if you want it certified as a work of art by Jankowski, it will cost you €75 million. It's supposed to be ironic, but it comes off as tone-deaf. And have you ever met a boat salesman with a sense of humour?
And what about sales of actual art? Is the art market continuing its gravity-defying walk above the turbulent economy or will it join it in the doldrums? Tonight's sale at Sotheby's and tomorrow's at Christie's will be good indicators, as will another mooch around the fair on Saturday, when we'll know more.
After Frieze, I headed off to an art gallery which had absolutely no trouble selling its work. Joe La Place and Mike Platt's All Visual Arts, in a bus depot-cum-make-up warehouse turned white cube, opened Jonathan Wateridge's Mittelland, another show of his photo-not-quite-realist film-set scenes. Wateridge stages the scenes on a cinematic scale and then paints them on a cinematic scale, and the collectors go wild.
Last year, Francois Pinault bought the entire series, Joe told me: two for his house, the rest for the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. This year, Joe has had the luxury of turning Pinault (and Charles Saatchi) down: three of the six new works have already been sold and the others have multiple buyers. He ought to be careful though: the last person to turn Pinault down woke up with a horse's head in a Louis Vuitton bridle in his bed. Wateridge himself wasn't too concerned with the sales: he said that with a five-week old baby, he had plenty to concentrate on.
As I got there early, Joe took me on a backstage tour to two tenebrous rooms he's curated for private sales. They are filled with pieces from previous shows: Charles Matton's miniatures, some of Reece Jones's large dark charcoaled scenes, which seem black but actually have fabulously subtle gradations, a new Bertozzi e Casoni tray of smashed eggs and playing cards, all in porcelain. It was more of the gothic and the macabre that distinguishes AVA.
Today: Haunch of Venison, Moniker fair private view.
I won't delay you with a chronological telling of last night's events. The big one was the White Cube Bermondsey opening, or as I now think of it, an Art Tesco.
This is true in several ways. First, the look of the place (see below): when you could get through the scrum of a thousand people into the building itself, a long central corridor is entirely white, lit by the brightest white lights, so that from afar, it has that alien craft crossed with a euthanasia centre feeling Tesco does at night.
You just keep walking down, down, down, passing some enormous galleries, looking at the Damien Hirst on the left, the baked beans on the right. How Jay Jopling is going to fill it every couple of months is beyond me.
Second, it recreated the Tesco Effect last night. My debonair friend and I went to five other gallery openings before White Cube, and by and large they were empty. That is no reflection on the quality of work – Paul Morrison at Alison Jacques and Shirarzeh Houshiary at Lisson were very good, both obsessed with detail in drawing and painting. But they were quiet – very quiet. Just like Tesco draws all the shoppers from local independent stores, so did White Cube suck in those thousand people.
Compare this to last year, when Marina Abramovic packed out Lisson or even the year before with Julian Opie there. The usual heave of many of these galleries was absent, which is nice because you can get a glass of wine and see the work without being crushed, but depressing because it means so many good shows won't get seen because of White Cube's pulling power. It's not like the art was outstanding either.
Third, think of the products for sale: brand names you can trust. A large Hirst pill cabinet. A massive Gursky apartment-block photo. And so on. It's Jopling's Finest range.
So what do we gain from the new White Cube? The benefit is currently dubious. Meanwhile, any rivalry between certain dealers vying to have the biggest space in London is entirely coincidental, of course.
My first stop last night was to the ICA for a party to celebrate the imminent reopening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney. Liz Ann MacGregor, director of the MCA who is today being invested with her OBE at the Palace just down the road from the ICA, gave a passionate, gracious speech about the effort that had gone into the extension, which somewhat resembles Tate Modern's proposed new building.
Downstairs we were invited to look at the new Jacob Kassay exhibition. Kassay is the art world's latest wunderkind: he dips his white-painted canvases into silver solution and what emerges is… a silver painting. (He also does plain white canvases.) There is a massive waiting list for his work and what was selling for $10,000 a few years ago is now going for $100,000 and above.
