Frieze Week in London: October 2021

At both auction houses and throughout Frieze week we saw a wonderful, well overdue, return to normality with the stands at the fairs buzzing and colleagues and friends tucking into the thousands of works of art on display in London. The Frieze Masters fair, though not as full as normal, was as good as I can recall; with the main stands pulling out all the stops to put together a show worthy of the art market’s physical reboot. The stands that shone were Acquavella with great Wayne Thiebaud, Ben Nicholson and a dazzling Gustave Caillebotte; Dickinson showed a collection of top-class South American art with the figurehead being a great early work by the fashionable Carmen Herrera (b. 1915) and Richard Green displayed a feast of Modern British work including some of the most stunning William Scott pictures I can recall. Yet, for me, the highlight was the Annely Juda stand which showed the work of Leon Kossoff: an artist I cannot praise enough though one whose market never quite reached the prices of his friend Frank Auerbach. The artists most on show that came to mind over the course of the day’s tour of FM were British: Hepworth and Nicholson. No bad thing too.

The Sotheby’s London Contemporary sales were very strong indeed and the market shows no sign of waning: great results for most top end contemporary works. The newsworthy highlights were plentiful. The marketing-genius Banksy and his ‘Love is in the Bin’ made 18m GBP! A young artist shown across the road from Sotheby’s at Miro gallery: Flora Yukhnovich’s ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ made 2.3m GBP. Her work is full of blurred images of old-master-like imagery that are well rendered and cleverly executed but not jaw-dropping in the way of Adrian Ghenie. I fear her market might be a flash in the pan as it’s all a bit, well, samey. Other strong prices were Etel Adnan’s ‘Untitled’ of 1973 which fetched over 320,000 GBP – a rare work from the 70s for someone most known to the market for her recent oils. It was great to see three wonderful Gerhard Richter oils from his 80s series do so well with the top price being a piece from 1985, ‘S.D.’ that made nearly 10m GBP. Christie’s Modern British Sales were also very successful with your correspondent failing to get a bid in at the high estimate on Hepworth’s ‘Involute’ which was hammered down at double the high estimate to 462,000 GBP. Bomberg did well with a fabulous Cuenca landscape (nb. not a Rhonda picture) fetching nearly 700,000 GBP. However, the highlights for me were the great results for Peploe, still cheaper than a Churchill (oh dear) but over 800,000 GBP for a c. 1920 ‘Flowers and Fruit’ picture was a real achievement.

Across the pond Picassos were also on the agenda with Sotheby’s selling 11 works by the maestro from the former collection of Steve Wynn – now the MGM resorts in Las Vegas. The fact that all were fairly weak examples (big and brash in the main) was neither here nor there as the market pushed sub-standard Avignon-expo period pictures to tens of millions. I think Picasso could produce some wonderful work in his later life, but he also became far more inconsistent in his output. The large scale works from the late 1960s and even early 1970s (he died in ’73) should be bought with real care. In the future his signature alone will not be enough to hold value.

Over in Paris last evening we saw a mixed bag of results though high calibre Magrittes and post-war pictures did well. I was surprised by the poor showing of de Stael’s still-life ‘Nature morte au poelon’ which made just over 1.1m Euros. That picture, in my view, would be 2m GBP at a decent art fair. 

So, the strong market rumbles on and the prices for great things are as high as ever. Remember the OSFA mantra when buying high value works of art: use an advisor and avoid the pitfalls in buying and selling, with a decent negotiator on your side. 

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