Looking Good

Inside Frieze New York: How The Super-Rich Shop For Art

Frieze New York has opened for another weekend of high-spending art-buying, and eye-popping visual art and installations. Watch out for the DiCaprio doppelgangers.

All photos by Kelly Caminero

It was day one, the so-called VIP day, at Frieze New York, and wherever she went, the art collector Carolyn Wade was being stopped by people who either knew her, people who had once met her, or those who simply wanted to lavish praise on her fabulous jacket designed with neon pink cutouts of what looked like giant poppies.

Her friend Susan Fleischer was in a vibrant red jacket, with a startling brooch on its shoulder. The lesson offered by Wade and Fleischer: when attending day one of Frieze, dress appropriately—which is to say, strikingly.

“Oh we love Frieze,” Wade told the Daily Beast—who is from Birmingham, Alabama—with a gentle, warm Southern drawl. “If only I was younger and had more energy, but it’s outstaaa-nding.”

Wade comes to this very smart art fair held in a big white tent on Randall’s Island every year to browse and buy.

Her large house is furnished with the contemporary art she has collected over a quarter of a century, including by her favorite artist Kiki Smith. “She’s talking about women’s issues, and it’s very challenging and I like that,” said Wade.

She had already spotted a new Smith work, had not yet bought it, “but in years past I have always bought something, and the day’s not over, so maybe I’ll buy something.”

Wade has never left Frieze empty-handed?

“No, no,” she said, as if the very idea were preposterous.

Around the two friends surged the familiar Frieze scrum of beautiful people, rich people, and beautifully dressed super-rich people, purring accents from all continents and swapping air-kisses and embraces, and then chatting to the more than 200 gallerists whose stands packed with contemporary art dot the huge space on Randall’s Island—and who dearly hope over the next three days to part the super-rich beautiful people from as much of their money as possible.

“We just flew in from…” is as common an icebreaker at Frieze as, “How are you?” Nightmare tales of lost or unavailable Ubers are the most plaintively told stories of hardship.

As Greg Lulay, Director of the David Zwirner gallery, told the Daily Beast, Frieze is the most buzzy component of a concentrated and precisely planned and calculated few days of high-profile art auctions, art fairs, and gallery and museum openings acting as a vector for art-lovers, and high-spending ones at that, to converge on New York from all parts of the globe.

“There are the contemporary and postwar art auctions [from Sotheby’s and Phillips], the other fairs, and this influx of visitors from South America, North America, Asia, and Europe,” Lulay said.

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Marc Payot, a partner with the gallery Hauser & Wirth, said Frieze offered the opportunity “to show the more contemporary part of program to a very American but also quite international audience—for sure this is the best New York fair for the contemporary end of the market. We use it as a business card.”

Payot said it wasn’t crucial if the work on the stand didn’t sell out—this year, H&W is showcasing the work of Lorna Simpson—as Frieze was an opportunity to connect with collectors, curators, and buyers from museums. “The response from collectors is important, but it’s of second degree importance after museums. Whenever possible we sell to museums. The Fair is to sell and buy. Serious collectors are here and are active, so it is absolutely about that.”

How does he know if someone is a serious collector when they come browsing? “20 years in the business,” Payot smiled.

But it is a sensitive business. So early in the fair, few galleries wanted to forecast how lucrative their weekends would be. But the rich people circulating were intensely discussing, in intimate clumps, what they had seen, and what they wanted, and where they needed to be. The business of art and the appreciation of it is the tense balance at the Fair.

Another gallery owner, who asked for anonymity, said she always hoped to meet new people, to find new opportunities for her artists and make sales. “The average collecting audience is in their 50s, 60s and above. There are some younger ones, and there are some museum collectors here. You have to treat everyone as if they could be a serious buyer.”

Collector Pat Owens was standing by a huge of wall of John Currin watercolors at the Gagosian Gallery stand. “I come every year,” he said. “There’s always something surprising at Frieze.”

Although he purchased art from galleries, Frieze offered the incentive of being able to access work from other galleries around the world you otherwise wouldn’t see.

As well as the work from galleries from the UK, France, and Italy—among other countries, special installations to watch out for include three Leonardo DiCaprio doppelgangers walking through the fair’s warrenous corridors.

The brainchild of artist Dora Budor, the three actors are dressed in the garb of three DiCaprio roles: Frank Abagnale, Jr., the pilot from Catch Me If You Can (2002), Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and a furs-bedecked Hugh Glass-simulacrum from The Revenant (2016).

The last one is the scariest to come across in the corridors, as ‘Glass’ strides towards you just as angrily as you might be having been a violent bear’s play-thing. You’re not sure ‘Glass’ would appreciate you pointing that he was safe now, not just safe but so close to so much delicious sustenance like a Russ & Daughters bagel pop-up café, a Stumptown Coffee bar, a pop-up Sant Ambroeus, and enough stands selling Ruinart fizz to set the tent afloat.

