Inaugural Frieze New York Opens With Talk of Sales, Sausages

  • “It’s a question mark,” said Lehmann Maupin co-owner David Maupin. “Are people coming back after today? [Frieze organizers] Matthew [Slotover] and Amanda [Sharp] do a wonderful job for galleries and for the audience. It’s a great experience.” He was impressed by how the fair, which to date had been exclusively identified with its annual London event, was able to retain its brand. “You feel like it’s Frieze. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’re in New York.”

    Lehman Maupin sold a number of works in the first two hours, including a brand-new Teresita Fernandez painting hung on the booth’s outer wall for $200,000, as well as several pieces by Tracey Emin (who was later spotted walking around the fair).

    Collectors didn’t seem to be in a rush, as they are at other art fairs, Bortolami director Christine Messineo observed, and guessed it might be because they planned to stay out on the island all day. In other words, while there was much hand wringing in some precincts of the art world about the inconvenience of Randall’s Island, it could be that the relatively remote and isolated location works to the fair’s advantage: they have created something of a captive audience.

    “It’s far superior to the Armory Show in every way,” collector Barbara Fosco raved, while checking out paintings by 26-year-old artist Ben Schumacher at the booth of New York gallery Bortolami. The handful of paintings had already sold, at $7,000 apiece; Bortolami is using Frieze as an opportunity to premiere the artist as a new addition to the gallery’s stable.

    Trendspotters may be disappointed at Frieze, but that is as it should be. This is an art-friendly fair–the lighting is right, the aisles are wide, the booths are spacious, artworks have room to breathe–and therefore a great place in which to explore the wide variety of work being made today. If you’re dead set on trendspotting, the closest you might get is, believe it or not, food. Not just the superb vendors Frieze got out to the island, like Frankie’s and the Fat Radish–but food in the booths.

    Sculptor Darren Bader’s piece at Andrew Kreps is a French horn doing double-duty as a cornucopia in which the artist has placed a (constantly replenished) mound of guacamole. Bags of chips rest on the floor next to the piece, and visitors are invited to nosh.

    Over at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Rirkit Tiravanija made a sculpture featuring images of sausages and, next to it at 4 p.m., Gavin Brown and actor Mark Ruffalo served actual sausages to a hungry crowd, as a memorial of sorts to artist David Weiss, who died recently and to raise awareness for Mr. Ruffalo’s anti-hydrofracking campaign, called Water Defense. As they dished out the food–”It’s celebrity Dada,” Mr. Brown quipped–they were surrounded by boom microphones and cameras. “It’s sausage frenzy!” someone was heard to say.

    Meanwhile Mr. Schumacher, the painter at Bortolami, wanted his paintings displayed alongside a bunch of Durian fruits, which are apparently banned in corporate buildings due to their pungent odor. They didn’t cause a big stink at Frieze–although you could certainly sense them before you saw them–but if you cut them open they could cause a poorly ventilated building to be evacuated. It’s this sort of thing, even more so than its big booths and wide aisles and sunlight-filtering roof, that makes Frieze an art-friendly fair: it is, following Mr. Schumacher’s Durian fruits, pretty anti-corporate.

    Speaking of non-corporate, Jack Hanley praised the Frieze organizers. “They like art and artists. They understand it’s a quirkier project than a convention.” He sold a delicate figurative work on paper by artist Aris Moore for $1,500. And speaking of affordable work, at Salon 94, collector Adam Sender’s curator Sarah Aibel picked up a ceramic in the shape of an oil can by Matt Merkelhess for a mere $1,200. (The gallery was running out of them.)

    At Hauser & Wirth, Iwan Wirth said he was selling on the first day. He had not taken reserves in advance of the fair and by noon had already sold several pieces by Rashid Johnson, Matthew Day Jackson and a stunning blue Paul McCarthy sculpture of Sleepy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, for $950,000. After speaking with The Observer he spun around to catch up with Chicago megacollectors Stefan Edlis and Gail Neeson.

    Sean Kelly sold works by Yves Klein, Terence Koh, Robert Mapplethorpe, Los Carpinteros and Antony Gormley, and none of these were pre-reserved. The Gormley, called Tense (2011) a stainless-steel cube sculpture, sold for £250,000 ($405,000). “Everyone is here,” Mr. Kelly said, citing many Europeans and Latin Americans. “We’re doing good business.” The pressure to get top quality inventory for a fair is high these days. A lot of the art in his booth just arrived yesterday.

    Mr. Kelly was right about the crowd. Among those spotted at the fair were Miami collector Rosa de la Cruz, Parrish Art Museum director Terrie Sultan, Klaus Biesenbach walking around with Glenn Lowry, collector Jerome Stern, Calder Foundation head Sandy Rower, Alberto Mugrabi, Sandy Heller, Cecily Brown, Lisa Dennison, Philippe Segalot, Stavros Niarchos and Hans Ulrich Obrist.

    Thaddeus Ropac stood in front of a striking yellow Georg Baselitz painting, saying that people have been following up on reserves they placed before the fair and he has sold some 10 pieces already today, in the price range of $90,000-600,000. “New York needs a strong fair,” he said. “At the Armory people were unhappy over the years. We love coming to New York. And this fair has the potential to be that fair.”

    Mr. Ropac added that it makes sense to have it around the time of the auctions: the post-war and contemporary sales arrive next week. As for the fairs, NADA opens tomorrow morning at 11 a.m., and Frieze offers four more days for dealers and collectors to close deals.