Ante Frieze

Linda Yablonsky on the lead up to the Frieze Art Fair

Left: The Noisettes. Right: Philanthropist Delfina Entrecanales and Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

PERHAPS UNDERSTATEMENT comes naturally to the British. Last Friday night in London, for example, Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar happily observed the many early birds at his fund-raising exhibition, “Then for Now,” noting that “Frieze starts earlier every year!” It was a full five days before the opening of the fair.

The truth is that those attending his opening were homies, and that Frieze needs London, and its healthy concentration of wealth, artists, galleries, institutions, and oddments.

Take the octogenarian art patron Delfina Entrecanales, whose twenty-five-year-old international residency program has given significant support to the careers of over four hundred artists. They include Tacita Dean, Mark Wallinger, Eva Rothschild, Richard Woods, and Anya Gallaccio, five of the eighteen alums that another, Chantal Joffe, put together with cocurator and critic Sacha Craddock. What’s weird, and refreshing, about Entrecanales is that she puts her money into artists, not art, which she is adamant about not collecting.

Left: Dealer David Zwirner and curator Sir Norman Rosenthal. Right: Dealer Vanessa Carlos and artists Oscar Murillo and Ed Fornieles.

This keeps her foundation safe from the fickle fashions of the art market. Yet here she was hosting a selling exhibition to keep her very worthy operation going. No one is immune! More fascinating is what got Entrecanales into her line of philanthropy: Soft Machine, the 1960s psychedelic band, which she financed first. “Music was too expensive,” she said, so she turned to emerging artists, whose materials were cheaper and who didn’t need to tour or book recording studios. Entrecanales had spent that very day in a studio at the BBC, where she was the subject of a documentary airing this weekend. “They kept me there for eight hours,” she said. “For ten minutes on camera!”

Such is the price of fame, which Oscar Murillo could have told her something about. The crowd at Delfina was vastly outnumbered by the scene makers filling David Zwirner Gallery’s townhouse in Mayfair for the Colombian-born Londoner’s first show at the space. It brought, on a rare trip to Blimey, MoMA trustee AC Hudgins, other happening young artists like Ed Fornieles, curators including Sir Norman Rosenthal, ICA director Gregor Muir, South London gallery director Margot Heller, and several representatives of Murillo’s other galleries, including Vanessa Carlos, his former schoolmate and first dealer.

Ashley Bickerton, who could tell Murillo a thing or two about art stardom since the ’80s, was hanging out with Robert Norton, the British businessman who was proud to admit that he created Saatchi Online and the video-game version of American Idol as well as Sedition Art (for digital versions of artworks made in other forms), and is now launching Verisart, the new company that purports to verify every artwork ever made by giving it a digital DNA.

Left: Dealers Patrick Seguin and Larry Gagosian. Right: Artist Ashley Bickerton and Verisart founder Robert Norton.

Murillo, on the other hand, is still into the handmade, stitched-together, stacked, ripped, burned, and painted canvas and, as the dinner at Bellamy’s that followed his opening suggested, the home-cooked. The artist is very close to his family, who moved to London when he was a boy. Much to the visible chagrin of Bellamy’s owner, his mother and aunt brought a buffet of tamales and a pork-and-rice stew that outdid the banal chicken and artichoke heart salad on the restaurant’s menu. Murillo invited three actors to perform a reading of The Street Cries of London, which has to do with the hawking of goods from street stalls in olden days. It was amusing to imagine a Victorian Zwirner standing in Grafton Street and calling out Murillo’s name and exhibition titles like “binary function” all day.

Thanks to the marketing muscle of our auction houses, he doesn’t have to. Zwirner’s attraction to Murillo is partly the energy of his youth, which reminds the dealer of his own, when seat-of-the-pants improvisation was a requirement. “I didn’t get the show I was expecting,” Zwirner told me, waxing ecstatic about Murillo’s new semidocumentary video, for which he commissioned a sound track from a name composer that, sadly, neither the artist nor the dealer would name. (Just “James.” You guess the rest.) “The sound is so important,” Zwirner said. “It’s really too bad that you couldn’t hear it during the opening.”

During dinner, among company that also included older pals like artist Henry Taylor, fashion designer Duro Olowu, and Kilimanjaro editor Olu Michael Odukoya, the freckle-faced Murillo, newly sporting a nearly shaven head, was quick to give credit to the various people who have helped him up the ladder, including Carlos, Heller, and Rollo von Hofmannsthal, the dealer who introduced the artist to Zwirner. Murillo also credited the influence of exhibitions he saw as a student at the nonprofit Chisenhale Gallery. “It’s so nice that Oscar always mentions us,” said Chisenhale director Polly Staple. “We’ve never even given him a show!”

Left: Artists Jonas Wood and Shio Kusaka. Right: Dealer Sylvia Kouvali.

Over in Soho, Sylvia Kouvali carried on at Rodeo Galley with new works by Ian Law that incorporate birdseed, wall paintings of a ghostly budgie, and stained foam cushions from hospital rooms. The subject was the vacuum of grief that can envelope a person after the death of a loved one after a long illness. Somehow it wasn’t depressing—maybe because of the tenderness the show expressed. Or because Kouvali throws a good party.

