Fair trading

IN 2012, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the founders of Frieze—the colourful, sometimes raucous art fair in Regent’s Park, London—launched a new, overlapping event nearby. Frieze Masters, they hoped, would demonstrate the ways in which old art influences what is being made now. In this context, “old”, like historic or traditional, is relative: 1999 is the fair’s cut-off point.

For the fair’s first two editions Victoria Siddall, the director of Masters (its art-world shorthand), took a conservative approach. The range of specialities was narrow—textiles, furniture, jewels, objects d’art and ceramics were not permitted. Yet the fair has thrived: 127 dealers from 19 countries took part this year. Proximity to the original Frieze offers dealers the hope that the many fans of the original event will drop by and be captivated by the earlier art—and note how relatively inexpensive it is. As Mark Weiss, a London specialist in northern European and Tudor portraiture, says, “the fascinating juxtaposition of the old with the modern provides a marvellous opportunity to show what great value fine Old Masters represent in today’s art market.”

This year that opportunity was used in a variety of different ways. Some dealers staged single-artist shows. Hauser & Wirth, for instance, presented the large, metal assemblages of Jean Tinguely. Although silent at the fair in order to conserve their working parts, when activated they clank and judder as if preparing to dance. At Annely Juda, a London-based firm, the walls were hung with drawings by Leon Kossoff, a British expressionist artist; all the pieces represent his response to works in the National Gallery. (Here, at least, was a clear example of the fair’s raison d’etre.)

Elsewhere dealers seemed to be awkwardly straining to lure the elusive cross-over buyer. At Moretti, a dealer based in Florence and London, a 15th-century work by Alvise Vivarini, a Venetian painter, with a mottled orange background framed in handsome gold leaf was flanked by two small Gerard Richter abstract oils in which orange and yellow dominate. The colours may have spoken in unison about the glories of sunset, but the display failed to aid appreciation of the accomplishments of either the living artist or the one long dead.

The most atmospheric, instructive and exciting stand at Frieze Masters 2014 was created by Helly Nahmad, the London-based cousin of the New York dealer of the same name. “The Collector” (pictured) was a dense recreation of a Parisian apartment as inhabited by a cultivated, engaged art collector in 1968. Dishes were piled in a kitchen sink, nearby stacks of magazines and paperbacks were piled on parquet floors; invitations to private views and cinema tickets were propped up on every horizontal surface; the walls were covered with posters and notes. In amongst it all were works of art: a small Giacometti sculpture of three figures walking balanced on a shelf next to the rumpled bed; a burn painting by Alberto Burri and a slashed canvas by Lucio Fontana were among the works on the walls. This is how people would live with art at a time when such works were not trophies, and when their monetary value was not the first thing a visitor thought of (or was told). But, of course, the pieces were for sale and would readily translate into trophies and bank notes. “The Collector”, like the best fiction, heightened a perception of reality. One visiting dealer called “The Collector” a poem in three dimensions; it alone was worth a visit.

The fair has improved greatly since its inception. Newcomers included Georg Laue from Munich who brought kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosity) objects and Daniel Crouch, a London map dealer, both of whom had strong sales at the preview. If this encourages Ms Siddall to increase the diversity of media exhibited Frieze Masters may well become the most important fair of its kind in London.

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