Colin Gleadell walks back some comments on the Frieze art fair without really walking them back. It appears that the organizers of the fair were not very happy with Gleadell’s reports that 24% of the galleries would not be coming back from the previous year’s fair. Now corrected to a figure just below 17%, Gleadell takes the opportunity to highlight the friction between the art fair and art auctions that have grown up around it.
What really irks Frieze is not the other fairs, but the way the auction rooms have muscled in on its success. Since Frieze began in 2003, the contemporary art auctions during Frieze week have grown from a turnover of £6.5 million with 330 lots to £145 million in 2007 for nearer 1,000 lots. That was fine as long as galleries at the fair were doing good business. But last year auction sales slipped, and this year, are expected to slip again. One internet site [Gleadell is referring to Bloomberg here] estimated sales volume would be down by 80 per cent this year, and that’s when an association by the public between auction rooms and an art fair can get dangerous.
Frieze, which tends to promote new art through the galleries, has always tried to distance itself from the second hand, speculative dealings of the auction rooms. The brand it has so carefully built was founded on the image of Frieze the magazine where art is discussed without any reference to the market. But talk of galleries pulling out and declining auction sales has hit a raw nerve with the organisers – normally arch exponents of unflappable cool. Their reactions betray how fragile a brand can be, and how tenaciously they will fight to protect it.