Different Class


Left: Designers Andreas Kronthaler and Vivienne Westwood. Right: Salon 94's Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

NOTHING POINTS UP the art-world pecking order like a fair. And nowhere is the division between the haves and the have-nots of glamour and power starker than in class-conscious London, where the rush of parties, performances, and exhibitions surrounding the Frieze Art Fair separates the yobs from the toffs with ruthless economy and pleasure.

The run-up to the fair’s Wednesday opening created something close to a circle jerk on Tuesday night, when competing parties for Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, and Ugo Rondinone forced the noses of those A-listed for one dinner against the frosty windows of others, while Patti Smith stopped traffic in Mayfair with a free solo concert she gave at the opening of “Robert Mapplethorpe: A Season in Hell,” at Alison Jacques.

Standing in the gallery doorway with an acoustic guitar, Smith reminisced about her early days in New York with the photographer. She sang several numbers, dedicating each to Mapplethorpe and, at one point, to another of her exes, writer Jim Carroll, who died last month. “Look at Robert and read Jim,” she said, to cheers from a crowd of one thousand scenesters massed in Berners Street. “We love to be free, but we have to love our life and take care of it,” she added, before reciting her 1988 anthem “Power to the People.” She exhorted the people to sing along as she began an a cappella version of “Because the Night,” but mostly they just hung on every word, spellbound.

Left: Musician Patti Smith. Right: Dealers Alison Jacques and Roger Tatley.

Not far away, Sadie Coles was hosting a reception for Rondinone and John Bock, who had installed solo shows in her back-to-back galleries. At the Balfour Mews space, guests queued up in front of the service elevator to wait for Bock to take small groups to the basement, where he gave live performances every six minutes. For his part, Rondinone kept the spirit of Arte Povera alive by tripping up visitors to the South Audley Street gallery with “still-life” cast-bronze potatoes, walnuts, and a leaded crust of bread on the floor. “I’m happy!” Rondinone said, working a room that included gallery artists Jim Lambie and Sarah Lucas, the latter of whom handed out fliers for “Nuds,” an unannounced exhibition of an impressively knockered new sculpture—like something between Henry Moore and the Marquis de Sade.

Dinner was at the week-old Hix, celebrity chef Mark Hix’s new establishment amid the sex shops of Soho. (Hix is also catering the Frieze fair this year.) Its decor includes work by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Lucas, and Hirst, who contributed clear resin mobiles embedded with silverfish-size sharks. The buffet, set out on the bar under the mobiles and in the gaming room downstairs, attracted a night-before-the-deluge mix of dealers including Glasgow’s Toby Webster, New York’s Barbara Gladstone, Zurich’s Eva Presenhuber, and London’s Nicky Verber, as well as fashion doyenne Vivienne Westwood and her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, fresh from opening a new franchise shop in Beirut. “I don’t believe in progress,” said the flame-haired avant-gardist, after describing her visit to a private Lebanese collection of antiquities that sounded like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie but more exclusive and filled with real treasure. If there are masterpieces in contemporary art, we are still too young to know it.

Left: Artist Ugo Rondinone with dealer Sadie Coles. Right: Artist Scott Reeder.

I headed back to Berners Street and the Sanderson Hotel, where Smith was giving a command performance for about fifty swells invited to dine in a white-curtained area that was actually the hotel spa. Frieze Projects curator Neville Wakefield held down one table with Harry Potter producer David Heyman, looking rather bored. Smith’s appearance here held none of the excitement of the street-level performance earlier. Guess she’s right: The people really do have the power.

Next morning, Frieze opened in its Regents Park tent as if the recession had never happened. The energy emanating from within was noticeable even before I got through the door. Sales began at 9 AM, prior to the VIP opening—but well, you know, in London there are VIPs and then there are VIPs. Some buyers were even museums, and not just Roman Abramovich or Norman Foster, who bought a large-scale version of the fabulous Grayson Perry tapestry on offer at Victoria Miro. Perry was in the booth, too, decked out in a Bo Peep bonnet and blue and white dirndl. Art stars (Tracey Emin and Kapoor among them) outnumbered celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Alexander McQueen, but remarkably, it was art itself that carried the day.

