Arriving in London a few days prior to the opening of the Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters offered me extra time to view the works at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Christie’s added a group of smaller works called “Up Close” including a 15 inch Alberto Giacometti sculpture, entitled “Man (Apollo)” which tripled it’s high estimate at $4.6 million. Andy Warhol’s “Coke Bottle”, 1962 made $2.6 million for a stunning tiny canvas measuring 11 1/2 x 6 inches.
This season’s auctions highlighted three paintings by this year’s Turner Prize nominee Hurvin Anderson which attracted lively bidding. The top lot was at Christie’s entitled “Country Club: Chicken Wire”, 2008 , which sold for $3.4 million, a record for the artist. Another record was established for Josef Albers at Sotheby’s for a 32 x 32 inch painting entitled “Homage to the Square: Temperate” which sold for $3 million.
Several works by Wolfgang Tillmans, the German photographer, who became known in the 1990’s and has had two major museum exhibitions this year were offered. The first at the Tate Modern, entitled “Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017” where his work engages the viewer with the themes of community, empathy and vulnerability. The second exhibition took place this summer at The Beyeler Foundation in Basel, featuring around 200 works dating from 1986 to 2017. The top lot was sold at Phillips for $570,000 entitled “Einzelganger VIII.
On Monday we viewed the Jasper Johns exhibit at the Royal Academy entitled “Something Resembling Truth”. It is a comprehensive survey of 150 works including paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints. His images engage the viewer with the ambiguities of perception and continual themes involving memory, sexuality and the reflection of mortality. The exhibition is an extraordinary window into the mind of one of the most important living contemporary artists of our time.
In the evening we attended the opening of the Danish collaborative, SuperFlex’s, installation, entitled “One Two Three Swing at Tate Modern which filled Turbine Hall with swings. Many people were enjoying the swings and it created a joyous environment for all ages to connect.
The opening party at White Cube, Bermondsey featured works by Damian Ortega, Cerith Wyn Evans, and Ann Veronica Janssens. The highlight of the evening was Eddie Peake’s live performance entitled “Relinquish” in the courtyard. A complex collage of movement and sound!
On Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Barbican Art Gallery to see the Basquiat exhibition entitled “Basquiat Boom for Real” and were greeted by Eleanor Nairne, the co-curator who had been working on the show for many years. A selection of more than 100 works including paintings, drawings, rare films, and archival material provided an intimate view into the artist, his early personal life and the role music played in his career.
In the afternoon we attended a reception for the artist Haroon Mirza at the Zabludowicz Collection on Prince of Wales Road. The installation was titled “HRM199: For a Partnership Society” and deals with the relationships between matter and consciousness, truth and belief. In contrast to the first floor videos of discordant loud sounds, the second floor offered a quiet respite in a dark enclosed space where the participants could be still and far away from the noise below. We were given pillows to sit on and flashlights to escape if necessary. The 5 minute session seemed like 5 seconds and the door opened and we were all released. It was a calming and restorative experience.
Wednesday morning we were off to the VIP opening of the Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters in Regent’s Park. This year the special section, entitled “Sex Work: Feminist Art and Radical Politics” featured 9 radical feminine artists that made work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including American artists Marilyn Minter and Judith Bernstein. In contrast, the salon style installation of hundreds of small drawings, offered by the Gagosian gallery created an intimacy and opportunity to view a wide range of inspiring works. Hauser & Wirth’s stand entitled “Bronze Age C.3500BC -2017, was devoted to bronze objects from both ancient and modern times. It was a riff on a run-down regional museum where one could buy reproduced Roman coins for 4 GBP.
On our way to Frieze Masters, we joined Claire Lilley, the Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park who curated the Frieze Sculpture Park this year in Regent’s Park’s English Gardens. She was addressing the group and offering a tour of the exhibition. Her goal was to showcase artists which reflect the multiplicity of sculpture being produced globally today. The park is open to everyone to enjoy the works from the 3 entry points. Our favorites included Alicia Kwade, Miquel Barcelo, Ugo Rondinone, Gary Hume, John Chamberlain and Urs Fischer.
Frieze Masters was easier to navigate with fewer exhibitors. The highlight was a stunning Cy Twombly painting”Untitled”, 1971 at the Craig F. Starr Gallery. Apparently, the work was on exhibit only from a private collection and not for sale.
On Thursday morning, we went to The Newport Gallery (Damien Hirst’s Museum), to view “Dan Colen: Sweet Liberty”. The exhibition spans the entire artist’s career and includes paintings and large scale installations. Kate Davies, head of the “Murder Me Collection” (which is Damien’s private collection) addressed the group and was very upbeat in her welcome as always. Upon entering the first gallery, we were confronted by “The big Kahuna”, 2010-2017, an installation of a battered American Flag, pinned under the concrete block that supports the flag. It’s a devastating symbol of America and very disturbing. The extraordinary installation “Livin and Dyin”, (2012-2013) is witnessed throughout the exhibition, in the negative spaces strongly carved out though the gallery walls. The denouement is witnessed in the collapsed cartoon figures of Wile E Coyote, Kool-Aid Man and Roger Rabbit, as well as the life-size sculpture of the naked artist himself. As we left the exhibition, Dan Colen and two two female actors were on the street doing a performance. A total over the top experience…
The exhibition entitled “Opera: Passion, Power and Politics” at the Victoria and Albert Museum was a 400 year journey showing the history of opera through seven operatic premieres in seven cities. It was organized with the Royal Opera House in the new special exhibitions gallery. With special headphones, standing in front of each presentation, the beautiful operas were activated. A truly magnificent experience.
The Friday evening auction at Christie’s was jam packed and totaled 99.5 million GBP, with 17% unsold. It fell short of it’s low estimate of 139 million GBP. The star lot, Francis Bacon’s “Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 was the biggest casualty. The painting was ambitiously estimated at $80 million and failed to sell. The auctioneer opened the bidding at 50 million GBP and hammered it down at 58 million GBP without getting a single bid. The highest price for a single canvas by Bacon was 42.4 million GBP paid in 2014 for the 1966 “Portrait of George Dyer Talking”.
Wrapping up the the week, our favorite gallery shows included Riikrit Tiravanija at Pilar Corrias, Brice Marden at Gagosian, Alex Katz at Timothy Taylor, Gary Hume at Spruth Magers, Robert Longo and Ilya & Emilia Kabakov at Ropac, Dubuffet at Pace, de Kooning at Skarstedt, Jack Whitten at Hauser & Wirth, Hernan Bas at Victoria Miro and Gilbert & George at Levy Gorvy.