Frieze London and Frieze Masters 2013: In the main fair very loud and brightly coloured work sold well – especially painting in the younger artist bracket. What dealers and advisors are saying at the moment is that painting is definitely back in in terms of market. It is a very particular sort of painting, mind. Brash, ironic and abstract. It is about the Modern, but does not commit to stating a position in terms of being in favour or against – it is sort of pastichy and ironic, but also done with enough care that the artist appears at least marginally invested. And this stuff was EVERYWHERE at the fair. Dealers are shitting it out at the moment. Each gallery has a couple of these new painters, some of which are now in their 30’s and are making slightly larger work. I would say that this time round more complicated or conceptual work was either absent or marginalized, and even usually conservative, conceptual and dry galleries were bedecked in multicoloured neon baubles. It most certainly is not Basel. The collectors here were newer, often 25 year old Hedge Funders with novice tastes for bright things. Not really asking for prices, but also not really checking up on artists or provenances or even cv’s. I was on a booth when two young ‘collectors’ came on and asked the price and if they could buy it without asking once the artist’s name. These young collectors are starting to run a little wild, and are leaving the chains of the art advisors, and they are buying things impulsively in order to have their own pretty trashy young tastes confirmed. The market will divide the galleries that bother to educate and those that pander to the new money. And we can guess which are the ones in the short term that will make the money. The last three recession years or so had seen a move to more sophisticated work, and artists with richer practices. There was less city money around, and the collectors were of the old seasoned sort, the kind interested in art and having conversations with dealers. Now the dealers can see things are on the up, and are bringing out art that encourages a sense of excitement for newer money, but that also means an easier sort of art that makes a statement in someone’s loft, or is a readily flippable commodity. In other words, lumps of merchandise that say ‘I am a piece of Contemporary Art and that is all you need to know about me’. London is booming again, and there will be more people than ever buying, but again it shows it hasn’t quite understood contemporary art in a deeper sense, and dealers are more than willing to pander to them. Sarah Lucas is now making gold-plated bronze casts of some iconic sock sculptures. They may be ironic, and have a discourse about commodification built in, bla bla bla, but a serious collector should want one of the fabulous sock pieces. Now you cannot imagine that a 25 year old Hedge Fund manager would have one of those in their own home – so dirty, so poor, so strange. So in come the gold plated casts and now everyone is happy. She is no Koons, but we are all having to become Koons to survive this day and age.
Frieze Masters was a real disappointment I really thought it would take off, as last year was so great. But the cracks are already beginning to show. On the one hand the old master dealers brought out things that they thought would appeal to contemporary tastes, and so unfortunately practically every stand had a cute dutch 17th C painting of insects or a lizard or a skull. Practically no Italian or Spanish painting. It was all the quirky stuff that would naturally appeal to the first-time buyer of an old master with natural contemporary art affinities- easily impressed by high level of detail and not interested in religious subjects, except the Tower of Babel sort of picture. Then there was also too much Modern stuff – more than 50%. Many stands had mixed booths, and tried very hammily to marry the two. Some booth were split directly down the middle -the 60‘s stuff at the front and the old stuff at the back. Some did curated hangs that were even worse. They need to be careful, because very little work can live next to a Dan Flavin neon piece. The fair this year confirmed something which I had long suspected, that the seismic shifts in art around the time of Cubism, and then again in the 1960‘s are too radical for it to all be jumbled together as ‘art’. They either need to make it a pre-1945 or pre 1900 fair, so that early modern art can play with the past and show its origins. They could also go for a 20th Century fair, or if not, a traditional old master fair, but right now the mix is a total disaster. I was told by one of the organizers that they came under huge pressure from some of the very large contemporary galleries to include them, as they wanted to show off expensive minimalists. Many of the larger galleries, and even some mid-size ones are busily hoovering up the estates of dead artists (they have all learned the art of dodgy editions). The fair obviously cannot refuse them as they are too powerful, and bring too many collectors there, but it really risks the future integrity of the fair. The organizer told me confidentially that they are waiting a few years to push further back the date remit – I imagine to the start of the 1980′s, but we will have to see if they do it. If there is one way of deciding how to draw a line, it may be to decide who is already in an established cannon, and who is not. The Masters fair would be a perfect vehicle to investigate these parameters. Koons has added to the post-Warhol debate, so he is in. Damien Hirst and Takahashi Murakami are yet to be decided.