Frieze Looks to Recent History for Art Market Gold

Frieze New York 2017  Photograph by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

The sixth edition of Frieze New York has come and gone, and with more than 200 leading galleries from 31 countries, the fair has proven once again why its one of the biggest art events in the world. With new partnerships, campaigns and programs introduced, the latest edition of Frieze confirmed its position as the one of the most innovative leading contemporary art fairs.  The show is known for presenting new, original and fresh works of art which often generate completely new trends and set the tone for the upcoming artistic season; however, Frieze 2017 turned out to be packed with artworks from the past decades, namely 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

The art market is a fickle beast, and in its essence it’s cyclical. No artist and no work of art should be discarded as passé, for their time may have passed, but in the same manner it may very well come again. As Franklin Parrasch, one dealer at Frieze, said, in the face of turbulent political climate and jittery market, dealers and collectors would rather turn to history to find an overlooked artist with a solid pedigree than take a gamble on a 22-year-old MFA student. In conditions of insecurity and instability, it always seems safer to reflect upon history. As with almost all other aspects of culture and society, trends keep resurfacing and finding their way back to the top, after all, it’s always safe to count on retro being always popular.

Interestingly, many of the works sold were dominated by artists in their 80s and 90s who are yet to receive a monographic museum show in the United States. These creators are far from being washed-up bygones whom nobody even remembers anymore. Works of Alfred Leslie, William T. Wiley, Tony DeLap and many other 80 and 90-year-olds hang side-by-side with artworks of Robert Rauschenberg, Jack Goldstein and other better-known contemporaries. One of the biggest artworks at the fair was Alfred Leslie’s 24-foot-wide painting from 1977-78 which was priced at a hefty sum of $1.4 million at Bruce Silverstein. Some of these artists were simply overlooked and even outright rejected back in their early days, for some, it was a matter of principles of “not playing the game”, and for others it was the unfortunate circumstances that never got them the true chance they deserve.

Despite the fact this year’s Frieze fell on a week following a strain of major European art events (Art Cologne, Art Brussels, Gallery Weekend Berlin) and just before the Venice Bienniale and Art Basel, the attendance and sales came out quite positive. It seemed like the younger galleries as well aimed to capitalize on this re-emergence of older work, and the whole fair had an atmosphere that was no longer inclined towards the freshly made artworks by the young, rising talents. Both Frieze stand prizes were awarded to booths focused on the art of the past: Subal’s stand and P.P.O.W.‘s presentation of ’80s art. So, it seems like what is old is new again, but age is not the only factor giving value to the pieces, there is still a good deal of skill, taste and a keen eye required to re-discover a gold nugget from the past.

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