This is all lovely, but I'd like to call emperor's new clothes on Kassay. He has been producing work in exactly the same way for a few years now, with no sign of innovation, development, depth or growth. The paintings are impersonal and uninteresting and repetitive. I looked at his pieces and felt absolutely nothing.
For some reason, Kassay has been seized upon by certain parts of the art world and promoted well beyond his talent. I don't criticise him for this – he has just been making his work – but it's unedifying to see such a bull market entering one of its bubbles.
Today: Frieze itself opens, plus Jonathan Wateridge at All Visual Arts
In Frieze Week you never just to go one thing – if you're at a gallery/fair/party, well there's always another one worth seeing/browsing/attending round the corner afterwards. And so it has been today.
First I went to BNY Mellon's morning of seminars of Art Succession Planning, which covers not just how to think about investing in art but also how to make sure you can keep it in the family over generations. Randall Willette of Fine Art Wealth Management Ltd (he's in our Art Index) said that $4 trillion of art and antiques would be handed down in the first half of the 21st century. (That's a lot of Emins.) His message was about art as an alternative investment class: you must combine the qualititative appreciation of work with a quantitative analysis of correlation between classs and risk/return.
Then it was on to PAD for a proper look round and some nice chats with the galleriests. For example, I spoke to Barry Friedman of Friedman Benda, who are showing almost entirely Ettore Sottsass ceramics. Sottsass, the Italian polytech, was represented by some rare geometric plates and his vases of all shapes and colours (below). Barry told me that London has some of the biggest ceramic collectors, which is something that gets forgotten in the rush to Contemporary painting.
There was a lovely Lucian Freud drawing at Lefevre, 'The Painter's Doctor', where Freud tries to represent his beautiful skin tonality in pen; it looks a little more like an Ordnance Survey map than his paintings, but the approach is the same.
Richard Nagy has capitalised on the success of his Schiele show from earlier this year by bringing several works to PAD: they are as bruised and raw now as then. Richard said that British institutions avoided collecting Schiele – fuelling the desire we saw when his gallery was packed out day after day – and he suggested there was 'a certain reservedness, perhaps'. (Those stray pubic hairs may have proved too much.) In good news for Schiele fans and those who missed the last one, Richard says he wants to do thematic shows of his drawings.
Then onto Dickinson, where I spoke to Wenty Beaumont who was having a good fair. Dickinson had already sold a scarlet Lucio Fontana ('It's the colour everyone wants,' said Wenty) and a miniature Peter Doig, and a punter was querying the price of a large Gerhard Richter. (£4.1 million, which is a high price for a piece at PAD.) PAD works for Dickinson, Wenty said, because 'it's not like a supermarket,' like other fairs.
Dickinson's choice of works was clever: most were by artists with current or former big shows here, hence a Futurist Balla, the Richter, a Ruscha. 'Everyone wants blue-chip works by the best names,' Wenty said. 'They want a safe bet, like gold.' Gold's safety is currently debatable, but Dickinson's artists are not excitable young things, rather established masters with a track record.
Then there was lunch in the Ruinart lounge upstairs, although first I had to walk past a girl throwing her long hair about like she wanted to hit someone with it. She was gurning and twisting between two Campana Brothers pieces for Brazilian Vogue, she told me. (She didn't say gurning or twisting, obviously.) When she walked off, the clothes were held back by bulldog clips along her spine.
The lunch was excellent, as ever: antipasti, truffle risotto, tiramisu and some Ruinart champagne. The company was better, of course: Lance Entwhistle, Susan Moore, Bernard Jacobson.
Round the corner from PAD is Sprüth Magers, which has drawings from George Condo's Mental States, a massive new exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery. Condo's figures look like deranged, disarranged people: normal bodies, shrunken, dislocated heads missing parts, half-cartoon, half-science experiment gone wrong.
These drawings dispel any impression of childishness. They may be filled with looping lines jerking about, criss-crossing one another, until you end up with what looks like scribbling, but within the lines his figures are carefully established, and the lines themselves are controlled, defined, planned. The creation of the impression of carelessness is one of his skills, making the serious seem comic and back again.