Frieze got a little closer the following night, when Simon and Michaela de Pury hosted a preview at Ely House of artworks from the Lambert Collection that are going on the block tonight at Christie’s. “Up until five years ago, this building was my family’s bank,” said Hugo Rittson-Thomas, the photographer who is now in charge of the Fleming Collection, which is dedicated to Scottish art. (The banking family also sired James Bond creator Ian Fleming.)

It’s so difficult to take art seriously when it’s jammed cheek-by-jowl into small rooms with no-longer-wanted furniture, porcelain, and wall hangings that have absolutely no relation other than a common desire by their owners to profit from it. Such junk-shop treatment makes me testy, and I found it more agreeable to meet other people, like the very hospitable Italian hotelier Antonio Sersale, who was in the crowd with Rittson-Thomas’s wife Silka, founder of Tuk Tuk Flower Studio in Mayfair.

Left: Dealer Nicholas Logsdail. Right: Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple.

Together we hightailed it to Grosvenor Hill for the opening of Larry Gagosian’s third gallery in London. As is the dealer’s longtime custom, his inaugural artist was Cy Twombly. Big, late scribble paintings from the “Bacchus” series—among my least favorite by this artist—were on view with wonderful drawings from 1969 in two large exhibition spaces converted by Caruso St John, the architecture firm behind the Blain|Southern Gallery in Berkeley Square, the Barbican concert hall, and seven other Gagosians, after borrowing a trick or two from David Chipperfield, who was giving it the evil eye. No one else, said gallery artist Michael Craig-Martin, could nail such an enormous, open space in the middle of Mayfair, where galleries are equivalent in size to those on Madison Avenue in Manhattan (not counting Gagosian’s).

We were talking over an elaborate seafood and truffle-cheese buffet dinner at a gentleman’s club in a grand double town house originally built by J. P. Morgan’s niece as her London pied-à-terre. “I’ve been here a lot,” Craig-Martin said, “and it always looks quite seedy. Tonight, somehow, it seems positively opulent.”

Indeed it was. Perhaps the floral displays and low lighting helped. So did the array of guests, who included dealers Doris Amman and Almine Rech, MoMA trustee Donald Marron, and the fun-loving financier-collector Pierre Lagrange, who recently acquired Huntsman’s, a stuffy Savile Row tailor shop that he is currently kitting out with sheep by Les Lalannes and other animal artworks. Also on hand were gallery mates Jonas Wood, Glenn Brown, and Paul Noble, who claimed that his drawings always had far more fun than he did. Towering over everyone was the self-effacing Edmund de Waal, potter and author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, truly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Left: Sophie Walker, singer Shingai Shoniwa, and artist Anish Kapoor. Right: Artist Henry Taylor.

It was equally thrilling to meet the bespoke Barry Humphries, the Aussie actor known to theater audiences everywhere as Dame Edna Everage, and to watch a dirty joke told to him by another fan, collector Jean Pigozzi, totally bomb. Before the dust could clear, a mystery band that dealer Stellan Holm whispered would be fronted by Chrissie Hynde started setting up. In fact, the entertainment—as if we needed more entertainment—was the Noisettes of South London, an indie band founded by guitarist Dan Smith and live-wire vocalist Shingai Shoniwa, who sang, danced, and jumped into the audience and finally up on the bar to finish the set.

By that time, Gagosian and Chrissie Erpf had gone home, but Anish Kapoor and his girlfriend Sophie Walker were on the scene. “I’d love to see your work,” Shoniwa told him, minutes after they met. “Can I see it somewhere?”

Left: Artist Michael Craig-Martin. Right: Dealer Almine Rech with collector Pierre Lagrange.

Left: Actor Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage). Right: Dealers Doris Ammann and Stefan Ratibor.

Left: Elliott Carlin with artist and writer Edmund de Waal and art attorney John Silberman. Right: South London Gallery director Margot Heller.

Left: Dealer James Green and Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees. Right: Dealer Michaela de Pury.

Left: Dealer Rodolphe (Rollo) von Hofmannsthal. Right: Dealer Silke Rittson-Thomas and hotelier Antonio Sersale.

Left: Writer Derek Blasberg and collector Dasha Zhukova. Right: Photographer and collector Jean Pigozzi.

Left: Artist Paul Noble, dealer Robin Vousden, and Pallant House Gallery artistic director Simon Martin. Right: Christie’s PR manager for postwar and contemporary art Capucine Milliot and dealer MT (Maria-Theresia) Pongracz.

Left: Artists Ed Fornieles and Adham Faramawy with curator Stella Bottai. Right: Collector Beth Swofford.

Left: Curator Karen Ashton and artist Ian Dawson. Right: Hepworth Wakefield chief curator Andrew Bonacina.

Left: Curator Sacha Craddock. Right: Fashion publicist Karla Otto.

Left: Film producer Fabrizio Lombardo with dealer Pepi Marchetti Franchi and her husband, Nicola De Martino. Right: Photographer and collector Hugo Rittson-Thomas and Christie’s postwar and contemporary art specialist Leonie Moschner.

Left: Frieze artistic director for America and Asia Abby Bangser and Frieze director Victoria Siddal. Right: Auctioneer Simon de Pury.

Left: Writer and editor Chris McCormack (left). Right: Dealer Angela Choon.

Left: Young Kim. Right: ICA London director Gregor Muir.