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British Nonchalance, International Market:
The Second Frieze Art Fair in London

Following its brilliant premiere last fall, this year's Frieze Art Fair inspired considerable hope. Part of what fueled expectations was the fact that Deutsche Bank had been won over as the main sponsor. Would London's first and largest international art fair fulfil the predictions and succeed both in asserting itself against established collectors' centers such as Basel or Miami and in setting itself clearly apart from Berlin's Art Forum or Art Cologne? Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on the unique mixture between seriousness and entertainment, professionalism and provocation that has guaranteed the Frieze Art Fair a place among the leading fairs of the world.

Catherine Sullivan, Ice floes of Franz Jospeh Land, 2003
Courtesy of Catherine Bastide

That's British black humor for you: during the time leading up to the Frieze Art Fair 2004, the Guardian , media partner of the London event, conducted an online quiz for readers to test their knowledge about current British art. One of the questions was which famous Brit-Art work from the Saatchi Collection HADN'T been destroyed in the vast Momart warehouse fire last spring: the Chapman Brothers' apocalyptic work Hell, the gigantic begging sculpture Charity by Damien Hirst, Afrobluff by Chris Ofili, or Tracey Emin's Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. Even if Chris Ofili's work was the only one of these "Cool Britannia" icons to survive the catastrophe, judging by the public reactions ranging from mirth to amusement, it seemed as though the fire had also symbolically heralded the end of an era.

View into the Frieze Art Fair, London, 2004 Photo © Maria Morais Sarah Lucas, The Stinker, Installation 2003 Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ

But the condemned live longer. Not only was the inventory of Damien Hirst's noble restaurant Pharmacy, which closed in 2003, auctioned off for 16 million Euros at Sotheby's in London; the "Young British Artists" also drew veritable sums at this year's Frieze. Tracey Emin's neon letters (28.000 £) and Jake and Dinos Chapman's scenes of violence (450.000 £) were virtually sold out on the spot at Jay Jopling. Along with Damien Hirst's colorfully dotted Tetrahydrocannabinol etchings, which disappeared in no time at the Paragon Press stand, Sarah Lucas' installation The Stinker at Sadie Coles HQ immediately found a buyer for 90.000 £. Even if the commercially marketed scandals and the fashionable hype surrounding the rebellious Brits might be a thing of the past and a new generation of artists has formed such as Nigel Cooke, Jeremy Deller, and Fiona Banner, it's still clearly the achievement of Saatchi-sponsored Brit-Art that London has developed into a world metropolis for contemporary art.

Modern Art, London, with works by Jonathan Meese
Frieze Art Fair 2004 Photo © Maria Morais

Along with the glamour and nonchalance typical for the British isle, there's also a certain degree of economic power at work here: already at its premiere, the Frieze Art Fair, put on in Regent's Park, enjoyed an overwhelming beginner's bonus with over 30,000 visitors and sales of an estimated 25 million Euros. This year, however, would put it to the test. Would London's first and largest art fair be able, as predicted, to assert itself against established collectors' centers like Basel or Miami and set itself clearly apart from fairs such as Berlin's Art Forum or Art Cologne? In the final analysis, the current event, according to the fair's directors, was conceived as a festival for "art lovers," a celebration for "art buyers," and an established date for the global art community. Added to this was another premiere: Deutsche Bank was won over this year as a main sponsor particularly committed to supporting young art, as the following statement by Pierre de-Weck, Global Head of Private Wealth Management and member of the Executive Committee of Deutsche Bank, describes: "What makes this fair exceptional is the quality of the galleries taking part and the focus on young, emerging artists. We are proud to be associated with such an unquestionably dynamic and exiting event, and to continue Deutsche Bank's global commitment to new art and ideas."

Pargon Press, London,
with works by Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn
Photo © Maria Morais, Berlin

The result of this still very new cooperation has turned out to be overwhelmingly positive. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described the event as a "must" on the international scene, saying: "Whoever wants to be somebody can no longer afford to miss this." And that goes not only for the mega-galleries such as Marian Goodman and Barbara Gladstone of New York or the Europeans Hauser & Wirth (Zurich/London), who stood out at the fair's entrance with monumental installations by Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades. Part of the concept of the fair's founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, also the editors of the art magazine Frieze, is that every good party consists of a mix of old fame and new faces. This holds both for the artists and the galleries. In the huge white plastic tent designed by the London-based star designer David Adjaye, established art dealers like Sperone Westwater (New York) were situated side by side with newcomers, without any hierarchical differentiation. The jury chose 150 participants from over 420 applicants. While 40 American, 30 British, and 24 German galleries formed the broad base, this year participants also came from New Zealand, Russia, Korea, and China.

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