Frieze tests the appeal of the London art market to distant buyers

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London’s resumption as a hub for the global art trade will be put to the test next week as the Frieze art fair reopens after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

European art buyers and advisers are expected to be in force, but market experts have warned that there is a risk that large visitors from the United States and Asia will stay at home amid travel restrictions and Covid fears. 19.

A mainstay of the capital’s arts calendar, the annual Frieze Fair attracts a global mix of well-heeled collectors, dealers, artists and art advisers to its expansive tent exhibition spaces at Regent’s Park. Auction houses, shopping malls and museums capitalize on their presence by organizing events or sales elsewhere in the city during the same week.

Frieze was one of many art fairs around the world to put its main event on ice last year due to coronavirus restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

Nationwide lockdowns have taken a heavy toll on wider art market revenues: UK art sales fell 22% in 2020 to $ 9.9 billion, their lowest level in a decade , according to a report on the art market closely watched by Art Basel and UBS. This despite the online initiatives of galleries and auction houses to retain top buyers and attract new customers.

Simon Fox, chief executive of Frieze, said there was a “pent-up demand” in the art world for a return to physical visualization and events. Bookings of stands from which galleries and merchants present their products to connoisseurs were comparable to those in 2019, suggesting his optimism is more widely shared.

For those worried about the traditional opening day crush on Wednesday, organizers have implemented a new timed entry system to spread attendance, while also asking visitors to wear masks and show off. a negative Covid test result or proof of double vaccination on entry.

Signs of recovery were seen at last month’s Art Basel fair in Switzerland, far from its usual niche in June, where art market experts highlighted healthy sales and good turnout. “It showed that the art market has managed to continue with a certain degree of strength,” said Bona Montagu, founder of art consultancy Montagu Arts and vice-president of the Society of London Art Dealers.

Couple Under an Umbrella 2013/2015 by Ron Mueck (Courtesy Museum Voorlinden / Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery) © Ron Mueck / Antoine van Kaam

But while European visitors attended the Basel Fair in droves, buyers from the US and Asia faced with varied travel rules to return home were scarce on the ground. Whether London’s larger scale and reach will inspire distant buyers to overcome the hassle of international travel remains an open question for the capital’s art sector.

“Frieze London is the real test of whether Asians and Americans will come,” said Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics and author of the Art Basel / UBS report.

The pandemic has hit sales revenue in London harder than rival centers New York and Hong Kong, she added, although the picture is mixed: the British capital has fared better than other centers. European art.

Fox was optimistic that American buyers would come, as they encountered fewer obstacles than Asian visitors to return home. Those heading to Frieze might also be tempted to take a trip to Paris, where the FIAC art fair takes place the following week. “As long as the big European and American collectors are there – and I think they will be – we will see high prices,” he said.

One of the effects of the pandemic has been more work overseas for art consultants like Montagu, as homemaker clients sent her to inspect and purchase artwork, including at art fairs. art. “I find that my ability to travel on behalf of people becomes more and more important, that they travel less because they can’t do it or because they have made a decision about their lifestyle. ”

This has resulted in a drop in more opportunistic buying: “People are thinking about what is essential for them to buy rather than rushing into everything,” she said.

It also means focusing less on the social and more on the business at hand. Visitors to Art Basel noted the “targeted” approach of those who had made an effort to attend. “The folks at Frieze will take things a little more seriously,” McAndrew said. “It’s not just about watching what everyone is wearing or the big dinners, but exhibiting and selling art. There is nothing wrong with that.

Wealthy art-buying circles do not appear to be affected yet by broader economic fears about inflation, China and volatile stock markets. Thaddaeus Ropac, founder of the eponymous gallery group, which owns work by artist duo Gilbert and George at Frieze, as well as work by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck and French Dadaist Marcel Duchamp at his base in Mayfair, said: ” It will happen, but at a time when it is almost boom time.

While the absence of some spendthrift international buyers may dampen overall sales, the thirst for physical events will make the fair a success, he argued. “People were holding their breath with Covid but art cannot be seen only through the internet. You have to stand in front to be taken by him. This is what people want.


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