Bacon's Back, Billionaires to Follow?
The Frieze Art Fair previews in less than a week, and London's art market players are looking to make a splash. While it's unlikely that the prestigious and well-attended event will single-handedly undo 12 months of carnage, hopes are high that it will be a turning point. Frieze is the largest art fair in Europe that's dedicated to the contemporary space.
The preview will be held on October 14, 2009, and 165 galleries will be courting the wealthy collectors expected to be in attendance – up from 151 galleries in 2008. Twenty-eight art galleries left from last year, so Frieze had to find a considerable number of new participants to make up the difference and then come out ahead.
The fair is coming on the heels of a year in which auction sales are down 70 percent to 80 percent and prices for works by many major artists are down by half.
In one of the grandest gestures the market has seen since the slump began, Gerard Faggionato, a dealer from London, will be putting Francis Bacon's "Study from the Human Body after Muybridge" up for sale at a price of $9 million. This isn't exactly what Bacon's work used to fetch, but it's still a steep price in a depressed market. Faggionato represents Bacon's estate, which is the seller.
The painting shown at right, Bacon's ' Study for the Portrait of Michel Leiris ' is being shown as part of the exhibition 'Caravaggio and Bacon' at the Borghese museum in Rome.
Bacon became a symbol of the excess of the art market before it tanked a year ago. Roman Abramovich's purchase of a Bacon triptych for close to $90 million back in May 2008 – even as the credit crisis was beginning to become a worldwide affair – represented the high point of the business of art collecting, despite the fact that the artist himself would have disagreed with the absurd pricing.
But, the market has come back to Earth. For art dealers, the art fairs are crucial to survival, and the severity of art market conditions has heightened the importance of Frieze. To keep it fresh, this year features "Frame," which consists of 29 single-artist exhibitions from galleries that are less than six years old.
For collectors eager to sell, Frieze provides an alternative that may be better than auction, as it may be possible to negotiate a better price in a private sale, especially with auctions being overrun with bargain-hunters these days.
I guess it all comes down to Bacon, yet again, to set the tone for the market. Auction versus private sale ... willingness to pay ... whether it will move at all – the answers to the questions plaguing the auction market have a price that's been set at $9 million.