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London Seeks to Prove Frieze Week Isn’t Just for V.I.P.s

Presentation at Frieze London tends to be more creative than at its Swiss counterpart, but the London fair has slightly lower prices. Museum-quality works by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Philip Guston sold for more than $10 million each on soberly arranged booths at Art Basel in June. At Frieze London this week, galleries opted for quirkier looks.


The Hauser & Wirth booth at Frieze London had an imitation museum installation, “Bronze Age c. 3500 B.C. – A.D. 2017.”

Alex Delfanne

Echoing Damien Hirst’s “Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” currently on show (and on sale) in Venice, the international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth created a fictional museum at Frieze London, complete with wooden cabinets displaying bronze artifacts spanning five millenniums, with typewritten labels. The installation, “Bronze Age c. 3500 B.C.–A.D. 2017,” included a Hans Arp sculpture priced at $1.1 million that sold to a Los Angeles buyer.

Gagosian, by contrast, crammed its Frieze booth with about 100 works on paper by investment-grade names such as Picasso, Andy Warhol, Basquiat and Mr. Hirst. Prices went from about $20,000 to $3.5 million, for a Basquiat drawing.

Though $20,000 might seem affordable in art world terms, the paucity of works pitched as priced for entry-level collectors remains a concern at international fairs.

“Most artworks are sold for under $10,000. That’s the level that attracts new buyers,” said Magnus Resch, a writer and art-market analyst, referring to the contemporary market over all. “There should be more works at fairs priced at that level.”

“I see a lot of young people here, but they’re not buying,” added Mr. Resch, whose Magnus app uses visual recognition software to reveal gallery prices. Data generated by the app indicated a median price of $17,000 at Frieze London, compared with $35,000 at Art Basel. But Mr. Resch noted that galleries tended to show their more expensive classic works at Frieze Masters.


“Commercial Breakz,” by the British artist Emma Hart, at Frieze London. At least five of the sculptures, priced at £10,000 to £12,000, were sold.

Renato Ghiazza

Prices were somewhat more approachable at the Focus section of contemporary Frieze, featuring 32 galleries founded in or after 2004. “Commercial Breakz,” shown by the London dealer The Sunday Painter, is a series of 10 jazzily decorated ceramic satellite dishes by Emma Hart, 42, a British artist who won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women in 2016.

With interest in the artist growing in advance of her solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, five of Ms. Hart’s new sculptures sold to collectors from Brazil, Britain and Iran in the early hours of the Frieze preview. They were priced at £10,000 to £12,000.

“It’s all very well, looking up to the great contemporary art collectors of today, but we need to encourage the next version of them,” said Will Jarvis, a co-founder of The Sunday Painter, who, like many younger gallerists, has to square the circle of selling affordable works that can pay for a booth at an international art fair.

The big name-brand galleries, for their part, continue to do plenty of business. The New York and London gallery David Zwirner sold its entire booth of about 30 pieces at the preview on Wednesday, led by the Jeff Koons painting “Gazing Ball (Giotto The Kiss of Judas),” a 2015-16 work priced at $2.75 million.


Peter Blake’s 1965-83 mixed media work “Roxy Roxy,” priced at £290,000, was among five early sales at Frieze Masters.

Waddington Custot

As usual, sales were generally less frenetic at Frieze Masters, but a recreation of the curio-cluttered studio of the British Pop artist Peter Blake by the London dealer Waddington Custot proved popular. The characteristic 1965-83 mixed media work “Roxy Roxy,” priced at £290,000, was among five early sales. At the opposite booth, Nahmad Contemporary of New York sold the 1965 Daniel Buren striped abstract “Enamel Paint on Cotton Canvas” for 1.5 million euros, or $1.8 million, about 50 percent more than the current auction high for the French artist.

But whatever happened to the fresh young art that made Frieze a must-attend discovery fair in the early 2000s?

Frieze Week’s satellite fairs should, in theory, be where discoveries can be made. One of them, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, featured 42 exhibitors that drew enterprising collectors to the stately 18th-century Somerset House. Among the featured works was a large-scale mixed media painting of two seated men from the apartheid era, by the 30-year-old South African artist Bambo Sibiya. A Belgian collector bought it from the London gallerist Jack Bell for £12,000.


“St. Bill Richmond — The Black Terror,” a 2010 painting by Godfried Donkor, was purchased by a British collector at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

Godfried Donkor/Gallery 1957

The Ghana-based dealership Gallery 1957 found a British buyer who paid £17,500 for an imposing 2010 painting by Godfried Donkor, who lives and works in London, of the Regency-era African-American boxer Bill Richmond.

This year also saw the first Peckham International Art Fair, featuring 15 exhibitors in an industrial unit in one of the most fashionable gentrifying areas of Southeast London. The organizers said that as many as 1,000 people had come to the fair’s preview on Sept. 29, but it was a low-key, local event a couple of days later, with no V.I.P. frequent fliers looking for would-be Damien Hirsts.

The London-based Open Doors gallery was offering at the fair limited-edition prints of digital images from photographers popular on Instagram. The gallery sold at least six prints of Edward Hopper-inspired interiors by the Ian Howorth, an Instagrammer (28,800 followers) based in Brighton, England, starting at £125 each. But sales were not as brisk as the gallery had hoped.

“We thought we’d get a lot of traction off Frieze, but it’s been a more local crowd,” said Tom Page, managing director of Open Doors. “We haven’t really seen international people.”

Admittedly, Peckham is not central London. But Frieze Week, like so many of its counterparts around the world, nonetheless exemplifies a growing divide between the upper spheres of the contemporary art world and the grass roots of collecting.

Correction: October 6, 2017

Because of an editing error, a picture caption with an earlier version of this article misidentified the nationality of the collector who bought a 2010 painting by Godfried Donkor. The buyer was British, not Belgian.

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