The 20th-anniversary edition of the Frieze London art fair opened its doors in Regent’s Park, setting the stage for an event colored by a sense of uncertainty. Against the backdrop of ongoing global conflicts and concerns of an economic slowdown, the art market displayed evident signs of strain. Demand for some of the previously sought-after contemporary artists had cooled, and the recent contemporary art auctions in Hong Kong had disappointed with their results.

Dealers arrived at Frieze London and Frieze Masters, a short ten-minute walk northward within the park, with a degree of apprehension. Frieze Masters, renowned for featuring older artworks and collectibles, including the intriguing juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton affectionately named “Chomper,” valued at approximately $20 million by the David Aaron gallery, contributed to the diverse array of offerings. While numerous transactions were executed on the first day, the typical frenzy that characterizes art fairs, with collectors rushing to secure works within the opening minutes, was conspicuously absent. Dealer David Lewis noted that the pace felt more measured, acknowledging that sometimes, the art world operates at a more deliberate tempo, which can be equally valid.

Looming over the art fair was the specter of an extensive lineup of art poised for sale over the ensuing two weeks. Sotheby’s was preparing to host two evening auctions and a day sale in London, followed by two evening sales in Paris the following week. Meanwhile, Christie’s had mapped out five live auctions in London from the current period until October 19, with an additional five scheduled in Paris from October 19 to 21. Simultaneously, the art world was anticipating the second edition of the Paris+ par Art Basel art fair, opening to VIPs on October 18 and running until October 22.

Collectors navigated these challenging times, where geopolitics, economics, and market dynamics converged, casting uncertainty over their decisions. Alex Logsdail, the CEO of Lisson Gallery, brought a collection of new works by American artist Van Hanos, ranging in price from $22,000 to $60,000. While several pieces were promptly placed on hold within the first hour of the fair, Logsdail approached the situation with cautious optimism. Nevertheless, he acknowledged the unpredictable impact of unfolding global events on art purchasing decisions.

At the fair, some collectors were surprised by the robust turnout, observing the customary queue of several hundred well-dressed VIPs eagerly awaiting the fair’s opening at 11 a.m. Poju Zabludowicz, touring the event with his daughter Tiffany, a curator and collector, expressed astonishment at the turnout and even mused about the state of the world economy. However, he recognized the multifaceted forces shaping the art market and its resilience in uncertain times.

Even dealers who reported strong sales approached the situation with modesty rather than exuberance. Marianne Boesky, stationed in a booth adorned with figurative paintings by American artist Danielle McKinney, each priced between $45,000 and $65,000, paused to reflect on the broader world. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging external factors while expressing gratitude for the art world’s resilience.

This year’s edition of Frieze London featured over 160 galleries from approximately 40 countries, while Frieze Masters contributed an additional 130 galleries to the mix. As sales reports gradually surfaced, a discernible trend emerged: collecting preferences from New York’s fall season, which favored mid-to-late career artists (and even posthumous ones), had crossed the Atlantic.

Noteworthy sales were reported, including Hauser and Wirth’s success in selling a $3 million sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and two works on paper by Philip Guston. Gagosian’s booth was a standout, showcasing Damien Hirst’s paintings, all said to be priced between $450,000 and $1 million, with every work finding a buyer. White Cube reported substantial sales, including artworks by Tracy Emin and Anselm Kiefer. Pace also noted significant sales, including abstract sculptures by Arlene Shechet at Frieze Masters and a charcoal drawing by Robert Longo at Frieze London.

While these sales figures are substantial, Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace, offered a note of caution. He acknowledged that some consignors, recognizing the need to sell their works, refrained from setting excessively high prices, as such strategies currently find little favor in the market.

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