Around this time in past years, collectors and art-world elite would have been seen congregating at the Frieze art fair in London’s Regent’s Park. But that isn’t the case this year, with the coronavirus having forced the cancelation of most art fairs, including Frieze London and its sister edition Frieze Masters. The fairs must go on, however, and Frieze London and Frieze Masters have now moved most of their offerings online. A total of 250 galleries are participating in the digital iteration, which launched today in VIP previews. It’s set to have its public run from October 9 to October 16.
Frieze is responding to the shifting digital landscape of the art market, which is still experiencing uncertainty due to the pandemic. This online edition provides vendors a platform to exhibit online-offline showcases, bringing works featured both in viewing rooms and in current exhibitions up at physical gallery locations.
“We knew there was so much potential in the hybrid format, given the energy surrounding Frieze Week and the commitment from the community in London,” Victoria Siddall, Frieze’s global director, said in an interview. “What distinguishes our online fairs this week is the great curated content that sits alongside them, both on our online platform and in London.”
Frieze also appointed a new London artistic director in September 2019, Eva Langret, who has helped develop the program during the pandemic.
Blue-chip galleries like Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, White Cube, Marianne Boesky, and Lehmann Maupin were among the usual participants, and many of them saw big sales within the fair’s first few hours.
Hauser & Wirth is holding a digital exhibition called “A New Reality,” which includes works by established names from its roster. Early on, Hauser & Wirth sold Rita Ackerman’s oil and acrylic painting Mama, Rear (2020) for $350,000, Mark Bradford’s mixed media on canvas work Q7 (2020) for $3.5 million, Jack Whitten’s painting Russian Speedway (1971) for $2.5 million, and George Condo’s The New Normal (2020) for $1.85 million. Buyers also snatched up a Simone Leigh sculpture for $250,000, Isa Genzken’s Nofretete (2018) for €250,000 ($294,000), a Günther Förg painting for $350,00, and Rashid Johnson’s Anxious Red Painting August 20th (2020) for $850,000. Works by Matthew Day Jackson, Pipilotti Rist, and Anj Smith also sold.
Top dealers have seen investments in refined digital showcases pay off. “The results have been sales totaling over 15 million dollars so far on day one, so we’re on the way to overtake Art Basel as our [best-selling] online fair,” said Iwan Wirth, President Hauser & Wirth. Neil Wenman, a partner at Hauser & Wirth, said that the gallery’s online strategy continues to develop. “The potential of hybrid formats will remain in the future and there’s a lot more creative scope to compliment the real life experience,” he said.
In its digital booth, David Zwirner sold new works by Neo Rauch, Oscar Murillo, Marcel Dzama, Harold Ancart, Carol Bove, Raymond Pettibon, and Lisa Yuskavage early on at prices between $150,000 and $350,000. A Lucas Arruda work sold to an Asian museum for $100,000, and at the gallery’s London headquarters, each work in Josh Smith’s “Spectre” series—a group of Brooklyn streetscapes he completed during the lockdown—found buyers or were placed on reserve.
Elsewhere in the online fair, Lehmann Maupin sold Billy Childish’s Smoker (2019), an oil and charcoal on linen work, at a price between £20,000 and £50,000 to a U.K.-based collector, who the gallery said viewed the work in person at its new London’s Cromwell Place location. The gallery sold another work by Mandy El-Sayegh, a silkscreened linen and collage work, titled informant (2020), at the same price range to a prominent European collector, and McArthur Binion’s Modern:Ancient:Brown (2020) went for a price between £100,000 and £250,000 to a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art trustee. “We just opened our new space at Cromwell Place, so we looked for crossover and opportunities to feature works in the viewing room that are also physically on view in London,” said Isabella Icoz, a senior director at Lehmann Maupin’s London gallery.
Meanwhile, dealer Thaddaeus Ropac said engagement is high in the region despite the changes. “Though this edition of Frieze didn’t bring the international mix of visitors to London as the fair typically does, there has nonetheless been significant local engagement in parallel to the international connections being fostered online, which is equally important,” he said. The gallery, which has spaces in London, Paris, and Salzburg, Austria, sold Alex Katz’s Vincent and Vivien (2016) for $650,000 to private collector in France; Imi Knoebel’s Prinz Igor in C (2005) also sold for €190,000 ($224,000). “We’ve certainly seen an increase in confidence with purchasing online and in the breadth of engagement geographically,” Ropac said.
Some gallerists said that the new breed of sale formats has provided examples for innovation. “In some ways, this crisis has required all of us to take risks to do things we never thought were possible in the previous landscape,” said Kelly Woods, director at Marianne Boesky, adding, “While these times are tough, we have seen growing interest in our digital footprint and have maintained a steady flow of sales throughout the season.” Marianne Boesky sold a Haas Brothers work valued at $55,000, a Sanford Biggers for $45,000, and an Allison Janae Hamiliton for $12,000.
James Cohan sold Yinka Shonibare’s fiberglass sculpture Borghese Gladiator (2020) to a private Midwest institution for £150,000 ($194,000). Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s Rockshop (2020) went to a private East Coast institution for $60,000. Works by Simon Evans, Eamon Ore-Giron, and Fred Tomaselli also found buyers.
Goodman Gallery sold William Kentridge’s Cursive (2020), an installation featuring 40 bronze sculptures, was sold for $600,000. London’s Timothy Taylor gallery sold several sculptures by Kiki Smith ranging in prices from $18,000–$25,000 to American and European collectors.
Grimm gallery, which has locations in Amsterdam and New York, landed a bulk of sales in the online fair’s early hours including Loie Hollowell’s $150,000 painting Boob wheel in blue and yellow, along with two works by Matthew Day Jackson, priced at $70,000 each. They also sold works by Charles Avery, Louise Giovanelli, Caroline Walker, Arturo Kameya, and Ciarán Murphy.
The surge in interest wasn’t only felt by top dealers—smaller enterprises, such as Los Angeles’s François Ghebaly, also saw it, too. “The fair started with strong sales as we placed more than half of our booth with significant collections in the first hours,” said Belen Piñeiro, a director at the gallery said. The gallery sold sculptures by Kelly Akashi, a painting by Farah Atassi, a painting by Cindy Ji Hye Kim, two paintings by Candice Lin, two paintings by Cassi Namoda, and a Kathleen Ryan sculpture. All were priced between $22,000 and $50,000.