Top Artists at Frieze Masters
What we love from David Smith to Francis Bacon and Ha Chong-Hyun.
The contemporary art fair is a clubby society promenade, a place to see others and be seen in public. Handbags rule, and the more exotic, the better. Buying art can feel secondary, reserved for oligarchs and sheikhs who don’t talk prices. Dressing up, looking good, and having enviable accessories is the sport. That’s how it is at Frieze Masters—an elegant, restrained, sensible mini art mall for the European leisure class blissfully detached from the main fair.
Frieze London is a solid (if standard) art fair with an atmosphere that increasingly approximates Cirque du Soleil’s: Dance, music, and fleshy performances are everywhere. (I really must be getting old, because the music seemed loud.) To be fair, Frieze London looks and feels better this year. Wider aisles, bigger booths, restricted access during the opening few hours, make for a much better user experience. The art is better too; the oddly British obsession with soft porn and nudity of previous years has abated, thankfully.
Especially because novel displays are eschewed at Frieze Masters, dealers do tend to get rather creative in their presentations. This makes for a wonderfully heterogeneous collection of booths.
So, come look at the people, the art, the stands, or all of them. Here, in no particular order, are 10 of my favorite booths.
Skarstedt, Stand F1
“I want to know how much it is,” said the woman in the big heels looking at Andy Warhol’s 1984 silkscreen print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Warhol was such a genius, he knew even then the iconic power of Munch’s masterpiece was transcendental. This work holds the wall, the booth, the entire show, and it’s probably among the smartest and best buys at the entire fair.
Mnuchin Gallery, Stand B6
Bliss out on the David Smith retrospective at Mnuchin Gallery, which made its first sale within the first hour of Frieze Masters. A rather large $2.4 million was the price paid for one of the artist’s totemic sculptures.
Helly Nahmad Gallery, Stand G1
These guys get the award for the best presentation, having reassembled the contents of a domestic environment and then placed paintings by Picasso, Dubuffet, Fautrier, and de Staël around the walls. It takes a bit of work to find and enjoy the paintings but, strangely enough, it feels worth it. The booth also has the welcome and pleasurable power to take you out of the art fair context.
Kukje Gallery, Stand F19
Asia’s most important private gallery is paving the way for a new market in Korean minimalist and monochrome paintings from the 1970s, featuring, this year, the work of Ha Chong-Hyun. The artist was on hand to speak to collectors, an unexpected bonus for a small crowd of adoring fans.
Lisson Gallery, Stand E7
When doesn’t Lisson do a beautiful booth? I was particularly taken by this sensitive combination of works by Lee Ufan, Daniel Buren, and Anish Kapoor. It is inventory, sure, but the works are paired and arranged with a sensitivity to aesthetic and conceptual ambitions. Very cleverly done.
Agial Art Gallery, Spotlight, Stand S8
Huguette Caland is a Lebanese modernist who deserves to be much better known. Though I suspect her figurative drawings from the 1970s shown here won’t make much of an impact on the European art crowd, she is a pioneer in the Arab world and therefore an artist of enduring interest. Take a look.
Mitchell-Innes & Nash/Annely Juda Fine Art, Stand D4
Leon Kossoff came to the fair to install two dozen works on paper here and declared to the gallery staff that this is the first art fair he has ever attended. He wandered around afterwards, was impressed, and declared he was coming back for another look, on Sunday between noon and 1 p.m. That legends like Leon Kossoff are still working, and are showing here, gives this fair real class.
Marlborough Fine Art, Stand C8
What gallery on earth can put together a booth devoted entirely to Francis Bacon? The answer is Marlborough, the original mega-gallery franchise, and still today a force in secondary sales. A shift towards making the brand more contemporary is showing promising results in London and New York, but you won’t find any evidence of it here. This is strictly for the big-bucks leisure class.
Hauser & Wirth, Stand B5
The Jean Tinguely show here is special in terms of its quality and sweep, including a small group of the artist’s machines made out of junk, wire, and other materials. I particularly like a small but marvelously inventive experimental collaboration with Yves Klein. Prices? Millions, I’m afraid.
Marian Goodman Gallery, Stand B1
The 1960s and 1970s are the art world’s favorite decades right now, and not surprisingly the Italian Arte Povera movement is a popular source for experimental minimal work from the period. Rough, organic, and frequently crude works by Giovanni Anselmo and Giuseppe Penone round out an untamed but inviting installation that tends towards the more experimental of the art on display here.
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