Frieze Masters may be a fair rooted in traditional offerings but in its last edition it proved it is not stuck in the past.
Running from October 11-15 in Regent’s Park, the fair redoubled its focus on female artists, demonstrated a way forward for international galleries in post-Brexit London and welcomed new collecting categories - all while maintaining a focus on high-quality historic pieces.
It returned for its 11th staging, running alongside the 20th edition of Frieze London, its Contemporary counterpart, and hosted more than 130 international galleries.
Of these, Hauser & Wirth made the top ticket sale reported by either fair at its Masters stand: Louise Bourgeois’ Knife Couple (1949), which went for $3m.
It was one of a host of strong sales by female artists including a Lee Krasner (1908-84) painting which sold for $675,000 at Kasmin Gallery, four works by pioneering computer artist Vera Molár (b.1924) went from Vintage Galeria for €30,000 each, and seven works by Aboriginal Australian artist Emily Kam Kngwarray (1910-96) totalled over $2.7m from D’Lan Contemporary.
However, it was down to Johnny van Haeften, the Old Masters doyen, to boast a 100% success rate with his female artist offerings.
“We sold both paintings by the two female artists represented (can’t leave all the glory to the Moderns!),” he told ATG.
These were a flower piece by Anna Ruysch (c.1666-1754) which went to an English-based buyer, and Two Musicians by Judith Leyster (1609-60), bought by an American collector.
Other sales at the stand included an “atmospheric” panel of three cows, The Scratching Post, a night-time interior with people playing cards by Dirck van Delen painted in 1629, and a panoramic view of Antwerp and the Scheldt from the village of Hoboken by Hans Bol (1534-93).
“We are very happy bunnies,” van Haeften added.
Indeed, for many of the dealers at this edition of the fair business seemed to be not just good but excellent. Rare book dealer Dr Jörn Günther, for example, said that it was the most successful fair of his 40-year career. His sales included the Warburg Rosarium created by Simon Bening (1483-1561), which went for $3.2m, the Libanori Breviary, which sold for $975,000, and an early printed book by Stephan Fridolin (c.1498), Der Schatzbehalter, which was priced at $400,000.
Meanwhile, Rupert Wace, returning after a five-year hiatus, sold four of the items from its showcase ‘Seven Small Wonders of the Ancient World’ on the first day including the Anglo-Saxon ‘Bradwell Warrior’, which went for over £150,000. Its centrepiece, an Egyptian gilt wood and bronze Ibis from the Late Dynastic Period, offered for a six-figure sum, also found a new home.
London dealership Colnaghi came away pleased with sales to private buyers and institutions. It sold antiquities including a group of six masks dating from the Hellenistic period and the Italic Greek head of a youth.
The firm reported lively interest in its offering by historic female artists, too, particularly Elena Luksch- Makowsky (1878-1967) and Suzanne Fabry (1904-85). Between it and its stand partner Elliott Fine Art, 12 sales were made in the opening days alone.
No clear challenger
Frieze Masters has led the British calendar as a top fair since its founding. Since Masterpiece was cancelled earlier this year on the grounds of Brexit challenges and rising costs, Masters now has no well-established challenger. Still, the Regent’s Park fair is not coasting on its reputation.
For one thing, it has been nurturing its relationship with Continental dealers. Among those standing this year was Artur Ramon Art of Barcelona which shared a stand with UK dealer Charles Beddington.
One of several European galleries at the event (including Tommaso Calabro, Galerie Mitterrand and Galerie Chenel), it reported strong sales including a landscape of Montserrat by Hermenegildo Anglada-Camarassa (1872-1959), a still-life by Francesc Gimeno i Arasa (1858-1927) and a sculpture by Henri Laurens (1885-1954).
The gallery’s Artur Ramon Navarro said that “it was a great chance to show Spanish art in London” and that he was “able to connect with an international audience and sold several pieces to new clients of different nationalities” at the fair.
He added: “I think Frieze is, along with TEFAF Maastricht, the best fair in the world and London is still a cosmopolitan and open city, the closest we have to New York, two hours from home. I would like to come back next year.”
For another thing, the fair has widened its remit, welcoming furniture as well as several other specialists in areas outside of traditional ‘fine art’.
Though some speculated that the adoption of some of these galleries was a result of the loss of Masterpiece, fair director Nathan Clements- Gillespie said that there was no correlation (stand allocation at Frieze was already underway by the time the other event’s cancellation was announced). Rather, he said, it is part of the fair’s commitment to adapt to the market.
He told ATG: “Our guiding principle is to look at the art of the past through the eye of the present; our commitment is to work with the best in our field; it’s very important to keep expanding the breadth of art history that we show to advisers and collectors.”
Clements-Gillespie added that “something we call furniture is no less a work of sculpture”. Special praise went from him to Ronald Phillips for its elegant stand design, and the firm said it would be eager to return next year.
Meanwhile, James Graham- Stewart enjoyed a series of good results. Kicking off with the sale of a £125,000 George III padouk and yew wood cabinet-on-stand (ATG No 2614), the gallery went on to sell a total of seven items including a 12ft Kangxi coromandel lacquer screen and a pair of pietra dura panels from the Medici workshops.
Other notable sales included a sculpture by Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) with an asking price of £950,000 on the stand of Osborne Samuel, a work by Gerhard Richter for €610,000 from Galerie Bastian and a 1675 world map offered for £450,000 by Daniel Crouch Rare Books. ArtAncient sold an entire 73-piece selection of European Stone Age hand axes priced from £1000-250,000 to buyers including Contemporary art collectors, artists and a major Middle Eastern institution.