Frieze Jumps the Shark*

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16th Oct 2008

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Frieze jumps the shark - figuratively and literally
It was inevitable that the troubles of the wider financial markets and the sense of impending economic doom hanging over everyone's head would have an impact on the Frieze Art Fair, London's premier art gathering.

Lower numbers across the board, (from buying visitors to reserve prices on even the hottest items) signal what many have been waiting for: a correction in the world's white-hot contemporary art market.  With over $6 trillion of capital evaporating from the word's financial markets the week prior to the show, some were left wondering if the news had even sunk in yet.  "Prices are stable," said many, while admitting that a number of big buyers stayed home to tend their Bloombergs, sending advisors in their place.

But that doesn't mean there isn't lots of interesting stuff. This year's trend fell towards the folksy, with a definite home-made air on many of the popular pieces. Lots of handwriting, yarn, and general craftiness seem to spell a more DIY, cozy air to the overall zeitgeist is in the offing.  Even the champagne was passe... instead of swilling bubbly and feeling fabulous, Hub artists and industry players like Jose Parla, Lauren Prakke, Fru Tholstrup, Johnny Yeo, Lisa BotosSteve LazaridesHeidi Lee and others seemed to prefer the dark environs of Sirkus, an Icelandic bar uprooted from downtown Reykjavik transplanted to the fair.  Cheap lights, loud music and spilling beer ruled the roost. 

Given Iceland's recent economic meltdown, the choice of Sirkus summed up the mood perfectly.  Disaster.  Rumors of angry gallerists not making their numbers and slower sales were to be expected, but depression jazz at the Christie's party?  Reduced reserve prices at Sotheby's? Talk of impending class-action suits? 

All is not lost. There was some heat, like Gosha Ostretsov at Paradise Row, a great Anish Kapoor piece and Lauren Hutton's Warhol under the hammer at Christie's, and even the occasional live parrot. RAWWWK.

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Bling is out, folksy is in.
The whisper is this: the Hirst auction held in September at Sotheby's, in which Lot No. 8, the famous shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde, sold for just the right amount, was the THE MOMENT OF THE VEIL.  That was the top, the second where the market, we shall later see, reached its peak.  The moment where the galleries and the prices and the artists converged in a moment of sheer visibility, and from which a form of veil dropped.  From then on, even though much of that auction and others since have fetched sky-high prices, the momentum has been on deflation and a growing sense of malaise in a market that has always been driven by financial money.

The test now, say art advisors, is to decide who will endure, and who will fade.  Some of that should be evident by the time of Art Basel Miami Beach, coming up in December. 








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*What exactly is "jumping the shark"? Danger says its the moment where something passes from being hot to not - as evidenced by Fonzie jumping a shark while waterskiing in an out-of-ideas episode of Happy Days, effectively ruining the show forever.  Leave it to art to find a way to jump the shark in a more literal and fiscally compelling way...