The last round of London contemporary art auctions were down nearly 10 percent, but you can’t really compare year-on-year results, as there’s no consistency to consignments—some sales are naturally better than others. But clichés ring true, in art anyway: death, divorce, and debt bring out the goodies, and November in New York will have no shortage of premier-caliber offerings. I foresee very solid results.
But there are two megawatt Mark Grotjahns at Sotheby’s evening sale on November 14th, both said to have been guaranteed by the Mugrabis; after the last high-profile buy-in at Christie’s earlier this month, there’s a chance the collecting clan’s already substantial holdings in the artist’s work might very well be augmented by the end of the night. Next month, Larry G is showing about 50 new Grotjahn paintings in New York, which the artist claims is his swan song before he retires (he’s all of 50 himself), and the Mugrabis were said to be rather surprised to learn that the lion’s share of the work—which once would have been long pre-sold—remain available so close to the opening.
Back to art fairs, ’tis the season. The balance of power is shifting in fair-y land, the extent of which I haven’t seen for a decade or more, starting with Frieze May 2019 in New York, which I’ve heard will see fewer exhibitors—despite management protestations this was merely pruning, and that only five defections were the result of the sweltering conditions of last year’s iteration. (Incidentally, the class action lawsuit related to the heat wave, filed by Shane Campbell Gallery, is presently pending in court; when I asked Campbell who he listed as the other parties of the legal action, he replied, “Every exhibitor.”)
Frieze New York, which I plan to skip this time out, has always struggled—that’s why, I’m told, the fair is thinking of leaving behind its hard-to-reach perch on Randall’s Island to move to the city proper in 2020. They’ve also lowered their rates for mid-level galleries in the hopes of stopping their list attrition, which is in contrast to Art Basel, which tinkered with costs to be more inclusive to struggling galleries, and Art Cologne, which actually raised their prices 17 percent in an effort to instigate exhibitor attrition, succeeding in cutting back entrants from 210 to 175. I never miss Cologne, but now I like it more.
I always enjoy FIAC as much for the chance to see art-world friends I haven’t seen for all of… two weeks (since the last fair) as for the pleasure of looking at art amid the glass-ceilinged grandeur of the Grand Palais. Sadly, FIAC director Jenifer Flay says that, after 2020, the fair will “relocate for at least two years to a venue on the Plateau Joffre off the Champ de Mars (Eiffel Tower), which will stay in effect for forty-four months and house all the events currently housed by the Grand Palais—cultural, sporting and fashion together with some 2024 Olympic and Para Olympic Games.”
En route via Eurostar, I encountered a screeching, wailing child being hauled off the train platform by a policeman, to the bewilderment of his mother and the relief of the passengers. I wouldn’t say my psychic pain is as grave, but I can detect a creeping sensation of fair despair, at least in relation the forces drawing me to Art Basel Miami Beach, which might very well become an acknowledged psychological syndrome. The World Health Organization this year recognized “gaming disorder” as an official condition, so maybe endless fair attendance is more akin to in inability to stop playing Fortnight, the latest gaming rage racking up $7 million a day—an addiction as powerful as drugs and alcohol.
One prominent dealer, who I regard as well-nigh suspiciously upbeat (she does so well at so many fairs), characterized FIAC as an excruciating, energy-lacking event where she was faced with a barrage of stupid questions from the very onset of the proceedings, due to an overly generous early admissions policy. What makes it horrible to do (as a dealer) makes it more pleasant to view: no hustle or bustle.
I blew off the initial VIP opening (I always do, never a good idea to go elbow-to-elbow with impatient rich people) but attended the second the following morning, where it’s always fun to engage in the art-world equivalent of “Where’s Wally?”, i.e. trying to locate gallery principals in their booths. Gone missing were, to name but a few, Johan Konig, Daniel Buchholz, Jay Jopling, Gavin Brown, Emmanuel Perrotin, Larry G, and David Z. I found both Tim Blum and Jeff Poe, but that was at Bernard Arnault’s Basquiat show, so it doesn’t count. B&P are peerless for their art-world cageyness—they may very well be the most reticent dealers on earth. I adore them (and their program), but just try and chase them for a painting and… good luck.
Though I observed a smattering of artworks being bought at the fair, no one was battering down the doors to do so. While Cologne’s Buchholtz sold an R.H. Quaytman for $150,000, their Anne Imhof painting went unsold at €45,000. London’s Modern Art Gallery sold one Ron Nagel sculpture, but another was untaken at the time of this writing, priced at $38,000. (Mathew Marks has a no-sale-to-Kenny policy, so if I want one I have to wait till another pops up at auction.) There was a cool Cindy Sherman featuring a classic Jaguar sports car in it, making it all the more enticing, but last I checked it was available for $275,000 in an edition of six. Doyenne Barbara Gladstone, meanwhile, was in fact on hand at her booth, and so still was her Sarah Lucas, at £275,000.
Anton Kern was also dutifully manning his booth, where you could pick up extraordinary new bronzes by Nicole Eisenman for $225,000. Elsewhere, at Galerie Pietro Sparta from Chagny in the Bourgogne region of France, unique Thomas Schütte heads were on offer for €240,000, with a full figure to be had for €1.8 million. Dusseldorf’s venerable Konrad Fischer Gallery brought an amazing coal work by Marcel Broodthaers (from the estate) for €250,000. Hello, business anyone?
