Pinault Waits With Other Billionaires for Mad Art Dash at Frieze

These days even billionaires like Francois Pinault have to get in line to buy art.

A scrum of collectors including Pinault, the French owner of Christie’s, cooled their heels at the entrance of the Frieze New York art fair Wednesday on its preview day for select guests.

When 11 a.m. struck, the crowd pushed forward, and the rush began for the wealthy to get first dibs to buy contemporary art from almost 200 booths at the fair on Randall’s Island. Frieze opened to the public Thursday.

More wealthy investors are putting their excess cash into art. At least $2.1 billion of works were sold in two weeks of spring auctions in New York. On May 11, a Pablo Picasso painting became the most expensive artwork sold at auction at $179.4 million.

“I’ve been here for a couple of hours and I haven’t had a moment to catch my breath,” said Iwan Wirth, co-owner of Hauser & Wirth gallery, which has a booth at Frieze. “If there’s a billion dollars of art sold at auction, $990 million is not spent, because there’s always an underbidder. We get some of that money here.”

Collectors Don and Mera Rubell, Beth Rudin Dewoody, and Anita and Poju Zabludowicz; actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Neil Patrick Harris, and museum directors Richard Armstrong of the Guggenheim and Nicholas Serota from the Tate scoured the art fair looking for deals.

‘This One’

Compared to the eye-popping auction prices, the art fair seemed more reasonable for the merely rich. David Zwirner pointed out the objects in his both that sold.

“This one, that one, this one, that one, this one,” he said. Visitors at the booth reclined on linen furniture designed by Franz West. By the end of Wednesday, the gallery had sold the furniture several times over. Six club chairs were purchased for $30,000 each and one couch sold for $100,000.

Zwirner’s booth features two artists -- a group of works by West, which ranged from $60,000 to $2.2 million, and a series of sculptures by John McCracken, which ranged from $250,000 to $1.8 million. By midday, a tall red sculpture by McCracken sold for $850,000.

The Berlin and Cologne-based Galerie Buchholz saw similarly strong sales. A large triptych by Isa Genzken sold for 380,000 euros ($433,000). A giant photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans sold for 120,000 euros, and a sculpture made of computer parts by art-world darling Simon Denny, the star of New Zealand’s Venice Biennale pavilion, sold for 28,000 euros.

First Hour

“We did so well in the first hour,” Daniel Buchholz said. “Every art fair is a bit different. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” Buchholz also sold a black and white hook rug by Frances Stark for 50,000 euros and a large painting by Lucy McKenzie for 80,000 euros.

The fair offered its usual mix of paintings, sculpture, and a smattering of video art and drawings, but one dominant trend was ceramic sculpture.

At Los Angeles gallery Tif Sigfrids, bright, abstract ceramics by Zachary Leener were $11,000 each; by midday Wednesday four had sold.

Four of Dan McCarthy’s colorful face pots sold for $9,000 each at Anton Kern Gallery. At the booth for the Madrid gallery Travesia Cuatro, four ceramic vases ranging from $8,800 to $18,000 were purchased. Each vase was filled with an elaborate bouquet of fresh flowers.

Taking Risks

“We have seen a lot of ceramics,” said Frieze co-founder Amanda Sharp. “People have been very confident with what they brought. They’re taking risks.”

There were several attention-grabbing booths.

“I’ve only gotten past the first booth, and I’m surrounded by some of the most interesting galleries,” said Anita Zabludowicz, the co-founder of the London-based Zabludowicz Collection.

Marian Goodman gallery’s booth was filled with colossal works by the arte povera artist Giuseppe Penone, which included towering, tree-like sculptures and a giant multi-part wire mesh sculpture filled with laurel leaves. The works started at $700,000 and some had sold, though the gallery declined to say which.

At Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, the artist Jonathan Horowitz organized a project in which 700 attendees were asked to paint a circle, in black, on a pre-stretched square white canvas. Each square was mounted on the wall in seven groupings of 100 circles, which were priced at $100,000. On Wednesday two such groups had sold. Attendees profited, too. Each participant was paid $20.

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