Billionaires Head for $350 Million Frieze Amid Art Price Worry

A 1/250th-scale replica of "White Horse" by Mark Wallinger. Made in epoxy resin in an edition of 35, they are being offered by the London dealer Anthony Reynolds at the Frieze Art Fair in London, previewing on Oct. 12. Source: Anthony Reynolds Gallery via Bloomberg

Billionaire collectors are gathering for the contemporary-art market’s latest test as volatile financial markets threaten to slow big-ticket spending.

Dealers are watching to see if demand holds up at the Frieze fair in London. This year, the five-day Regent’s Park event is offering $350 million worth of art, $25 million less than last year, according to the estimates of insurer Hiscox Ltd. The VIP preview tomorrow is the centerpiece of a crowded week of satellite fairs, museum shows, gallery openings and auctions valued at more than $500 million.

Frieze is Europe’s biggest commercial event focused primarily on the work of living artists. The ninth edition comes after stocks dived amid worries about government debts.

“Collectors are being more cautious,” said the London-based adviser Tania Buckrell Pos, who has Russians and Asians among her clients. “A few indicated they thought prices may even come down a little. Nonetheless, Frieze will attract a lot of attention and there will be some solid buying activity.”

Frieze, sponsored by Deutsche Bank AG, will look different this year. The architecture firm Carmody Groarke has designed a series of interlinked temporary structures to house dealer booths and hospitality functions, replacing the single tent of previous years. The number of galleries is unchanged at 173.

New York-based Pace is one of four dealerships making their debut at the fair. The Manhattan gallery’s booth will show Chuck Close’s 1993 portrait “Joel,” priced at about $5 million. In addition, it will be opening a first-floor gallery at 6-10 Lexington Street in the Soho area of the U.K. capital.

Mayfair Gallery

“This space will be by appointment,” Jennifer Joy, the gallery's public relations manager said in an interview. “We're planning to open a gallery in Mayfair in 2012. We're still working on the details.”

New works priced at less than $500,000 tend to be the main draw for collectors who fly in for Frieze and its satellite events. Sculpture looks set to be the flavor of the week.

London exhibitor Anthony Reynolds has already sold 10 of an edition of 35 apartment-friendly replicas of Mark Wallinger’s “White Horse” sculpture planned for Ebbsfleet in Kent. Initially pitched at 10,000 pounds ($15,660), the 1/250th scale polyester resin and chalk powder versions have yet to be priced.

London and Zurich dealer Hauser & Wirth now represents the British sculptor Thomas Houseago. His bronze “Hermaphrodite” will be shown in Frieze’s sculpture park, priced about $400,000, while a mask piece will be available at $100,000.

The bronze “Ghost of Humankindness” by New York State-based sculptor Huma Bhabha will be shown on the booth of the London dealer Stephen Friedman. The unique sculpture will be priced at about $250,000, with accompanying drawings starting at $25,000.

Future Can Wait

Away from Frieze, works by emerging artists can be snapped up for less than $20,000 at events like the SUNDAY fair at 35 Marylebone Road, or the Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4 New Sensations and The Future Can Wait show at Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square.

“My clients are ready and itching to buy work,” said the New York-based adviser Heather Flow, who will be visiting Frieze and its satellite events. “The majority are American and our focus is on works under $30,000. The price point is at a level that doesn't threaten my collectors' bank accounts. On average they buy eight works a year and this is continuing in 2011.”

Others are less confident about the outlook for contemporary pieces. Robert Read, fine art expert at specialist art insurer Hiscox, regards the “cutting-edge” material on offer at Frieze and elsewhere as the most volatile and speculative sector of the market. In 2009, in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., prices declined by as much as 50 percent.

Piles of Cash

“It sells when the economy is booming,” Read said in an interview. “It can feel a less safe investment when things become difficult. That said, there are plenty of people out there sitting on piles of cash trying to work out where to put it.”

Next year, as well as opening a new fair in New York in May, Frieze will be bolstered in London in October by its own separate “Masters” event with dealers offering pre-1950 works by artists with established reputations.

In the meantime, the boutique Pavilion of Art & Design London fair in Berkeley Square will be the shop window for such classic works.

Barcelona dealer Manuel Barbie will be offering three pieces by Pablo Picasso never put on the market before. Acquired from the German-based collection of Richard von Radack, they include a 1922 Synthetic Cubist still-life painting at 2 million euros ($2.73 million) and a 1915 Analytical Cubist collage at 1.8 million euros.

Pavilion Fair

The fifth edition of the French-owned Pavilion fair will preview today.

“We meet the best collectors from the U.S. and Europe,” Barbie, one of 58 exhibiting dealers, said in an interview. “People are flying in for Frieze and for the sales, and the Pavilion is just a few meters away from the auction houses.”

London dealer Simon Dickinson Fine Art will be showing two Gerhard Richter abstracts at the fair to coincide with the artist’s retrospective at Tate Modern. Both offered on consignment from collectors, the 1976 monochrome “Grau” is priced at 1.4 million euros and the 1982 turquoise, green and red “Abstraktes Bild” at 4.2 million pounds.

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

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