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

London’s recovery as the center of the global art trade will be put to the test next week when the Frieze art fair reopens after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

European art buyers and consultants are expected to be in place, but market experts cautioned that there is a risk of high-impact American and Asian visitors staying home in the wake of travel restrictions and Covid fears. 19.

A mainstay of the capital’s art calendar, the annual Frieze fair draws a global mix of wealthy collectors, dealers, artists and art consultants to its vast tent display spaces in Regent’s Park. Auction houses, commercial galleries and museums capitalize on their presence by holding events or sales in other parts of the city during the same week.

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

National locks have weighed heavily on revenue in the broader art market: UK art sales fell 22 percent in 2020 to $ 9.9 billion, their lowest level in a decade, according to a art market report closely followed by Art Basel and UBS. This was despite online efforts by galleries and auction houses to keep top buyers engaged and attract new customers.

Simon Fox, Frieze’s chief executive, said there was a “pent-up demand” in the art world to return to physical display and events. Bookings of booths from which galleries and merchants show their wares to connoisseurs were on par with 2019, suggesting that their optimism is more widely shared.

For those eager for the traditional opening day crush on Wednesday, organizers have introduced a new timed entry system to distribute attendance, all the while asking visitors to wear masks and show a negative Covid test result. or evidence of double vaccination upon admission.

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

Ron Mueck couple under an umbrella 2013/2015 (Courtesy of the Voorlinden Museum / Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery) © Ron Mueck / Antoine van Kaam

But while European visitors turned out in large numbers to the Basel fair, American and Asian shoppers facing various travel rules to return home were in short supply. Whether the larger scale and scope of London will tempt distant buyers to overcome the hassles of international travel remains an open question for the capital’s art sector.

“Frieze London is the true 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 London sales revenue harder than rival centers in New York and Hong Kong, he added, although the picture was mixed: the UK capital had fared better than other European art centers.

Fox was optimistic that American buyers would come, as they faced fewer obstacles than Asian visitors returning home. Those traveling 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 some high price points,” he said.

One effect of the pandemic has been more work abroad for art consultants like Montagu, as clients staying at home sent her to inspect and purchase artwork, including at art fairs. “I am discovering that my ability to travel on behalf of people is becoming more important, whether they travel less because they can’t or because they have made a lifestyle decision.”

This has led to a drop in more opportunistic purchases: “People are thinking about what is essential to buy rather than rushing through everything,” he said.

It also means less focus on social and more on the business at hand. Visitors to Art Basel noted the “focused” approach of those who had endeavored to attend. “The Frieze people will 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 displaying and selling art. There is nothing wrong with that. “

Wealthy art buying circles appear to be unaffected yet by broader economic fears about inflation, China and stock market volatility. Thaddaeus Ropac, founder of the gallery group of the same name, which has works by the art duo Gilbert and George en Frieze, as well as works by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck and French Dadaist Marcel Duchamp at its Mayfair base, said: “It will happen. , but at the time it’s almost boom time. ”

While the absence of some high-spending international buyers may dampen overall sales, the thirst for physical events will make the show a success, he argued. “People were holding their breath with Covid, but art cannot be seen only on the Internet. You have to stand in front of him to let yourself go. This is what people want. ”

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