Fairs United Kingdom

The past is still a foreign country

Collectors like the concept of mixing old and new, but sales at the twin fairs will be the test

Everything is Connected, 2012, by Peter Liversidge in the Frieze Sculpture Park

As contemporary art collectors, curators and art advisers piled into the VIP opening of Frieze London yesterday, there was a sense of déjà vu, because quite a few people had made their way to the rather more stately opening of Frieze Masters, the fair for art made before 2000, the previous day.

The Belgian collector Mimi Dusselier was the first to enter the contemporary fair. She said: “I went to Frieze Masters—it was like looking at museum pieces. It’s better for me here as I’m looking for contemporary art. But it was worth seeing rather than buying.”

The early signs are that the crossover buying that organisers were hoping to stimulate is going to be a slow burn. The British contemporary collector David Roberts arrived early at the VIP openings of both fairs. “There are great things at Frieze Masters, but I’m not so sure the [crossover buying] concept will work. I can see that someone who buys contemporary art would buy a 1960 Yves Klein, but I’m not so sure they will buy a 16th-century work,” he said.

Modern works were benefiting most from the contemporary crossover effect, but the two categories are already natural bedfellows as far as the market goes. The US contemporary collector and curator Beth Rudin DeWoody bought two works by John McLaughlin from Franklin Parrasch Gallery, showing in the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters (S5): #31 and #38, both 1958, for between $50,000 and $80,000 each. At Cheim & Read (FM, C9) a bronze by Louise Bourgeois, Avenza Revisited, 1968-69, sold for $1.5m to a Swiss collection, and Joan Mitchell’s Untitled, 1961, went to a British Modern and contemporary art collector for around $1m. Both buyers were new to the gallery.

Medieval sculpture, tribal art and antiquities proved more commercially successful than the Old Masters of the 16th to 19th centuries. “Sales take longer in Old Masters, and people coming from Frieze [London] need more time to absorb what we do,” said Tova Ossad of Moretti Fine Art (FM, A1), which specialises in 13th- to 17th-century Italian works. Nonetheless, the Old Master dealers were pleased with the level of interest, and the more expert visitors appreciated their offerings. Chris Dercon, the director of London’s Tate Modern, drew attention to a Jan Lievens oil painting, A Bearded Old Man with a Brown Cloak, around 1631, on sale with Bernheimer and Colnaghi (FM, E5) for €1.6m. As we went to press, the work had not sold.

The question is whether Frieze Masters—a beautifully presented, broad offering of niche collecting categories—works best as a standalone fair or as a natural extension of the contemporary event. “The atmosphere at Frieze Masters was good, but the fair still needs to find itself… I think it will attract different crowds,” said the dealer David Juda of Annely Juda Fine Art (FL, F9)…

CORRECTION: This article was amended on 11 October; in the original version, the respective buyers of the Bourgeois and Mitchell works were accidentally reversed.

To read more, download the pdf of our third daily Frieze Art Fair edition

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