Photographer: Mark Blower
Art

Galleries for the Super-Rich Turn to Populist Revolt Art

New York's art fair bonanza, known as “Frieze Week,” is adjusting to the times.

In the midst of headlines warning of U.S. legislative chaos, a “hard” Brexit and the rise of the nationalist right in the French elections, hundreds of dealers are preparing to descend on New York for Frieze week in an effort to sell artworks that often cost more than the average American worker earns in a lifetime.

The Frieze New York art fair tent on Randall's Island.

Photographer: Mark Blower, courtesy of Frieze

Some galleries at the Frieze New York art fair (May 5-7) will attempt to tread a fine line between politics and commerce by tackling sociopolitical issues head-on. “There’s an interesting trend of galleries doing all-female booths,” said Victoria Siddall, the fair’s director. “The [New York] gallery Cheim & Read is doing a presentation around the color pink that pays tribute to the women’s march.”

Other galleries at Frieze are showcasing protest art: New York-based P.P.O.W. gallery is bringing work by Martin Wong, David Wojnarowicz, and Anton van Dalen, whose massive, car-shaped pigeon coop is meant to reference burnt-out, abandoned cars. London-based Maureen Paley gallery is bringing works by Wolfgang Tillmans, an artist who actively campaigned against Brexit.

“It’s an extremely important platform—and marketplace—for galleries to show work,” Siddall said.

Market Ambiguity

“Fairs have always been an important element of where the art world is going,” said Mathias Rastorfer, co-owner of Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska, which will exhibit next week at TEFAF (May 4-8, in the Park Avenue Armory), a separate fair whose galleries traditionally showcase antiques, design, and 20th century masterworks. This year, Rastorfer said his gallery will present investment-grade art while catering to a market that has noticeably slowed from its 2014 highs. “How do you deal with a situation where you have, on the one hand, extreme political insecurity, but on the other, a booming Wall Street and a lot of available liquidity?” Rastorfer asked.

A work by Fernand Léger, Nature morte au compas (1929), brought by Galerie Gmurzynska.

Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska

Rastorfer's booth, which was conceived by the French designer Alexandre de Betak, will feature work by artists who include Fernand Léger, Kurt Schwitters, and Robert Indiana, ranging from $300,000 to about $5 million. 

Taking Their Time

Dealers noted that some collectors have slowed (though not stopped) their buying habits. “The fact that [the art market] is slowing down a bit makes it more serious again,” said Boris Vervoordt, who leads the Belgian Axel Vervoordt Gallery, which will have booths at both fairs. “This allows people to think more,” he said. “And to make better decisions.”

Masatoshi Masanobu's Work (1961), brought by the Axel Vervoordt Gallery.

Source: Jan Liégeois, courtesy of Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Vervoordt will present a solo show at Frieze of the Japanese avant-garde artist Masatoshi Masanobu, a founder of the movement called Gutai; prices for Masanobu’s work at the booth will start at $40,000, a comparatively small amount, given that art by such Masanobu peers as Kazuo Shiraga regularly sell for millions. At TEFAF, Vervoordt has created “a metal structure to hold the paintings, kind of like a Beaux-Arts exhibition reinterpreted with Gutai pieces,” he said. Works in the TEFAF booth are all under $1.5 million. “We decided not to go for the super-expensive” he said.

Wifredo Lam's Figures grises (Composition fantastique), from 1974, brought by Galerie Gmurzynska.

Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska

Some dealers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Adam Sheffer, a partner at Cheim & Read (whose press release notes that its booth, featuring works by Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and Lynda Benglis, is “in honor of the women’s march and the sea of pink hats”), wrote in an email that “while we’re still in the early days of the new administration, any predictions of how potential policies or reforms may impact the art market are too speculative.” It seems, Sheffer continued, “that despite some political complexities, the market is settling into a responsible, comfortable place."

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