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No Spending Freeze at Frieze

Money flows freely at the annual London art fair.

Mike Kelley

LONDON — Debt crisis? Recession threat? What are those?


Galleries from New York to Paris to Athens reported vigorous sales at Frieze Art Fair, the annual event in Regent’s Park here that kicks off the fall art market season in Europe.


The four-day fair, which wrapped up Sunday, saw visitors including Elle Macpherson, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Caring, Jean Pigozzi and Evgeny Lebedev, as well as deep-pocketed collectors such as Luigi Maramotti, Dasha Zhukova, David Roberts and Anita Zabludowicz.


Despite the mounting sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, a looming Greek default and the prospect of zero growth in the U.K. next year, the collectors’ mantra was spend, spend, spend.


“We’ve sold so much that this is already my second hanging,” said an amazed Thaddaeus Ropac on Thursday, the fair’s first day open to the public. “We were very cautious in our expectations because of what is going on in the world, but work by [Georg] Baselitz, [Antony] Gormley and [Anselm] Kiefer sold faster than I expected.”


The artists’ works were sold for 400,000 euros to 500,000 euros, or $550,000 to $690,000, said Ropac, who has galleries in Paris and Salzburg, Austria. All figures have been converted at current exchange.


Asked why there was so much disposable income sloshing around with so many world economies flatlining and debt levels in the West rising, Ropac said: “In 2008, the art market suffered, and then it picked up immediately. I think a lot of people still regret the things they didn’t buy in 2008, and they also believe that art holds its value.”


Frieze Art organizers were expected to release official attendance and sales figures today. They declined to comment on the outcome of the event, which drew more than 170 galleries.


George Vamvakidis, who runs The Breeder gallery in Athens, said the mood was positive at the fair, and in Greece overall. “There is a very strong collector base in Greece, and the traditional buyers are still buying.

They see art as a safe haven, more so than property right now,” he said.


The Breeder’s artists include the Los Angeles-based Mindy Shapero, Greek street artist Stelios Faitakis and the Glasgow-based Scott Myles.


Gordon VeneKlasen of Michael Werner in New York said Frieze is always the gallery’s most successful fair.

“This year is no exception. It’s a platform for younger artists. What we’re selling is not particularly expensive — it’s $250,000 and under — things that can be bought readily and easily,” he said.


“We don’t get the feeling that people are wary of buying art right now. It’s something they want to collect,” said VeneKlasen, adding that the gallery had already sold works by Aaron Curry, Thomas Houseago and Enrico David, all of which were priced under $250,000.


During the week, Frieze also revealed that Britain’s Tate galleries had purchased three works by the artists Helena Almeida, Melanie Smith and Alina Szapocznikow. The art was purchased with 150,000 pounds, or $237,000, from The Outset/Frieze Art Fair Fund, a philanthropic organization that supports new artists.


Deutsche Bank is forging ahead with its headline sponsorship of the fair, despite the widespread crisis in the European banking sector. “Our support is about art being inspiring, and being part of the bank’s 900 buildings every day,” Friedhelm Hütte, global head of Deutsche Bank Art, told WWD.


The bank awarded Roman Ondak its Artist of the Year 2012 prize. The prize goes to young artists who produce photographs or works on paper. “These artists are putting forward the right questions. There are so many answers out there. But they are asking questions, relevant questions, about life today,” Hütte added.
The fair sets London alight with a flood of foreign talent and money, so the city was abuzz last week with parties and satellite exhibitions.


S.J. Phillips, the antique jewelers on Bond Street, hosted a show, “Metamorphosis,” created by the London-based photographer-cum-designer Eliane Fattal. She reworked 20 of the store’s diamond animal and insect brooches into tiaras, hair ornaments, rings and bracelets. The pieces are still on show this week, and prices range from 14,500 pounds, or $23,000, for a leaf ring to 150,000 pounds, or $237,000, for a necklace-and-earrings set.


Meanwhile, the private Beauchamp Club in Knightsbridge was one of the week’s big hosts, organizing a dinner for Zaha Hadid with guests such as Rena Sindi and Maya Schoenburg — and a lunch for the board of the Museum of the City of New York.