Three days, three modern and contemporary art fairs in New York with no duplication, except for a lot of Warhol at each.
TEFAF was far and away the classiest, in a beautifully decorated 67th St. Armory, tulips overhead and white wall hangings. This was not a fair to buy at, except for the very wealthy – and one wonders why someone spending a million dollars would be reduced to buying at a fair, instead of having his/her own art adviser bringing works to one’s home for private viewing. There were plenty of museum names on display: one gallery featured nothing but Miro. The most widely displayed artist, by far, was Lucio Fontana, whose slit paintings showed up in at least eight galleries, while he was also represented by sculptures and thickly painted canvases. I admired a small, 6″ x 8″ abstract work at a Brazilian gallery by an artist I had never heard of, Mira Schendel, and was floored when told its price was $600,000. Given my personal preferences, I think I would like the TEFAF show in the fall, Old Masters, much more.
Frieze New York suffered a bit from the rainy day: you couldn’t revel in the natural beauty of a spring day on Randall’s Island. Two years ago we saw several things we considered buying and in fact bought a major piece for our apartment (by Flora Hauser, from Ibid Gallery of London). Last year we were disappointed in the art, finding nothing to acquire. This year, albeit with limited wall space to fill, we again saw nothing to live with, except for the items by the very big names that were dotted amid the lesser-knowns: Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, Robert Motherwell, Lee Ufan. I looked out, especially, for the booths that had been singled out by the New York Times critics and the Artsy website and was left cold. Did I like the big names more just because I was already familiar with their work, or are they big names because their art is better? Ultimately, my impression of Frieze was a dispirited one: the booths were peopled by galleristas who either were talking to each other or working on their cellphones or computers. There was no interest in engaging the viewer – perhaps understandable given the mad crush of cruising tourists that filled the alleys. Also, we were in Day 3, so they knew the buyers had likely already come and gone. (Artsy reported that some galleries had even presold their entire shows; so why bother?) I think I will pass on this show next year, unless friends or a curator accompanies us and makes it a social experience, as well.
There were two shows on Pier 94 – Art New York and Art Context – and I never distinguished between the two; so I will treat them as one. I went to the VIP Preview hours here, which may account for the far friendlier, warmer reception I felt from numerous galleristas. Even when I wasn’t studying the art, staff members would look me in the eye and exchange a greeting. This was the fair for buying, at least at our level. I found a half-dozen pieces I would have been happy to purchase, were I a modern-art collector. Most memorable were video pieces by MARCK, whom I will have to look up. There were biggish names, too – Sean Scully, Tapies, Banksy – but even here the dealers were happy to discuss the objects, enriching my knowledge base, which is one thing you hope to gain from attending such a fair as these.
2018: A New Year.
We returned to both TEFAF and Frieze in 2018 and had the opposite reactions. Frieze was fun. The art on display was much more accessible than last year (“squarer,” the Times called it), and we found any number of attractive galleristas happy to talk with us, not least our friend Jason Busch. Lunch at Fat Radish was good, and best of all, we found a vase that Siri purchased. The price was reasonable – but who knows? – and there is allure in buying a piece by a pair of Romanian twins at Frieze from a Belgian dealer, adding to the international nature of our New York collection.
TEFAF, where we went on Sunday afternoon, was crowded, hot and socially stuffy. There was something offputting by hearing prices in the millions for everything you looked at, especially since there was nothing exceptional. To me, it represented the commercialization of Art: everyone was throwing out the marketable names, but you’ve seen much better Picasso, Miro, Ernst, Bonnard, Klein, Fontana, Hirst, et al., in museums. One exception was a beautiful Sisley of Pont de Moret, similar to Mia’s, but it’s most remarkable for being the only work, other than a small Morandi, that made me ‘ooh.’ Just as I said last year that I would skip the next Frieze, I now feel that next spring I will take a pass on TEFAF.