The art world heats up once more

AS an army of glamorous art industry movers and shakers traipsed into Frieze Art Fair’s marquee yesterday, a young woman was standing outside distributing paper leaflets for an upcoming exhibition. Not that surprising perhaps – some galleries need all the help they can get publicising themselves – except that the gallery in question was the Royal Academy. That London’s most august art institution should find itself flyering outside a tent in Regent’s Park is one measure of the extent to which the capital’s art scene now triangulates itself around Frieze.

There are others. The National Gallery’s new exhibition of works by the 18th century Venetian artist Canaletto has coincided with Frieze this week; the merry-go-round of satellite exhibitions now includes one from The Saatchi Gallery – its owner, Charles Saatchi, practically gave birth to London’s contemporary art scene as we know it, after all – called The House of the Noble Man, in a residence near Frieze, which puts Cezanne, Manet, Poussin and Picasso alongside Richter, Murakami and Hirst; and of course, Frieze now dictates the timing of the contemporary art auctions that are the most immediate signifier of the health – or otherwise – of the art market.

As far as that goes, Anders Petterson, managing director of art market analyst ArtTactic, says the mood is cautiously optimistic. After a rotten 2009, record-breaking February sales apparently signified a return to business as normal, but momentum slowed in the summer with some shows falling significantly short.

“People got carried away with the rebound earlier in the year and sellers got a little greedy with the estimates they demanded, so the summer sales were a bit down,” Petterson says. “Since then the market has revived a bit, and people are being more realistic about the situation.”

Inside the enormous marquee, the fair is its usual mix of brash colour, big statements and conceptual obscurity. There are 173 booths, each occupied by a different gallery from across the globe, representing over a thousand artists.


Here a kinetic sculpture of a carriage drawn by horses rushes past an installation of bright neon lights; there a female figures revolves in pirouette pose, face shrouded in a raggedy hood and a gun raised aloft; a vast photo of a football crowd looks out over the scene, a wall-sized Ryan McGinley nude flickers in multi-coloured half-light; an old radio spins on a record player. Familiar local names – Hirst, Kapoor, Collishaw, Emin, Gilbert & George, Offili – are greatly outnumbered by others of every nationality making work in every form. Over in a far corner, the Waddinton Gallery’s booth of works by older generations of artists – Rauschenberg, Caulfield, Tapies, even Picasso – is like a quiet sideshow of sober consideration away from the madness.

Frieze is a lot of fun and utterly overwhelming. Themes and trends? Forget it. Perhaps there’s less work that’s as brazenly, cheaply shocking as in some past years, as though contemporary art has grown up a bit. But perhaps that’s just how it seemed on one trawl around – on a return visit, things could look different entirely.

FRIEZE WEEK | OTHER ART EVENTS TAKING PLACE

Several satellite fairs take advantage of the industry hordes drawn to London for Frieze week. Art & Design Pavilion (www.padlondon.net) brings together art, design, jewellery and more from 1860 onwards. In Shoreditch, Moniker (www.monikerartfair.com) puts the spotlight on the street/urban art movement, while the Sunday Fair (www.sunday-fair.com), which actually runs from today, gives an alternative take, perhaps filling the space left by the now-departed Zoo Art Fair.

On the auctions front, the Christie’s post-war & contemporary art evening show takes place tonight; tomorrow, all eyes will be on Sotheby’s contemporary and 20th century Italian art sales.
Until Sun, Regent’s Park. www.friezeartfair.com