Abstraction at Frieze 2015: A Stella Year
Oct 26, 2015
From 14 – 17 October, London’s Regent’s Park played host to the 13th edition of the international contemporary art fair, Frieze London. Frieze Masters, the art fair that offers a contemporary lens on historical art – now in its 4th edition – took place alongside the main event, showcasing works from before the year 2000.
Abstraction at Frieze 2015
According to the organizers, the attendance figures are more impressive every year and there were many positive outcomes for private buyers and institutions alike. Some trends could be established: Damien Hirst’s works proved popular, not surprisingly given the launch of his self-funded museum in London. Perhaps less predictably, female abstract artists were also successful with buyers, with several impressive sales in this domain. We’ve compiled a few of the highlights:
Perhaps the most significant sales within the domain of abstract art were courtesy of London’s Victoria Miro. The gallery sold five works by Madrid-born artist Secundino Hernández within the first few hours of the preview. The five large-scale abstract paintings were sold for prices ranging from £25,000 to £75,000, according to artnet News, and were bought by a range of museums and foundations, contradictory to some previous suggestions that Hernández’s appeal was somewhat limited to private collectors. The artist, born in 1975, was recently the subject of a solo show at Shanghai’s Yuz Museum. Hernández’s works are characterized by their sense of action, and the artist is significantly influenced by Spanish old masters and by his own impressive knowledge of art history. In the words of the gallery Victoria Miro, “his paintings deftly combine representation and abstraction, linear draughtsmanship and colouration, minimalism and gesturalism”.
There was roaring success at Timothy Taylor Gallery, the gallery selling all the works by Eddie Martinez, continuing the trend set by last year’s sell-out show by the same artist. Martinez’s works on paper went for figures in the region of $2,500 and paintings for $75,000. The New York-based artist produces works that “move and merge from semi-figuration to abstraction and back again,” according to the gallery. Martinez has made a more conscious move into abstraction in recent years, and these works have also been characterized by the physical difficulties caused by a temporary handicap that limited the movements with which Martinez could create his large canvases, thus turning their production into a sort of performance, whereby the artist’s impairment becomes apparent in his gestural reach.
To name one of the female artists whose works achieved impressive sales at the fair; Cecily Brown, whose work situates between abstraction and figuration, proved popular at Thomas Dane Gallery and all works by the artist were sold within the first hour of the VIP preview. A selection of drawings and paintings was sold for $50,000 to $375,000. Likewise, the sales at 303 Gallery demonstrated a keen interest in work by female artists: 303 Gallery sold a work by Mary Heilmann for $150,000, again according to artnet News. Heilmann, who is to have a solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2016, told Tate ETC in 2011 that “looking at abstract art is for me like doing non-verbal philosophy, symbolic logic or non-number mathematics”. The American artist produces colourful abstractions that transmit spontaneity, thanks mainly to her unfussy style. Work by Heilmann also did well at Galerie Meyer Kainer, and the gallery also sold works by Kerstin Brätsch, Annette Kelm and Rachel Harrison.
A further female artist to sell well at the fair was Los Angeles-based abstract artist Mary Weatherford. David Kordansky dedicated its stand to the artist and the move paid off: the gallery sold all the works for prices ranging from $125,000-215,000. A representative of the gallery told artnet News that all the works were sold to institutions. The gallery also sold works by abstract painter Sam Gilliam, whose works achieved figures in the region of $225,000 to $500,000. Gilliam, part of the Washington Colour School, is renowned for his extreme experimentation with colour and his consistent innovation.
A selection of abstract art sales came from the Berlin gallery Contemporary Fine Arts: the gallery sold a new woodcut by Gert and Uwe Tobias for €32,000 as well as work by Christian Rosa. Rosa, a Brazilian artist living and working in Vienna and Los Angeles, displays “an abstract pictorial universe” through his work (Saatchi online), combining media including spray paint, pencil, oils and tape to create works of precision and which demonstrate an intelligent use of primary colours. His gestural marks and pencil-drawn forms interact with large white canvases.
At White Cube, there were impressive sales of works by several big names, including Theaster Gates and Alexander Calder. It would be wrong not to mention Damien Hirst’s new work, Holbein (Artist's Watercolours), which sold at White Cube for over $1.2 million during the first hour of the VIP preview. A second work by Hirst, Super Centre (2014), was also sold within the first few hours of the event.
A trio of Frank Stella works proved incredibly popular at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Suchowola I, II, and III (1973) sold together for $5 million, and works by abstract artist Donald Moffett sold for $65,000 to $85,000. Moffett’s works, which are known for crossing artistic categories, combine the practices of sculpture and painting.
Blue chip gallery Hauser & Wirth also witnessed impressive sales and the gallery chose to experiment with an alternative layout, opting to display several sculptural works by their artists. The gallery sold works by Takesada Matsutani, Martin Creed and Larry Bell, whose early works conformed to Abstract Expressionism, and whose work at Frieze sold for $135,000.
A further blue chip gallery selling examples of abstract art was Brazilian gallery Mendes Wood DM. According to artnet News, the gallery had placed a small painting on wood by Brazilian artist Celso Renato on reserve for €65,000.
A work by Albert Oehlen, Untitled (Baum 31) (2015) sold for €450,000 at Galerie Max Hetzler. The gallery also saw the sale of a work by Günther Förg, Untitled (2008), which was bought for €300,000. The late German artist, Förg’s abstract works took inspiration from American abstractionists, notably Barnett Newman, Clifford Still and De Kooning.
Further sales of abstract art were to be had at Lisson Gallery, who sold a large work by Stanley Whitney – an artist renowned for his large-scale, high-colour abstract paintings – for around $85,000. According to The New Yorker, Whitney’s “recent work is his finest, and the case that it makes for abstract art’s not-yet-exhausted potencies, both aesthetic and philosophical, thrills”. Sprüth Magers sold a work by Thomas Scheibitz for €35,000. Schiebitz takes inspiration from principles of Bauhaus and artists including Joseph Albers, these references culminating in subtle colours and “an architecture of illusion” (Saatchi online). Smaller galleries also saw some impressive sales of abstract works: London-based gallery Laura Bartlett selling a work by Alex Olson for $42,000.
All things considered, Frieze sales proved to be a promising indication of the continuing popularity of abstract works; and with smaller galleries also witnessing good sales in the domain, it is one which is set, all being well, to continue.
Featured image: Courtesy of IdeelArt