And it was flying off the walls. Every single dealer I saw, among the 160 participating, was beaming. It was like the old days, everyone said, except for the discounts. “15 percent is the new 10 percent,” reported David Maupin, who was having little trouble finding takers for Emin’s offer to make a custom-neon portrait for those willing to pony up ten thousand pounds and answer fifteen personal questions ranging from “Do you talk when you make love?” to “Who is your favorite poet?” American collector Beth Swofford was debating whether to buy a Sigmar Polke painting with a higher price tag than she’d reckoned. “I was hoping not to fall in love with anything big and expensive,” she said with a sigh.

Left: Dealers Barbara Gladstone and Eva Presenhuber. Right: Artist Grayson Perry.

Walker Art Center curator Peter Eleey, a member of the committee awarding a ten-thousand-pound prize from sponsor Pommery Champagne to the best booth, let on that New York’s Salon 94 was the hands-down winner. “I could have sold the Barry X Ball pieces ten times over today,” said Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, the gallery’s owner, pointing to two alabaster busts, both carved by hand and with a diamond-cutting machine from the artist’s scan of Corradini’s La Purita (Veiled Woman). “Isn’t that cheating?” asked an onlooker new to the ways of contemporary art.

For repartee, fairgoers could do well at Club Nutz, the brothers Reeder’s booth-size cabaret at the back of the Frame section of the fair, where galleries under six years old gave single-artist presentations. Inside the tiny nightclub, most of which was given to a DJ booth and a narrow stage against a painted brick-wall backdrop, would-be comedians could tell a joke in return for a beer. While I was there, Spencer Sweeney was the DJ, and Scott Reeder was asking the audience, “What is brown and sticky?” Ignoring the scatological shouts from the miniscule mosh pit, he replied: “A stick.”

Left: Collector Peter Brant with dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Artist Sarah Lucas.

At Frame, London’s Limoncello Gallery and Ghent’s Hoet Bekaert Gallery had to hold back waves scanning the MacBook works of Jack Strange and the grisaille assemblages of Amanda Ross-Ho, respectively. Adding to the tumult were the various enterprises rendered by Wakefield’s Frieze Projects. At Lorcan O’Neill’s booth, a young photographer snapped pictures of collector Phyllida Barlow (busy gazing at a Luigi Ontani image) for artist Ryan Gander, who was collecting such photographs of fairgoers and hanging them along the wall at the entrance as if they were lobby cards at a movie house. He had the right idea: Flatter your patrons, and the coffers will fill.

As the day wore on, the aisles only grew more impassable. It’s not as if the museums weren’t offering enough distractions. Baldessari was pulling in crowds at Tate Modern, Ruscha at the Hayward, and Kapoor at the Royal Academy, and local galleries pumped up inventories with new works by Anselm Kiefer (White Cube), Yinka Shonibare (Stephen Friedman), and Glenn Brown (Gagosian). (Baldessari’s new Deco-inflected tableau vivant at Sprueth-Magers—featuring a platinum blond on a white ear-shaped sofa holding a white poodle with a diamond collar—is nothing short of fabulous.) And yet . . . no matter how hard the army of clipboard-carrying sentinels worked to keep the hoi polloi out of private views and invitation-only dinners, the lemmings of the art world and beyond kept coming. When I left the fair on Wednesday night, with two hours left till closing and most of the work inside sold, it was still rush hour at the Regents Park gate. “Let’s go look at some art!” I heard someone exclaim. At that point, of course, the art was beating its chest and hailing a taxi.

Left: Frieze Art Fair. Right: Frieze Projects curator Neville Wakefield.

Left: Walker Art Center curator Peter Eleey with Frieze Art Fair director Amanda Sharp. Right: A violinist in the Lisson Gallery booth.

Left: Dealer Toby Webster. Right: Artist Anna Blessmann with designer Peter Saville.

Left: Artist Anselm Kiefer. Right: New Museum curator Laura Hoptman with collector Mera Rubell.

Left: Artist Barry X Ball. Right: Renata Graff, photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd, and dealer Lorcan O'Neill.

Left: Artist Jim Lambie. Right: Critic and curator Octavio Zaya with MUSAC director Agustín Pérez Rubio.

Left: Artist Christian Marclay. Right: Dealer Rachel Lehmann.

Left: Hauser & Wirth artist liaison Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. Right: Amy Cappellazzo, Christie's cohead of postwar and contemporary art.

Left: Ann Goldstein, general artistic director of the Stedelijk Museum. Right: Dealer Max Wigram.

Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume. Right: Dealer Nicky Verber.

Left: Choreographer and Chez Bushwick founder Jonah Bokaer. Right: Dealer Rodolphe von Hofmannsthal.