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Art Market Recovering as Frieze Boosted by Hirst, Paris Follows

"Medusa'-carpet" by German artist Martin Kippenberger, made the year before he died in 1997. The carpet, and eight paintings from the same year, were being offered by the Cologne-based dealer Gisela Capitain for an undisclosed price of more than 3 million euros at the Frieze Art Fair in London. Source: Gisela Capitain via Bloomberg

The crisis-ridden market for contemporary art continued its recovery as dealers who offered $375 million of works at the Frieze Art Fair reported many sales at post-boom price levels.

Billionaire collectors attending Europe’s biggest fair devoted to the work of living artists in London were heading for Paris yesterday for the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain. FIAC, France’s biggest fair.

Both events are tests of demand after some heavily traded contemporary artists plummeted by more than 50 percent in 2009. Works by Damien Hirst, one of those affected, sold in London.

“Dealers brought their usual roster of top sellers at affordable prices,” Mary Hoeveler, a New York-based art adviser, said of Frieze. “Works were selling well in the first two days, as they were at the gallery shows I visited, confirming that demand in the primary market remains steady.”

Frieze itself doesn’t release sale figures. The 173 exhibitors in a temporary structure in Regent’s Park were offering works by established and emerging artists. Frieze 2010 was “predictable and targeted,” said Hoeveler. The booths of White Cube and Gagosian were dominated by Hirst wall sculptures from the mid-2000s.

A 2010 Rudolf Stingel abstract of gray cloth was sold by London-based dealer Sadie Coles for $300,000. Another monochrome canvas by Stingel sold for $1.2 million at Christie’s International in New York in November 2007.

Hirst Fish

Confirmed big-ticket sales were in short supply, though White Cube said it sold the 3.5-million-pound ($5.6 million) Hirst 2006 fish-in-formaldehyde work, “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths.”

Canvases by Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke priced at $2 million remained unsold at the booth of New York-dealer Michael Werner on the penultimate afternoon of the five-day event.

“There used to be multiple million pound plus sales at the fair. Now you’re struggling to find one,” Robert Read, head of art and private clients at the insurer Hiscox Ltd, said. “From a commercial point of view, it seemed to be a moderate success. Prices were fair, and there were plenty of deals being done for interesting works marked at under $100,000.” Hiscox estimated the total value of Frieze works based on confirmed insurance cover for 40 to 50 percent of them.

Miami-based collector Martin Margulies returned to Frieze for the first time since the inaugural 2003 edition. He was one of many buyers acquiring works for less than $100,000, spending $150,000 on artists such as Thomas Housego and Michael Bauer.

“When I first came, Frieze was really wild,” Margulies said in an interview. “Now it’s turned into a really nice event. Prices are fair and it’s always possible to find something you want. It’s crowded, but that’s good.”

Entrance Fee

An entrance fee of 25 pounds failed to prevent the aisles of the tent from becoming clogged with visitors. Projected attendance figures were 60,000, the same as 2009.

Crowd control will be less of a problem for FIAC, previewing on Oct. 20, in the Grand Palais and other venues. It includes dealers who specialize in classic 20th-century art.

Last year saw the introduction of a new “Modern Project” section with dealers offering 24 museum-quality works priced as much as $40 million. The innovation didn’t result in any publicly confirmed sales during the fair and isn’t repeated in 2010.

Gagosian -- which opens a new Paris gallery tomorrow -- is among 50 new exhibitors in the list of 194 participating modern and contemporary dealers.

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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