Tellingly, because of the all-round bizarre extremity of the fashions at Frieze, no one batted an eyelid at any of the DiCaprio incarnations as they wandered about. A pin-striped businessman with slicked-back hair isn’t an unfamiliar sight at Frieze, and fancy dress is positively encouraged. Wandering around looking like a wild-man in fur pelts is just more performance art.

The other standout installation, Jon Rafman’s film Dream Journal—an hour-long video with a soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never and James Ferraro—is a bit like being stuck in a video game while on an acid trip.

This animation may keep you engrossed—as it did me—for some minutes more than you had intended, as you follow a young girl who goes through a series of surreal adventures, with heads being chopped off, eyes falling out, spaceships obliterating people, and then sudden blossomings of porn, like mouths waiting in urinals to pleasure those visiting them. There are animals that seem human, castles, a suspicious green gloop, and animals that wander around and smile. And lots of bloody murder.

Rafman told ArtNews that he hopes Dream Journal will “penetrate mainstream culture,” and it is certainly a transfixing watch that would benefit from being shown on a big screen.

Also, do check out the daily-changing installations of the Tribute to Rome’s Galleria La Tartaruga: on Thursday, it was Giosetta Fiorini’s peephole work, “La Spia Ottica”; Ryan McNamara, Adam Pendleton, and Fabio Mauri have very different performance and video and installation pieces running Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (Mauri’s “Luna” is a moonscape you can walk around and lie down in.) A separate section of the fair, “Focus,” houses work from 32 galleries founded after 2004.

Frieze will swallow you as much as you wish, but its real pleasures are often accidentally found away from the hawkish, dollar-signed faces of collectors and art advisors, such as the fuel cans artfully made into insects, the huge golden jail with a kink in its bars (who could that be for?), a table set for tea covered in what looks like lace, beautiful, human-sized ceramics, a vibrating wooden table (at Glasgow’s Modern Institute, one of the best-curated stands at the whole Fair), and, at Galerie Lelong, Nancy Spero’s washing line of knickers and clothing, “Sheela-Na-Gig at Home.”

You may come across the huge neon instructing us in a series of words—for example, “Try,” “Breathe,” “Forgive”—to live better. You may come across Vlassis Caniaris’ “Child,” the human form of a child on a bicycle, his face obscured.

At the Galerie Bernard-Bouche, there are the wonderful sculptures of Etienne-Martin. Peres Projects from Berlin are exhibiting in a tiny side-cubbyhole Dean Sameshima’s artistic tributes to key LGBT cultural totems, like the 1990 drag documentary Paris Is Burning and Edmund White’s 1980 book, States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. Yes, a lot is being sold at Frieze, but there is also much art to immerse yourself in.

As Greg Lulay told the Daily Beast, beyond the sales and professional and profit-focused connections it services Frieze provides “a great platform to bring all kinds of art to audiences of all kinds. It’s a public service to bring the work out for the audience—whether that audience is curators, collectors, first-timers, or children.”

This year, David Zwirner is premiering photographer William Eggleston’s latest collection, ‘The Democratic Forest,’ at Frieze alongside the visual art and installations of Carol Bove—all of which, Forbes reported Friday, sold out on the first day, alongside four Eggleston photographs.

Other galleries had reported strong VIP day sales, reported Forbes, including a $1.56 million Anish Kapoor work at Lisson Gallery.

Over the last five years, Lulay told the Daily Beast he had noted an increase in Frieze attendees from around the world: “The art fair as a whole has become more of a global exchange of ideas and artwork. New Yorkers are especially quite wonderful and very excited: they make a conscious decision to go out and support the arts and intercede. Especially in the last 10 to 15 years, the gallery and museum-going audience has become very active.”

This appetite is visible in Frieze-goers like Carolyn Wade and Susan Fleischer. They had already hit the Guggenheim and the Whitney museums before coming to Frieze. Wade had attended “the first two Friezes” in London—birthplace of the Fair in 2003—but she judged the lighting at the 2017 iteration on Randall’s Island superlative.

She had started collecting art, “because I was bored of what was going on Birmingham, so I went back to school, and studied art and art history.” She and Fleischer met 24 years ago on a Guggenheim art trip to India, and connected immediately. “I live here, and she lived in Alabama, but she comes here to look at art,” said Fleischer, smiling at her buddy.

Wade keeps her collection at home. “I have a big house,” she said.

“She lives in the South, she can afford a house,” said Fleischer, mock-pursing her lips as many a New Yorker might at the amount of money a house might cost.

The art explosion, said Wade, begins as soon as you walk through her front door. There are 44 chairs and 24 model snakes hanging from the ceiling of Wade’s entrance hall.

“We didn’t want it to be too decorative,” Wade said, with a joking smile. “My husband had a friend. They hunted, and would always say, ‘Let’s go out and shoot snakes.’ When it came to the entrance hall, I said ‘I don’t think I want real snakes.’”

The two friends-of-almost 24 years laughed merrily, and rejoined the surging Frieze throng.

Frieze New York runs until May 7. Details here.