SLIGHTLY nervy might best describe mood in the opening days of the two big fairs in town last week.
Although the hip Contemporary feast Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park (October 13-16) once again drew in the crowds - around 60,000 visitors is the norm - early sales reports suggested a fall in confidence. The same was true of the smaller, soothingly chic Pavilion of Art & Design London (October 12-16) in Berkeley Square.
At Frieze, confirmed big-ticket sales were sparse among the 173 exhibitors, although New York dealer David Zwirner sold Haus des Lehrers, a 2003 painting by German artist Neo Rauch to a US collector for $1.35m, and a Marlene Dumas triptych for $550,000.
Meanwhile London gallery White Cube sold a Gursky for €600,000 and an Antony Gormley for £300,000.
While Frieze sits proudly at the frontline of contemporary art, PAD positions itself a little further back from the edge with modern art and design from 1860 to the present.
But, although there were new clients around, major sales also appeared slower for the 58 dealers across the numerous glamorous VIP preview evenings at PAD.
Van de Weghe Fine Art from New York, sold a 1947 Alexander Calder mobile for $1.5m, while London's Sladmore Gallery sold Jean d'Aire (1887), a lifetime cast bronze by Auguste Rodin, for £500,000 to a new client, but on the whole sales were in four or five figures.
PAD and Frieze have, since 2007, existed alongside each other in happy symbiosis, but things might not be so amicable next year when Frieze organisers Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp launch Frieze Masters to coincide with the existing fair.
They are hoping to attract 70 galleries dealing in art from antiquity to 2000 for this new fair and, with this brief, they are treading on the toes of PAD organisers Patrick Perrin and Stéphane Custot.
With the organisers of Frieze Masters apparently approaching some PAD exhibitors during the fair last week, it will be interesting to see how 2012 pans out for both fairs.
On the competition from Frieze Masters, Mr Perrin commented: "For us it is all about location and having the right combination of artworks and collectors which keep the dealers coming back. Why would you leave a fair that is unanimously appreciated by both collectors and the public?".
At PAD in 2010, all exhibitors had requested to sign up for this year's fair by the last day, and contracts were distributed last Friday for PAD 2012.
By Anna Brady