Frieze New York Makes a Convincing Case for Itself With an Opening Burst of Business

5 May 2012

Wandering around the airy, massive tent that is home to the inaugural Frieze Art Fair, critic Jerry Saltz mused, “New Yorkers usually don’t cross water for culture, unless it’s an ocean.”

But cross water they did, and in droves — though the tent was so large that it was at times difficult to determine exactly how many people were there.

Judging by the number of familiar faces and substantial sales, if not by the elbow room, Thursday’s VIP opening day on Randall’s Island was quite well attended. Artists Tracey Emin, Maurizio Cattelan, and Chuck Close were all spotted, along with a healthy crowd of art advisors, curators, and museum directors like Glenn Lowry, Thelma Golden, and Jeremy Strick.

“The fact that it’s limited to people who bother to get out here and people who can afford to get out here means it’s a more discerning audience,” said Joost Bosland, director of Capetown’s Stevenson Gallery. While the Miami art fairs may play host to P. Diddy and Catherine Zeta-Jones, there were few celebrities to spot here (other than Mark Ruffalo, engaged in a strange BBQ stunt at Gavin Brown Enterprise, to call attention to the dangers of fracking). The audience was professional, and though Thursday’s VIP opening had the jovial feel of something fresh and new, it was clear that serious business was being done.

At Cheim & Read’s booth, partner and sales director Adam Sheffer was practically giddy. “It feels like 2007 all over again!” he exclaimed. The booth sold several Jenny Holzer pieces — an LED sign for $175,000, a bench for $100,000, as well as a work via JPEG — as well as a Chantal Joffe painting for $65,000, a Louise Fishman work for $125,000, and a Bill Jensen for $25,000. Reportedly on reserve was the 2,000-pound Lynda Benglis sculpture oozing out of the corner of the booth, which required the gallery to reinforce the floors underneath in advance of the opening.

Within the first eight minutes of the fair, Lisson Gallery sold a sculpture by Haroon Mirza, the young British sound and installation artist who won the Silver Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, for $40,000, and proceeded to sell a bronze mirrored disk by Anish Kapoor for £500,000 ($809,100). London’s Victoria Miro sold several recent works “in the low to mid-six figures” by Yayoi Kusama, who has seen a rush of fresh interest on the heels of her Tate retrospective. “People are incredibly happy to be here,” said dealer James Cohan, who sold a number of pieces by Berlin-based Simon Evans for $30,000 to $75,000 by early afternoon. “They all say, ‘I guess this is going to become the fair in New York.’”

The swift sales continued over at Metro Pictures, where Robert Longo’s large, black-and-white close-up drawing of a waving American flag sold for $425,000 and a Cindy Sherman photograph from 1977 sold for $950,000. Casey Kaplan and Andrea Rosen reported selling out, or very nearly selling out, everything they had on the walls. Kaplan presented a solo show of Garth Weiser’s large, bright abstractions ($35,000-45,000 each). Rosen mounted a solo room of brand new vibrant paintings and wall collages by Elliott Hundley, all sold for $85,000, and an accompanying room of quieter work by Wolfgang Tillmans and Aaron Bobrow, among others. “I tend to bring work under $100,000 to Frieze,” Rosen said. “People who come here like to feel a sense of discovery, but also buy work they know is still reasonably established.”

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