May 17, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

London Frieze Week With Banksy, Dave Chappelle, and a Red-Hot Art Market

4 min read

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Frieze London on Wednesday was that something was off about the masks. Across hundreds of booths under that magnificent tent erected in Regent’s Park, collectors let their masks droop daintily from a single ear, or stuffed them in a side pocket, or disposed of them entirely. While it would have been strange to see even dealers in masks at the last in-person Frieze London—which went down in October 2019, weeks before a 55-year-old man in the Hubei province of China came down with mysterious flu-like symptoms—it was even more of a shock to see such a lack of them in October 2021.

Welcome to the first real art fair of the vaxxed-and-happy era. Even if travel restrictions are still on the cusp of being repealed, collectors, artists, and celebrity hangers-on—hello there, Lily Allen!—waded through the aisles of a large-scale indoor gathering, many sans face protection. There’s no mask mandate in London. Catching the tube to the fair is a shock for any subway-riding New Yorker, as many Londoners breathe freely for the entirety of the trip. And while Frieze maintains that its policy is to require face coverings for all visitors, there’s also a strict policy requiring proof of a negative test or full vaccination, and all visitors to the U.K. need to get a test on or before their second day in the country. And so, no penalty came for those who ripped off the coverings.

“I feel not super secure without the mask, but it’s okay,” said Xavier Hufkens, the legendary Brussels art dealer who’s maintained a primo gallery in the Belgian city since the 1980s. “We’ve been doing well in Belgium, where things are so, so strict. But here, not so much—it’s like, um, before, no?”

Hufkens was standing in the middle of his booth, a veritable hub of activity far from the elbow-bumping chill pervasive just a month ago at the Art Basel fair. Hufkens’s deputies ably sold a large Tracey Emin bronze for 350,000 pounds as well as work by the Los Angeles–based artists Thomas Houseago and Paul McCarthy for six-figure prices. Princess Beatrice walked by with her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, burly security in tow, and the architect Kulapat Yantrasast, designer of the magnificent domed tent hanging over us, came by to tell Hufkens that he was looking rather trim.

“I lost 12 kilos!” he exclaimed. “I’m one of the rare art dealers who slimmed down—we had no dinners for the last year!”

A few steps away was Steve Cohen, who skipped out on the festivities in Basel last month in favor of a trip to London—where, incidentally or not, his firm, Point72, occupies a section at the very posh address of 8 St. James’s Square. After dipping into the Gagosian booth, where works by Jennifer Guidi, priced at $350,000 for the large paintings, were sold out by midday, Stevie nearly bumped into his fellow billionaire Maja Hoffmann, who has a collection of contemporary masterworks to rival Cohen’s, now on display at the Frank Gehry–designed tower of the Luma Foundation in Arles. Alexandra Economou, daughter of the billionaire Greek shipping magnate George Economou, checked out hypnotically charged paintings by the L.A.-based rising star Lucy Bull, which were all sold out by midday. Jimmy Iovine, the Beats cofounder who’s building up a collection alongside wife Liberty Ross, stalked the aisles as well.

At the David Zwirner booth, Prada designer Raf Simons arrived around noon to greet director Lucas Zwirner. They were soon joined by Wolfgang Tillmans as Lucas’s father stood with his artist Oscar Murillo, taking in how Murillo’s striking new paintings looked next to new sculptures by Carol Bove. “It’s been an amazing few hours,” a Zwirner associate blurted out as I stood in the booth. She went on to note that the three Murillo paintings had all sold for $300,000 each, with the Bove works going for as much as $450,000. One could have almost missed the Kerry James Marshall painting of two birds on the side of the booth; it’s just two and a half feet tall next to the six-foot Murillos. An eagle-eyed American collector spotted it nonetheless and bought it on site for $2.2 million.

And the proceedings were considerably more international than the fair last month in Switzerland, where collectors from North America and Asia were the rarities among the Euros. Here, at Frieze, the Bangladeshi collecting couple Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani showed up to the opening preview, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz came from Miami, and an L.A. art adviser said that she acquired a work by Lucio Fontana from the Mazzoleni booth at Frieze Masters for a major figure in the entertainment world, based in Los Angeles.

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