Fairs USA

Frieze slowly works its magic in New York

What the dealers say about the first US edition of the fair

Nicholas Hlobo’s installation is on offer for $300,000 at South Africa’s Stevenson gallery (B32)

The first edition of the Frieze art fair in New York opened to invited guests on Thursday with an energetic private view. Frieze didn’t have to prove itself as a brand—the London event is well known and respected on the international fair circuit. “The British edition rode a wave of increased interest in contemporary art, and it played a pioneering role in boosting the profile of Britain’s young art and artists,” said Martin McGeown of London’s Cabinet gallery (C7).

New York, however, is already home to a thriving contemporary art scene and also has a long-established annual art fair, the Armory Show, held in March. So is there room for another fair? “I’m giving it a big thumbs-up,”?said the art adviser Lisa Schiff. “I came with clients from Boston and we had a great experience.”

The biggest success story of the fair is the vast tent made by SO-IL architects, which snakes along the East River and cleverly turns its back on the shabbier parts of the landscape. Rachel Lehmann of Lehmann Maupin gallery (C10) said: “My Billy Childish [painting] has never looked better; there is excellent light and no shadows.” The layout was just as popular. “It is very visitor-friendly, [and] the sightlines are better than in most events,” said Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth (B6).

And what of the location, much discussed before the fair opened? Many believed that Manhattanites would not make the journey to Randall’s Island, a place few had set foot on. “Everyone was very negative, but it’s only a $20 cab ride from the city centre,” said Alison Jacques of Alison Jacques Gallery (A25). What remains to be seen is how many people will make the trip twice.

For the most part, the art on offer provided no great surprises, and lacked the quirkiness of the London event and the bling of Art Basel Miami Beach. “I’m surprised some of the big New York galleries didn’t pull off larger-scale or more ambitious stands,” said Jack Hanley of Jack Hanley Gallery (A1).

With stand prices that could reach $65,000, it is unsurprising that dealers hesitated to take major risks. “The art’s quite predictable,” Schiff said, “but that is more the result of the art that’s being made at the moment.”

A fair, however beautiful, cannot survive on its great lighting alone, and dealers have to make sales or build excellent new contacts to want to return. By the middle of Friday, a picture of generally good sales emerged, with Cheim & Read (C36) among the knockout successes. “We sold two pieces in the first two minutes, and two-thirds of our stand before 3pm on the preview day,” said the gallery’s Adam Sheffer. Collectors pounced on Lynda Benglis’s 2,000lb lead sculpture (model from 1969, recast in 1975), two paintings by Chantal Joffe and a Ghada Amer work.

Gagosian Gallery (D4) immediately found buyers for six paintings by Rudolf Stingel, priced at $450,000 each. Xavier Hufkens (B23) reported selling all of his works by Sterling Ruby ($50,000-$200,000) on the first day, while David Zwirner (C46) reported sales totalling $2.13m for the minimalist work on offer.

Victoria Miro (C47) placed four “Infinity Net” works by Yayoi Kusama, including CEJ, 2011, priced at $535,000. On the preview day, Cologne’s Galerie Gisela Capitain (B19) sold an untitled 1996 work by Martin Kippenberger to a US collector for more than €1m. Shane Campbell Gallery (R17) had success with Lisa Williamson ($12,000- $16,000), while in the Focus section for younger galleries, Romania’s Galeria Plan B (F7) sold Adrian Ghenie’s Pie Fight Interior 3, 2012, for $110,000.

At a more modest price level, the London-based artist Djordje Ozbolt was popular at the Japanese gallery Taro Nasu (C25), where six works sold, and more pieces priced at £9,000 found buyers with London’s Herald Street (A30). Fifteen paintings by Ivan Seal were sold by Carl Freedman Gallery (C35) for between $5,000 and $11,000.

Despite these successes, a few galleries said they had made no sales by the end of the second day, while others said business was good but not “epic”. They are banking on the weekend crowd and, more importantly, visitors on Monday, before the contemporary art sales start.

What about the fair’s long-term success? “It is too early to tell,” said Andrew Marsh of Stephen Friedman Gallery (B10). Alison Jacques said: “A fair is only as good as its galleries, and here the quality is top-notch.”

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