In its highly anticipated 20th-anniversary edition, Frieze Art Fair 2023 returns to London’s Regent’s Park, igniting the global art scene with a vibrant tapestry of creativity against a backdrop of caution. Within this celebratory atmosphere, the world navigates unprecedented challenges, reflecting the uncertainties of our time. In 2023, Frieze Art Fair showcases remarkable resilience, expanding its reach with acquisitions like The Armoury Space, New York, and The Expo Chicago, Illinois. Yet, its return home provides nuanced insights into the ever-changing art world.
Frieze Week, extends beyond the fair itself, pulsates with life, embracing a dynamic fusion of art, auctions, and gallery openings. Among this success, a pressing question lingers: why do negative reviews of this year's celebrated edition persist? The biggest critique being the overwhelming feature of blue chip known names. However, amidst these subjective opinions, the paramount inquiry remains centred on concrete facts and figures. MyArtBroker seeks to unravel the mystery of sales and trends – which artworks have found new homes and what remains unsold, shining a spotlight on the artists who have emerged triumphant. In this realm, where perspectives may differ, numbers, statistics, and data stand as unwavering pillars, illuminating the path toward a deeper understanding of the art market's dynamics.
Frieze Art Fair, now known as Frieze London, celebrated its 20th anniversary and its sister fair, Frieze Masters returned for its 11th edition. Across two tents, the fairs presented an extraordinary exhibition of artistry, featuring over 160 galleries from 46 countries marking an increase from the previous year. This expansion of international galleries was particularly relevant in the face of global cultural and geopolitical challenges, emphasising the fair's commitment to inclusivity, and international collecting.
Frieze highlighted the unwavering commitment from galleries and beliefs that they have in the intrinsic value of the fair, noting that 28 galleries have been showing at the Fair since its inception. Those galleries include Carlos/Ishikawa, Sadie Coles HQ, Pilar Corrias, Thomas Dane Gallery, Alison Jacques, Lisson Gallery, Victoria Miro, Modern Art, Maureen Paley, and White Cube, among others.
Beyond the splendour of its 20th-anniversary celebration, Frieze upheld its tradition dating back to 2012 with the Focus Section, a dedicated platform nurturing emerging talents with global roots. This section epitomises the fair's dedication to diversity and youthful creativity, making it a pivotal area for fair-goers seeking the next breakthrough artist. One notable feature in this section was the British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, curated by Copperfield Focus. Achiampong predominantly explores mixed media, and while his work hasn't yet entered the secondary market, this section serves as a launchpad for emerging artists.
Returning for its third year in London, Frieze Editions garnered significant anticipation, especially for enthusiasts like us at MyArtBroker, given our expertise in this domain. Editions have gained momentum this year, not just for expanding the collector base to new audiences but also for their role in shaping the market's core strength. These works offer the chance to acquire pieces by esteemed international artists at more accessible price points, typically ranging from $100,000 to $1,000,000. Cristea Roberts made a triumphant return with editions, featuring Julian Opie's new series of eighteen portraits capturing family, friends, and acquaintances.
A new initiative, the Artist-To-Artist section, was introduced this year. This innovative endeavour allowed established artists to curate solo presentations, reinforcing the art fair’s legacy of artist-led programming. Notable among the selectors was Tracey Emin, who chose Vanessa Raw, an artist rooted in Margate, Kent, Emin’s hometown, and whose work resonates deeply with femininity, mirroring Emin's own historic and iconic pieces.
Additional ambitions this year included two new curated sections. Modern Women, curated by Camille Morineau, focused on solo exhibitions by women artists, spotlighting works created between 1880 and 1980, a pivotal period for women’s rights and feminism. Another addition was Studio, curated by Sheena Wagstaff, which delved into the artist's creative sanctuaries, emphasising the transformative process of invention. Lastly, Spotlight, curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, returned with solo presentations of 20th-century artists, emphasising under-appreciated work from the 1950s to the 1970s, continuing its tradition of shedding light on overlooked masterpieces.
As we ponder the question, considering the intensified focus on international representation and initiatives geared towards women artists, the prevalence of negative reviews surrounding this significant milestone for the Fair becomes intriguing. It's a paradox, particularly when you hear the optimism from dealers interviewed by The Art Newspaper, as shared by Tim Schneider. Despite the positivity and the palpable sense of business at the fair, there's an underlying reality: these booths come at a considerable cost for galleries and dealers, all aiming for profitable sales. The anticipation surrounding the fair's anniversary undoubtedly heightened expectations, yet the reviews hint at a different outcome, suggesting that the fair and its sales didn't meet the soaring expectations.
Crucially, in this context, it's essential to acknowledge the broader backdrop. We're navigating an era of consistent geopolitical unrest and escalating interest rates. In such uncertain times, a sense of caution naturally permeates events like these. Despite the excitement linked to a renowned fair and the presence of individuals willing to invest in passion-assets, the current socio-economic climate inevitably casts a shadow of prudence over the proceedings.
