Five minutes after arriving at the Frieze Art Fair in New York, collector Susan Seelig paid $4,000 for a 12-pound cast aluminum plate.
“It’s so beautiful,” Seelig said, examining her purchase. “And I don’t do such things casually.”
The work was one of 50 rough-textured silvery platters by 29-year-old sculptor Elaine Cameron-Weir at the booth of New York-based Ramiken Crucible gallery. Five hours after the fair opened to VIPs on May 8, all the plates were sold to buyers that included the New Museum in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The rainy weather didn’t dampen sales at the opening of the third edition of Frieze, where 190 galleries from 28 countries did brisk business in a white, translucent serpentine tent on Randall’s Island. Located a short car or ferry ride from Manhattan, the fair’s opening drew actor Leonardo DiCaprio, tennis pro John McEnroe, fashion designer Marc Jacobs, hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb and Marie-Josee Kravis, wife of Henry Kravis, billionaire co-chairman of buyout firm KKR & Co.
Frieze, which runs through May 12, coincides with two weeks of semi-annual auctions that are expected to rake in as much as $2.3 billion in sales. It also anchors at least eight other fairs including Pulse, New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), Seven and Salon Zurcher.
A spinoff of the London-based fair that began in 2003, Frieze is known for both cutting-edge and blue-chip galleries. It’s considered one of the world’s three most important contemporary-art fairs, along with Art Basel in Switzerland in June and Art Basel Miami Beach in December.
By early afternoon, Kendall Koppe gallery from Glasgow sold out its booth of paintings and drawings of fleshy women by Ella Kruglyanskaya, with prices ranging from $4,500 to $15,000.
“It’s my first art fair in New York,” said Kendall Koppe, the gallery’s director. “It’s exciting to be done in one hour.”
Business continued even though nothing was available on its walls. “Now we are selling from the iPad,” he said.
Gagosian Gallery said it sold out its booth of small, text-based paintings by American artist Ed Ruscha. At least 16 paintings lined the walls. Each was priced at $175,000.
A red-and-white polka dot pumpkin the size of a Mini Cooper car beckoned collectors at David Zwirner gallery where dense net paintings by Yayoi Kusama created a counterpoint to Donald Judd’s minimalist aluminum boxes. Everything sold, with prices ranging from $350,000 to $650,000.
Kusama’s signature pumpkin went for $600,000 and “could have sold multiple times,” said gallery owner David Zwirner. “Unfortunately there was only one. It’s going to a collector in mainland China.”
A swarm of collectors packed Rome-based Lorcan O’Neill to see reflective Plexiglas sculptures and spray paintings by Eddie Peake, the young British artist of the moment. Former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz examined a flat, oversized blue bear sporting a scarf. Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, dressed in a prim white shirt and plaid skirt, watched an hourly three-minute violin performance in the booth.
Lorcan O’Neill, the gallery’s owner, said he was worried about collectors flipping Peake’s work for a quick profit. Most of his pieces, priced at 18,000 pounds ($30,349) to 30,000 pounds, were either sold or on reserve. In February, Peake’s spray painting fetched $54,393 at Christie’s auction in London.
“The art world has gotten to a stage where you can’t control things,” he said. “We have to be very careful and sell only to people who really love the work.”
Many collectors love artists with commercial momentum, New York art dealer Derek Eller said.
“It’s all about competitive collecting,” he said. “So much of the conversation is about the market.”
Eller had a striking installation by Karl Wirsum, a 74-year-old Chicago-based artist with decades of work and an auction record of only $11,875, according to Artnet Worldwide Corp.’s price database.
Three large marionettes dressed in chic garb guarded the booth’s entrance. Inside are Wirsum’s cutouts, paintings and drawings of hybrid creatures that evoke Eastern deities and comic book characters. Early sales ranged from $8,000 for a work on paper to $45,000 for a painting.
The marionettes, each priced at $60,000, were last on view in 1981 and have spent the rest of the time in cardboard boxes in the artist’s attic.
“This is an excuse to show them and to organize this mini-retrospective,” Eller said.