Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- A Pablo Picasso painting priced at $8.5 million was among early sales as billionaires browsed London’s biggest Frieze Week.
The Picasso was bought at the inaugural Frieze Masters fair, as its 10-year-old neighbor, Frieze London, yesterday opened to VIP collectors of contemporary art, including Dasha Zhukova, the partner of Roman Abramovich. London fairs, galleries and auction houses are testing demand with more than $1.5 billion of art, a record.
“Frieze Masters works well,” the New York-based dealer David Nisinson said. “It’s more serious than other fairs that combine periods. With a 2000 cut-off, it allows dealers to re-sell works by established contemporary artists. They also made a good decision to avoid the decorative arts.”
An unidentified U.S.-based collector bought the 1970 Picasso lovers’ portrait, “Homme et Femme au bouquet,” first exhibited at the 1973 Palais des Papes show in Avignon. It was on the stand of New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe, who also sold a 1932 Fernand Leger painting for $2.6 million.
The Frieze Masters works were presented against neutral backgrounds, prompting jokes about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” There were fewer big-ticket sales by Old-Master dealers.
“The Old Masters aren’t good enough or sufficiently numerous to make a statement,” said London-based Jean-Luc Baroni, who is showing an 1880s Odilon Redon drawing, “The Battle of the Skeletons,” priced 350,000 pounds ($560,350).
The Masters event boosts the total valuation of the new two-venue Regent’s Park event to more than $1 billion, according to preliminary estimates by the insurer Hiscox Ltd.
“Some collectors are interested in the notion of buying from different periods, particularly after looking at relative values,” Nisinson said. “Not many are making decisions yet.”
At Frieze itself, a unique 2012 Paul McCarthy mixed-media sculpture, “White Snow Head,” was among the early purchases, selling to a European collector for $1.3 million on the booth of the London-and Zurich-based dealer Hauser & Wirth during the first 10 minutes.
Though more crowded than Frieze Masters, this 10-year-old contemporary fair saw measured buying, reflecting economic concerns and a proliferation of equivalent events, dealers said.
“It’s not as frantic as previous years,” Angela Choon, director of the new London branch of the New York-based dealership David Zwirner, said. “It’s steady.”
The 2012 painting “High Key Magenta” by the New York artist Carol Bove, incorporating a silver-chain net, was among the early Zwirner sales, bought by a U.S. collector for $80,000.
Galleries offering new works by artists considered to be “hot” investments were as busy as ever. Stephen Friedman was showing recent still life paintings by Ged Quinn, whose quirky take on Old Masters has inspired auction bids of as much as 187,250 pounds. All nine works were reserved or sold with prices ranging from 35,000 pounds to 130,000 pounds.
Jeweler Laurence Graff was a buyer of 20th-century furniture at the opening of a satellite event, the Pavilion of Art and Design London, now in its sixth year, dealers said.
At the fair, a 1964 Andy Warhol “Flowers” painting was sold for $2.5 million by the New York-based Skarstedt Gallery, which opened a branch at 23 Old Bond Street yesterday.
As every year, Tate shopped at Frieze with cash donated by the Outset charity. The 150,000 pounds available was spent on four works, three of them paintings: “Arthur Kennedy” (2012) by Caragh Thuring, showing a billboard seen from a New York window; “Ko 8” (1963) by the late Hideko Fukushima; and “Epsilon Group II” (1977) by Jack Whitten.
The fourth purchase was a sculpture by South African artist Nicholas Hlobo titled “Balindile I” (2012) and made with hosepipe, inner tire tubes, canvas and steel.
U.S. business magnate Martha Stewart, PPR Chief Executive Officer Francois Pinault and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, were also spotted browsing London art events.
Last night, the 1984 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting “Big Joy” sold for 2.6 million pounds with fees at Phillips de Pury & Co. The canvas, estimated at 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds, sold to an unidentified bidder in the room. It was one of 24 lots that sold for hammer prices that were within or below estimate. The remaining 12 failed to sell.
“There are a lot of places to shop this week,” Michael McGinnis, the company’s worldwide head of contemporary art, said after the sale. “It could be to do with the sheer amount of fairs, gallery shows and auctions.”
The event raised 12.2 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 15 million pounds, based on hammer prices.
The U.K. magazine Estates Gazette reported that Phillips has paid more than 100 million pounds for a new seven-story European headquarters building in Berkeley Square.
“We’re not in a position to say,” Phillips’s chairman Simon de Pury replied when asked to confirm the acquisition. “We will the moment we can.”
(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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