Despite the enthusiasm witnessed among some fair attendees, a wave of critical voices has emerged surrounding this event. Much of this critique is rooted in the current geopolitical landscape. The contemporary art world, often viewed as a playground for the ultra-wealthy, has consistently been labeled as a bubble. This is not groundbreaking news. However, the art market has displayed remarkable growth in sales figures, as highlighted annually in reports such as UBS Art Basel. Even in the latest report, where 2022 figures only saw a modest increase, it still reflected growth. Despite recent and current global challenges—the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, and conflicts in Gaza—the art market continues to function, albeit amidst a backdrop of daunting events. Understandably, collectors, dealers, and global markets are on edge, as expressed by Alex Logsdail from Lisson Gallery: “It’s hard to talk about individual collectors, but it’s all psychologically impactful in some way…’’
Beyond the weighty geopolitical concerns, criticism has arisen regarding galleries opting for safe choices, showcasing predominantly blue chip works from artists with established markets. From an economic perspective, business opportunities still exist, but they are no longer as automatic as in previous years. This trend reflects a broader market pattern observed—sticking with the familiar. Collectors and investors are willing to pay a premium for artists and names they trust, emphasising the rise of branded artists. This phenomenon, extensively highlighted in our recent market report coinciding with Frieze week, underscores a larger market truth: trends dictate values, and sales are driven by established brands. Celebrity-themed artworks, historical pieces, and the allure of anonymous artists are shaping the preferences of collectors and investors, indicating the crucial influence of branded artists and media presence in shaping the dynamics of art sales.
This boils down to the substantial criticism aimed at Damien Hirst–a critique that wavers between justification and subjectivity, potentially leaning towards unfairness. To contextualise, the renowned mega–gallery Gagosian has consistently featured a prominent booth at Frieze over the past two years at least, often dedicated to solo artists. Last year, the spotlight was on Jade Fadojutimi, a rising star and the youngest artist represented by Gagosian, whose presence in the secondary market soared in 2021. Given Fadojutimi's status as a young, female, black artist, Gagosian's booth received widespread acclaim in 2022.
However, this year, the focus shifted to the notorious Young British Artist (YBA), Damien Hirst, often dubbed the enfant terrible of the art world. Hirst has embarked on ambitious and creative endeavours throughout the year. In March, he introduced The Beautiful Paintings, a fresh take on his Spin paintings incorporating AI, with edition numbers determined by interest. Then in July, Hirst unveiled Where The Land Meets the Sea in collaboration with Phillips, featuring a series of large-scale canvas splatter paintings. At Frieze this year, Gagosian unveiled The Secret Gardens Paintings (2023), depicting vibrantly coloured flowers and gardens in a splatter technique.
While some found these large-scale artworks appealing, they amassed controversy, especially given their hefty price tags ranging from $450,000 to $1 million (USD). Many critics argued that Hirst's attempt at landscape painting paled in comparison to his earlier, more provocative works, drawing exaggerated parallels with David Hockney. Detractors labeled Hirst's recent creations safe and unimaginative, especially compared to his previous reinterpretations of taxidermy with formaldehyde. This shift marks a separate journey for Hirst, prompting questions about whether we miss the edgy “bad boy’’ Damien Hirst who was also critiqued for his earlier dead animal and diamond encrusted skull works as well. Regardless, Hirst remains in the spotlight, effortlessly capitalising on his defining market trend and brand–the shock factor–which continues to work to his advantage.
Beyond the glitz and the aura of VIPs and queues, a mere twenty-minute stroll through the park from Frieze London leads to its sister fair, Frieze Masters. This fair overlaps certain galleries with Frieze London, as exhibitors choose to showcase booths at both events. Frieze Masters exudes a more subdued ambiance reminiscent of the now retired Masterpiece fair. It hosts the most expensive artworks from the fair, often featuring artists in their mid to late careers or those who are deceased.
What's intriguing about Frieze Masters is its immunity to heavy criticism. It stands as the place where “genuine’’ art enthusiasts and collectors converge, seemingly attributed to a generational shift not only in taste but also in the age of collectors. This fair serves as a platform where dealers present high-quality pre-21st century pieces to an international audience. It's here that the most significant sales occur, particularly from renowned blue chip artists.
At Peter Harrington's exhibition in London's Frieze Masters, Banksy's iconic artwork, Kate Moss (2005), rendered on canvas, commanded a staggering price of £1,250,000. Additionally, the gallery showcased two significant pieces by Andy Warhol: Mao (F. & S. II.92), which sold for £90,000, and Electric Chair (F. & S. II.76), purchased at £25,000. Notably, a canvas version of Electric Chair fetched an impressive sum at Christie's auction in March 2023, and the September auction sales witnessed an array of electric chair artworks in various colourways, some of which set new records.
SUSAN SHEEHAN GALLERY
Susan Sheehan Gallery also captivated our attention, displaying artworks by renowned blue chip artists. Among the notable pieces were three Andy Warhol Marilyns (F. & S. II. 25-27), each selling for £200,000 - $250,000. The exhibition also featured Campbell's Soup Cans, which were purchased for $100,000 - $125,000. Additionally, various works by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Bridget Riley were showcased, reaffirming the enduring strength of the market in these renowned artists'.
At White Cube, Damien Hirst's Glorification (2008), featuring butterflies and household gloss on canvas, found a new owner. Simultaneously, Tracey Emin's powerful creation, I Kept Moving (2022), rendered in acrylic on canvas, was swiftly sold in the early hours for an impressive £1,200,000.
Over at Victoria Miro, the spotlight was on Grayson Perry, whose pieces Britain Is Best (2014), adorned with intricate embroidery, and Lamentation (2012), a striking tapestry, found enthusiastic buyers.
David Zwirner, the mega gallery, showcased Bridget Riley's masterpieces: Arioso (blue) (2013), an oil painting on linen, and Measure For Measure Dark With Turquoise (2021), created in acrylic on linen.
While it's a known fact that not all galleries immediately disclose their sales publicly, one undeniable truth stands: Frieze experienced a one-of-a-kind fair on its anniversary. This development underscores the enduring legacy of blue chip artists in the art market today. The emergence of new avenues for art acquisition and the proliferation of digital offerings have undoubtedly contributed to this transformative trend.
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