It’s still in the honeymoon phase, but the marriage between Frieze Masters and Frieze London looks made in heaven. With an inaugural VIP day praised by critics, collectors and dealers alike, Frieze Masters appears calmer and cooler than its contemporary counterpart, as befits a fair that spans the ages from ancient civilisations to the year 2000. Serene grey walls, avenue-wide aisles, VIP guests dressed to impress rather than kill and the presence of so much history in the aisles give this marquee the air of a pop-up museum. It was a thrill to see, for example, a panel by Venetian Renaissance master Bartolomeo Vivarini hanging just metres from a masterpiece by Pierre Bonnard, a trio of medieval gargoyles or prints by 20th-century US photographer Richard Avedon.
Solo shows were always on the menu for the Spotlight section, and even in the first hours it was proving lucrative as well as educational. New Yorker Franklin Parrasch’s decision to focus on Californian abstractionist John McLaughlin was rewarded by the sales of three paintings at around $38,000 each, and one large black-and-white picture priced at $250,000.
The aura of connoisseurship does not detract from commerce. Major early sales included, at New York’s Acquavella Galleries, Picasso’s “Buste d’Homme” (1969) at $9.5m. Gagosian reported sales of several of its Avedon prints; while London’s Lisson Gallery happily exchanged a mixed-media work by British conceptualist John Latham for £150,000.
Perhaps the biggest risk-takers here were the galleries that specialise in Old Masters and antiquities. Off to a “great start”, London’s Sam Fogg, who specialises in medieval and early Renaissance art, sold five works in the first three hours, including two stone sculptures of heads, a St Michael from 14th-century France and a 16th-century head of Christ, for £50,000 each. “We’ve been selling to existing clients, contemporary collectors and contemporary artists,” enthused Fogg, adding that the fair was “very well organised and beautifully arranged”.
Also satisfied were the Salomon Lilian gallery from Amsterdam, which specialises in Dutch and Flemish Old Masters. Here, sales included two diminutive oils, one by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), “Old Man Reading” (£250,000), the other a panel by Frans Francken the Younger entitled “Death and the Miser” (£250,000). According to Loureen Lilian, the wife of the gallerist, “We are seeing collectors of contemporary and modern art viewing the Old Masters with real interest.”
Echoing this, London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni observed that many contemporary collectors are beginning to “want something more tangible”. A Klimt to go with your Koons, madam?
The following morning, Frieze London (formerly Frieze Art Fair) opened to sparkling sunshine and a funkier mood. One of the non-selling Frieze Projects commissioned by curator Sarah McCrory, German artist Thomas Bayrle’s mesmeric, Pop-style patterns turned the entrance corridor into a space for merriment – or migraine, depending on your state of mind.
Inside, healthy sales suggested that high spirits would prevail. Snapped up within the first 10 minutes was the spectacular sculpture “White Snow Head” (2012) by Californian star Paul McCarthy. Priced at $1.3m, the girl’s shell-pink visage, dripping with McCarthy’s signature goo, came straight from the artist’s studio to the stand of international dealers Hauser & Wirth. Other important transactions included a new silver-on-black scalpel painting by Damien Hirst, “Destruction Dreamscape” (2012), which departed White Cube’s space with an asking price of £0.5m.
On the stand of London gallery Victoria Miro, works by Grayson Perry, Peter Doig, Maria Nepomuceno and Chris Ofili grabbed the eye with their glorious interplay of tropical hues. Bestseller here was one of the signature painterly webs – this time in hot pink and yellow – by Japanese grande dame Yayoi Kusama. Made this year and entitled “Universe RYPK”, it was priced at $0.5m.
The effort by Frieze organisers to reach out to emerging artists, and spaces with curatorial projects and softer commercial sections, appears to be reaping rewards. Introduced at Frieze New York earlier this year, the new Focus section is devoted to galleries established after 2001. Satisfied participants here included Mihai Pop, of Plan B gallery in Cluj, Romania. Pop put together a display that embraced not only fashionable Romanian painters Adrian Ghenie and Victor Man but also unfamiliar, politically-minded installation artist Rudolf Bone.
“Nobody will buy that,” Pop said cheerfully of “Panspermia” (1984), Bone’s gritty grid of glass planes smashed by a rock. “But it doesn’t matter; sometimes it’s about showing the work.” He could afford to be generous: both Ghenie’s and Man’s canvases had sold in the first few hours for €35,000 each.
First impressions suggest that Frieze London’s famously exuberant appetites – both in terms of the art on display and the aura of its guests – may have been tamed slightly by its more dignified new partner. “It’s slightly less frenzied but that’s a good thing,” observed Victoria Miro, who is showing in both spaces. Her words were echoed by Sarah Goulet, public relations associate at Pace gallery, where a flurry of sales had included “System of Display” ($45,000), a silkscreen work on mirror by rising African-American star Adam Pendleton. “This year Frieze London feels like a reunion of old friends,” Goulet commented. “We are seeing a lot of big American and European collectors who have clearly been to both fairs. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” Long may the honeymoon continue.
Frieze London and Frieze Masters both run to Sunday, www.frieze.com
This article has been amended to correct the job title of Sarah Goulet, who is public relations associate at Pace