It was all but raining Franz West works at FIAC—there’s always one artist who ends up being omnipresent at fairs, usually white males like (in prior such events) Rudolf Stingel, Christopher Wool, Albert Oehlen, George Condo, and (of course) KAWS. This is not an exhaustive count—there were many others—but here’s a Franz West pricing sample menu (and all the works were available when I last checked; the market hasn’t caught up with the astounding Pompidou and upcoming Tate shows): sculptures could be found for $1.5 million at David Zwirner, €890,000 at Antwerp’s Tim van Laere, €850,000 at Paris’s Natalie Seroussi, €350,000 at Hauser & Wirth, €320,000 and €240,000 at Barbel Grasslin, €160,000 apiece for two at Max Hetzler. I’d have happily owned them all, a readymade collection fit for another museum show.
If everyone was as acquisitive as me, FIAC would have sold out—I can pretty much convince myself to own everything, and it’s a struggle not to give in. People often talk about buyer’s and seller’s remorse; with me, there’s offer remorse. I put in a lowball bid for a work at Pace, about a third less than the asking price, and then days later (to my dismay) came acceptance. Now what? Making offers and putting things on hold is too easy, but the effect is like sex that comes to a halt mid-climax. If only I had won that $1.6 billion Mega Lotto, but I didn’t. I didn’t leave empty-handed, though, either: I bought a glass shrimp by artist Jean-Marie Appriou from Jan Kaps of Cologne and a pair of stacked camels in cast aluminum by the same artist from Clearing of New York and Brussels.
Gmurzynska Gallery presented a faux firehouse by French fashion designer Alexandre de Betak, but it was so overcooked my interest was extinguished before I entered (so I didn’t). Please make the noxious trend of dressing up booths stop—it never rises above pointless theatrics.
Paris Internationale has been in different locations for each of the four years of its existence, which in a city as architecturally glorious as Paris is reason enough to go, and this year it was in a stately old pile in the 8th Arrondissement, spread across four apartments that will now go on the market as high-end residences. The money is meant to be less foregrounded at this youthful art fair, but I caught Geneva-born collector David Brolliet sitting on the toilet between two galleries (every closet, kitchen, nook, and cranny of the space was drafted into use) feverishly bidding on a Christie’s Paris day sale lot. You can’t escape the market.
Emalin Gallery is an exciting little venue in London’s East End launched in 2016 and run by a pair of enterprising young Austrians, Angelina Volk and Leopold Thun. Though it’s of the few I regularly pay visits to, sometimes it’s easier to see local galleries abroad (it’s the upside of fairs). Shown at the booth, 33-year-old Los Angeles photographer Megan Plunkett mines Craigslist for classified ads containing seemingly inadvertent depictions of dogs in the sales of everything from couches to cars. Though I didn’t entirely buy the Richard Prince reference, I bought a print—they are all 8×10 inches and sell for £1,000.
Galeria Wschod from Warsaw (side note: even the Poles are not immune to a gallery weekend, having held one just last month) exhibited small, haunting figurative paintings by 30-year-old Andres Dickson, an American living in Frankfurt. Dickson’s works are reminiscent of Kai Althoff—who just sold a piece for a record-shattering $900,000, 10 times the estimate, at Sotheby’s day sale in London—but for a fraction of the cost.
The not-for-profit 650mAh located in Hove, UK, is a hybrid setup that’s unique the world over—an art/vape shop—and was awarded a bursary to participate at Paris Internationale for free. The owners, Tabitha Steinberg and Ella Fleck, may just be the most awkward and quirky dealers I’ve met (they give me a run for the money in the eccentricity department), and for that alone they’ve won my support. Occupying a mere toilet and closet (literally) they displayed pieces by Hendrickje Schimmel, a 28-year-old Dutch artist/designer operating under the moniker Tenant of Culture (it’s easier than pronouncing her first name). Schimmel exhibited shoes and sneakers torn apart and recast as tiled sculptural objects for €1,800 (a few sold). There were plenty of high-powered smoke devices on hand as well, and I had to squint to locate Tabitha and Ella amidst the dense clouds of e-cigarette vapor when I first entered the space.
One spec-u-lector unloaded a lung’s worth of old-fashioned cigarette smoke directly into my face then, when I complained, brusquely snapped, “You’re in Paris!” Another traveled to town from abroad but never made it to the fair—but, with art on view in museums alone including Miró, Picasso (blue and rose period), Cubism, Basquiat, and Franz West, I wouldn’t call it a tragic loss. I’m off fairs myself (if you can believe it), yet I’m always off to another, a life of hypocrisy and turmoil. Instead I should launch an art fair on a train: the Eurostar fair. There would be no packing/unpacking, no checking in or out, and no need to disembark, even—just a chance to relish the ride. A new form of train robbery.
Oh, I’m skipping Shanghai West Bund and ART 021 fairs in the coming weeks. After being invited gratis to participate in 021 last year as an exhibitor, I wasn’t this time around. Regardless, I thought I’d save myself for the November New York sales. I’m fair paring-down already (sorry I won’t abuse the rhyme again, at least for some time).
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