Frieze tests London’s art market attraction for distant buyers

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

European art buyers and advisers are expected to be out of action, but market experts warned that there was a risk that magnificent American and Asian visitors would stay home in the wake of travel restrictions and fears of Covid-19.

The annual Frieze fair, a cornerstone of the capital’s art calendar, draws a global mix of well-heeled collectors, retailers, artists and art advisors to its large tent showrooms in Regent’s Park. Auction houses, commercial galleries and museums take advantage of their presence by holding events or sales elsewhere in the city during the same week.

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

National lockdowns have weighed heavily on revenues in the broader art market: UK art sales fell 22 percent in 2020 to $ 9.9 billion. Dollars, their lowest level in a decade, according to a closely monitored art market report from Art Basel and UBS. This was despite online initiatives from galleries and auction houses to keep top buyers engaged and tap new customers.

Simon Fox, CEO of Frieze, said there was “pent-up demand” in the art world to return to physical display and events. Bookings of booths from which galleries and retailers display their goods for cognoscenti were on par with 2019, suggesting that his optimism is shared more broadly.

For those concerned about the traditional opening day -rush Wednesday, organizers have introduced a new timed entry system to spread attendance, while also asking visitors to wear masks and show a negative Covid test result or signs of double vaccination upon entry.

Signs of improvement were seen at last month’s Art Basel trade fair in Switzerland, shunted from its usual castle in June, where art market experts pointed to signs of healthy sales and good attendance. “It showed that the art market had managed to continue with a certain degree of strength,” said Bona Montagu, founder of the art consulting firm Montagu Arts and a vice president of the Society of London Art Dealers.

Ron Mueck’s Par Under and Umbrella 2013/2015 (Courtesy Museum Voorlinden / Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery) © Ron Mueck / Antoine van Kaam

But while European visitors attended the Basel trade fair in numbers, American and Asian buyers, faced with different travel rules on return, were thin on the ground. Whether London’s larger scale and reach will tempt distant buyers to overcome the hassle of international travel is still an open question for the capital’s arts 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 had hit sales revenues in London harder than the rival centers in New York and Hong Kong, she added, although the picture was mixed: the British capital had fared better than other European art centers.

Fox was optimistic that U.S. buyers would come as they faced fewer obstacles than Asian visitors upon returning home. Those traveling to Frieze may also be tempted to tie a trip to Paris, where the FIAC art fair will take place the following week. “As long as the big European and American collectors are there – and I think they will be – we will see some high price points,” he said.

One effect of the pandemic has been more overseas work for art consultants like Montagu, as home customers sent her to inspect and buy works of art, including at art fairs. “I find my ability to travel on behalf of people to be more important – whether they’re just traveling less because they are unable to, or because they’ve made a lifestyle decision.”

This has led to a drop-off in more opportunistic purchases: “People are thinking about what is important for them to buy rather than rushing into everything,” she said.

It also means less focus on the social and more on the business. Visitors to Art Basel noted the “focused” approach of those who had strived to participate. “People at Frieze want to take things a little more seriously,” McAndrew said. “It’s not just about looking at what everyone is wearing or the big dinners, but about exhibiting and selling art. There is no harm in that. ”

Wealthy art buying circles still seem unaffected by broader economic fears of inflation, China and volatile stock markets. Thaddaeus Ropac, founder of the independent gallery group that has works by the art duo Gilbert and George at Frieze, as well as work by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck and French Dadaist Marcel Duchamp at the Mayfair base, said: “It will happen, but at. the moment it’s almost boom time. ”

Although the absence of some large expenses for international buyers may slow down overall sales, the thirst for physical events will make the fair a success, he argued. “People held their breath with Covid, but art can not only be seen via the internet. You have to stand in front of it to be taken by it. That’s what people want. ”

Leave a Comment