As the coronavirus crisis settles in for the long term across the globe, the virtual initiatives staged by major art-market players are multiplying. Both the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) and Art Basel have planned to create virtual fairs this fall in response to the global pandemic.
But this week it’s the turn of Frieze London and Frieze Masters – which are traditionally held jointly at this time of year beneath two tents in Regent’s Park – to present their own digital format. The double show has been reduced in size online. Whereas last year it assembled a total of 290 exhibitors, this year there are only 200.
The organizers talk about a hybrid show – one that is both digital and physical – but on account of the travel restrictions to Great Britain the commercial side of Frieze has in fact largely moved online, with the exception of an exhibition of 12 sculptures for sale in the park.
For the fair’s director, Victoria Siddall, the digital formula has already been tried and tested. “At our first online edition in May 2020 several exhibitors sold out their entire booths,” says Siddall, “but it’s true that online collectors have a tendency to seek out what they already know. It’s difficult to discover new artists without being able to see their work in real life.”
Multinational gallery Hauser & Wirth have made a high-end gamble. They are presenting a large canvas by one of the stars of contemporary American painting, the charismatic Mark Bradford (born in 1961). In 2018, he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. His abstract canvases composed of scrapings and collages in color variations appear in numerous American museum collections. The work is on sale for 3.5 million dollars.
Hauser & Wirth are also offering a painting by one of their most fashionable new recruits, the American George Condo (born in 1957). His paintings, which are particularly popular with the Chinese, seem to take Picasso’s cubist works as a starting point but then employ distortion and bright colors. “The New Normal” made in 2020, a canvas which seems to depict a masked figure, is on sale for 1.8 million dollars.
One of the most influential galleries on the London scene is White Cube. For the Frieze Viewing Room they are presenting a solo show by Theaster Gates (born in 1973). The artist from Chicago, who has recently exhibited at the Prada Foundation in Milan, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Kunstmuseum in Basel, addresses the experience of black Americans and their representation in the popular imagination through conceptual and performance artworks.
His new large-format vases, which are unique pieces, are on sale starting at 175,000 dollars. “The prices reflect the importance of his presence in institutions,” observes Mathieu Paris, senior director at White Cube, who estimates that his prices have seen an average annual increase of 10% over the past 5 years.
During this period of major global economic instability, against all expectations none of the gallerists interviewed claimed to have observed any drop in prices for contemporary art. While they admit to offering higher discounts than usual, they fear that trust in the market would weaken were they to officially display lower prices.
In keeping with this mood, the auction houses are showing particular caution with regards to what they present at auction. So we still don’t know what the newly listed prices will be, born of this unprecedented global crisis.