“Greetings from Captain John. There will be no swimming and no diving.” Sailing on the Frieze ferry to Randall’s Island, the driver continued to tell us that we were on our way to vacation, but cautioned against letting loose. Once we arrived, that ethos seemed to be in effect at the fair itself: dealers and collectors were having fun, and the fair was certainly crowded, but nobody was breaking out champagne in the early afternoon to celebrate skyrocketing sales.
Before setting foot on dry land, Paul McCarthy’s “Balloon Dog” could be spied from the ferry windows. Rising up to 80 feet in the sky, the inflatable, clown-red sculpture was unavoidable, set in front of the fair’s north entrance. It looks nearly identical to a Jeff Koons balloon dog, a humorous monument to the thin line between distinction and originality. Or perhaps it’s a Trojan horse, a celebration in disguise.
Inside the fair, smaller versions of Paul McCarthy’s balloon dogs were for sale at Hauser & Wirth. Coming in over three-dozen colors, the gallery sold 40 of those by opening day at $25,000 a piece. Katya Kazakina from The Art Market Monitor reports similarly off-the-walls sales for David Zwirner, Luhring Augustine, and Marian Goodman. From the sounds of it, the larger galleries were doing just fine.
Growth seems to be on the horizon for some of the European galleries who have travelled thousands of miles to do business in New York. The difference hasn’t necessarily been more sales, but the type of buyers. “There’s more European collectors this year than last year,” a director at Jocelyn Wolff mentioned. These collectors were not unfamiliar with the gallery, but given the praise accorded to the first Frieze on Randall’s Island it appears more are willing to make their purchases at New York.
The Foksal Gallery Foundation, a Warsaw-based gallery making an appearance at Frieze for the second time, also mentioned an increase in European clientele making the rounds. Jakub Julian Ziolkowski’s small, fantastical painting of a bearlike monster looming large over a fire-ravaged city had been purchased opening day by a private collection based in New York. “Usually it’s European collectors,” the booth’s assistant director told me. “But this time something is different.”
Despite those galleries reporting strong and steady sales from new sources, the fair has yet to experience a buying surge. “It’s been a little slower this year,” we were told by a handler for a large art handling company hired by the fair. “The majority of the work that was up yesterday is still hanging.”
On the slower side of things, some galleries returning to Frieze mentioned no sales at all. “We’re not exactly selling out,” a younger dealer told us. Still, he added, “We’re not too worried. Last year we made most of our money in the last day.” This is unusual, but likely true, as the gallery seemed to garner a building amount of press throughout the day.
It’s not for lack of eye-catching work that some galleries aren’t selling. Perhaps an anomaly, New York’s Reena Spaulings gallery was caught off guard by the amount of interest they had received. “We don’t take credit cards,” Reena Spaulings told one willing collector who wanted to take home a Klara Liden cat flag on the spot. Several of the twenty brought by the gallery had already sold, and at $450 a piece, we’re not surprised.
Despite a few setbacks and sales seeming to lag behind last year’s, the island fair still has its perks. Simply put, it’s a handsome fair. The booths are spacious, too. That might have something to do with why it seems like dealers are putting more effort into their booths than they would at New York’s other large art fair, the Armory Show.
At this year’s Armory, Gagosian brought an uninspired booth, wallpapered with purple Andy Warhol cows. It was stultifying, a display of royal colored-excess. In contrast, Gagosian’s booth at Frieze booth seemed thoughtful, almost curated. Dan Colen’s gigantic glass bass drum took pride of place, centrally located in the booth. It was surrounded by similarly colored assemblage works, including a Richard Prince “hood” and a Robert Rauschenberg combine. Like Warhol, these artists are all reliable sellers, but this time around, there was no cloying, supermarket feel to the booth. When asked when Dan Colen would be getting a solo exhibition at the gallery, a Gagosian representative told me “sometime soon, but no date set.”
By the end of Thursday’s VIP opening, the complimentary champagne handed out to dealers had been nearly depleted. But that’s not necessarily a sign of success. As one friend so aptly pointed out at the fair: “You can always tell how well a dealer has done by watching them. You can tell the difference between ‘celebrator champagne’ and ‘sorrow champagne.’”
With additional reporting by Paddy Johnson