Fairs United Kingdom

Modern classics sell well while Old Masters take longer

The opening days of Frieze Masters had a steady stream of buyers, but most showed an appetite for post-war work

It was big business at Acquavella Galleries (E1), where a late work by Pablo Picasso, Femme assise au chapeau, 1961, sold priced at $8m, and a late work by Willem de Kooning, Untitled IV, 1982, sold priced at $8.5m

By the end of the second day of Frieze Masters, the steady trickle of visitors became a stream, and many galleries reported significant sales, although most buyers showed an appetite for post-war and classic contemporary art, while sales for Old Masters were much slower—a similar dynamic to last year’s inaugural edition. Dealers from both camps agreed that “modern sells quicker”, despite many a collector being overheard praising the variety of works on offer.

Skarstedt Gallery (F1), which is making its Frieze Masters debut with a selection of monochromatic works by a range of artists, had a number of sales—an early Gerhard Richter diptych titled Stadtbild, 1968, priced around €1.6m; a large canvas by market darling Christopher Wool, Untitled, 1998, priced at $2.5m; and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #4, 1977, priced at $475,000. Meanwhile, it was big business at Acquavella Galleries (E1), where a late work by Pablo Picasso, Femme assise au chapeau, 1961, sold with an asking price of $8m, and a late work by Willem de Kooning, Untitled IV, 1982, sold with an asking price of $8.5m. The gallery’s Ken Yeh says the prices for “late works by De Kooning have gone up quite a bit because those from the 1940s and 50s are incredibly rare.”

The market for post-war Italian art was going strong ahead of this week’s Italian auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Dickinson Gallery (C5) sold a colourful Boetti work, Untitled, 1989, priced around €2300,000, and a large white painting by Domenico Gnoli, Shirt Collar 14½, 1969, priced at €3m. At Tornabuoni Art (A6), a classic red Lucio Fontana work, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1965, sold for around €1m, and Robilant + Voena (A3) sold a white Enrico Castellani, Superficie Bianca, 1978, priced at €700,000.

As ever, New York’s Cheim & Read did well with its offering of post-war female artists, including a painting by Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1961, for $3m. “Historical revisionism over the past 15 years has created these new masters,” says the gallery’s director Adam Sheffer. Re-evaluating artists is all the rage now, with a range of galleries presenting works by the radical Gutai group of post-war Japanese artists. Despite growing attention in US, these artists “have not been seen in London much, if at all,” says Fergus McCaffrey from McCaffrey Fine Art (E6), who sold a painting by Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled, 1962, for over $1m to a private collector, and two further works—Saburo Murakami’s Sakuhin, 1962, and Sadamasa Motonaga’s Sakuhin 31, 1963, for $400,000 and $850,000 respectively to European institutions. Dominique Lévy (E3), meanwhile, sold Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s Untitled, 1963, for around $200,000. The gallery’s Cari Brentegani says buyers are “beginning to be more interested” in this movement.

Old Masters dealers were, by contrast, more tight-lipped, suggesting perhaps slower sales. Johnny Van Haeften (E4) sold another work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Pissing at the Moon, around 1620, for £650,000, in addition to the artist’s recently discovered work The Census at Bethlehem, around 1611, for £6m. However, the Parisian gallery De Jonckheere (D4), only made one sale by the end of the second day—Hans Bol's Panoramic View of a Village in Flanders with Antwerp on the Right, around 1574, for €400,000. Meanwhile, at Richard Green (F4), only one Old Master work, Still-life with peaches in a blue and white Ming porcelain bowl, 1629, by Louise Moillon, priced at £1.75m, had the tell-tale red sticker attached to its label. Lowell Libson (F7) and Ben Elwes (B10) had not made any sales by the second day.

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