Trends In Art Fairs - A Look at the Frieze Masters

The Financial Times takes a look at new trends in art fairs and how they are changing to include curated booths, exhibitions and solo artist booths.

The Financial Times reports
Three years, it seems, is enough to establish a tradition – in the fast-moving world of art fairs, that is. As Frieze Masters launches its third edition there is already a sense that certain trends have been enshrined.

These trends – in particular, the meticulous curating of stands (complete, in some cases, with not-for-sale loan work), and the proliferation of solo-artists booths – are becoming more common right across the art fair spectrum, but from its inception in 2012 Frieze Masters has been host to some of the more elaborate. In the first year, who could forget turning a corner and coming face to face with Helly Nahmad’s sensational arrangement of large-scale Alexander Calder mobiles and Miró’s “The Sorrowful March Guided by the Flamboyant Bird of the Desert” (which had an asking price of $20m), their common motifs languidly waving to each other across the booth, to a muted John Cage soundtrack?

This sort of thing set the bar exceptionally high. But many others have been in the running: Thomas Gibson, for instance, brought a solo booth of Giacometti in year one, followed by Matisse in year two, and this year brings a single private collection that includes work by Léger, Vuillard, Delacroix and Corot.

There are some dozen stands hosting impressive solo-artist displays.

London’s Marlborough Gallery was apparently the first to sell Francis Bacon’s work – as the story goes, the artist’s 1958 contract with Marlborough began with gallerist Frank Lloyd’s undertaking to settle a £5,000 gambling debt Bacon had incurred (this at a time when his works sold for about £200 a piece) – so it seems appropriate that this year the gallery should bring some important works to set alongside fascinating smaller-scale material.

Other solo exhibitions (one is tempted to see them as such) are mostly among the moderns – Joseph Beuys at Berlin’s Galerie Bastian, Lygia Pape at Lisbon’s Graça Brandão; Tapies at Timothy Taylor; Tinguely at Hauser & Wirth, Boetti at Ben Brown, and more. Mnuchin’s show of sculptor David Smith’s “Forgings” should be worth a long look. The only soloist among the historic painters is Hogarth, at Andrew Edmunds; most Old Master dealers stick to a period and/or a nationality rather than a single artist (for obvious reasons). For instance, Dutch masters specialist Otto Naumann is bringing a magnificent Rembrandt, “Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo” (1658) which, if it sells, will presumably set a fair record at some £40m.

It’s as if the classiest fairs are trying to deny their essential nature as bazaars and to strive for something altogether more intellectual.

It’s true that they operate as a public service: Frieze Masters is wonderfully enjoyable to the great majority of visitors who have no thought of buying, and although the crowds of spectators must be thoroughly annoying for the galleries it does mean that the showcase function is high on the list of exhibitors’ priorities.

So some even look to educate as well as entertain us: Dickinson, for instance, is bringing to the fair a Rose Period Picasso, “Jeune garçon nu à cheval” (1906), a rare appearance on the open market. To allow us to steep ourselves in the atmosphere of Picasso’s early Paris years in the chaotically bohemian Bateau-Lavoir, the picture will be joined by Kees van Dongen’s drawing of Picasso in front of the very picture (which the latter gave to van Dongen in exchange for a canvas of his), portraits of Fernande, Picasso’s lover of the moment, all accompanied by a scholarly and beautifully produced brochure.

We can never forget that an art fair is basically a shop, and this is basically window dressing – but who ever saw window dressing of this calibre?
Source: The Financial Times

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