Round another corner is Bischoff Weiss. As I walked in, Raphaelle Bischoff was celebrating selling a video on display to a major museum, and we sat down to watch it. By Raphael Zarka (Raphaelle Bischoff only represents artists who share her name. Kidding…), it shows Il Grande Cretto, a massive concrete memorial sculpture laid over a village in Sicily which was destroyed by an earthquake.
The sculpture, by Alberto Burri, is a grey expanse with depressions cut in where the roads would have been. It was a massive project encourage by a mayor with big ambitions, but it was never finished and it has remained, somewhat of a blot on the landscape. Now it has started cracking, leaving holes through which you can peer and see the sunken village. Zarka has made a calm, non-judgemental, pastoral film, observing the incomplete, fragmenting memorial, watching the sheep with their bells clang by, the monstrous wind turbines on a ridge. It's well worth seeing.
Now off to the ICA and Lisson and White Cube and Alison Jacques and 20 Project and… Help.
Last night, Frieze Week opened with a bang (of Ruinart champagne corks at the Pavilion of Art and Design) and a whimper (of fear in the Lazarides show in the Old Vic Tunnels, under Waterloo).
First was the VIP preview at PAD, the most elegant fair in London, in its shocking pink tent in Berkeley Square. Clashing with the tent in a manner he would find unacceptable in his designs was Valentino, his usual shade of terracotta painful against the pink. He was mooching round Luxembourg & Dayan, where I spoke to Amalia Dayan, who expounded on the pleasure of a black Stephen Parrino slashed cavas. I bumped into Patrick Perrin, founder and CEO of PAD and Spear's most recent diarist.
I'm going back to PAD for lunch with the gallerists today, so I'll bring you a fuller report then, but it is immediately obvious that the combination of Modern art and design and Contemporary design has once again made PAD the locus of good taste this week. As many of the guests were saying, the galleries created rooms you wanted to live in, so beautiful were the items. Part of this is obviously the lack of Contemporary art to assault you, thus it's less daring, but it still works.
Then it was off (after a heinous Jubilee Line journey) to the Old Vic Tunnels, where Steve Lazarides had curated a group show of his artists, who include Jonathan Yeo, Conor Harrington and Antony Micallef, around the theme of the Minotaur.
In the heat and the crowd, it was not easy to get a proper sense of many of the pieces, but Harrington's graffiti'd paintings stood out: some Eastern mercenary standing ready to strike against a gleaming gold sky, immersed in graffiti writing which merged into Arabic characters in every colour. It captured a renegade sense of Theseus not often seen.
Then I had to negotiate possibly the worst's least organised reservations desk for Pret a Diner, the pop-up restaurant commissioned by Steve Lazarides especially for Minotaur. They had taken over a tunnel, installed a long central table as well as a mezzanine. Bird cages with skeletons hung from the ceiling, ivy drooped off chandeliers. It was, as the designer told me, meant to evoke the more gothic emotions and memories. It was also, in truth, rather obvious.
There are several superstar chefs in the kitchen, including Viajante's Nuno Mendes, but it turned out he was only serving the diners downstairs. Up on the mezzanine, broiling and deafened but having fun, we were to have Ollysan's sushi menu (£75 a head). After an apologetic plate of amuse-bouches (it was over an hour between sitting down and eating), which included a bizarre miniature new potato and Nuno Mendes' 'Thai explosion', there was sashimi, sushi and then fillet steak. Ollysan has a Michelin star, but it wasn't obvious why from last night's meal.
The idea of having the exhibition and the restaurant themed for the Minotaur in the labyrinth under Waterloo station made perfect sense, and all the crush, the heat, the noise disoriented you much as you would expect Theseus had been. That didn't mean it was pleasant, but it was effective.
Today: BNY Mellon art talks, PAD lunch, George Condo at Sprüth Magers, Wim Delvoye, Paul Morrison at Alison Jacques, White Cube Bermondsey opening, MCA Sydney drinks, Cory Arcangel at Lisson…
I will be blogging here every day of Frieze Week 2011, bringing you quotes from artists, gallerists and curators, reviews of the shows and fairs and gossip from the parties. Highlights this week include the VIP preview of the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park on Wednesday afternoon, the pop-up diner and Lazarides art show in the tunnels under Waterloo and Lisson Gallery's Cory Arcangel show.