ARTICLE: Special Report: Frieze Art Fair Exposes Gap in the Photo Market

Last week’s Frieze Art Fair celebrated its tenth anniversary by adding a sibling fair, Frieze Masters, featuring art from antiquity through the modern era. The Frieze contemporary fair consisted of 175 galleries from 35 countries. Almost 30 of the galleries were from New York (only barely out-numbered by London galleries), which made it feel like I had traveled a long way to see a great deal of what was right in my proverbial backyard.

The fair’s organizer’s boasted that works by over 1,000 artists were on display. There was very little photographic work on view, however. Depending on your level of experience with big art fairs, that might seem surprising, or not. Though almost every contemporary art gallery of note now shows photographic-based work as part of its regular exhibition program, and though more and more artists choose to work with photography and/or video, the fairs don’t highlight that side of the contemporary art market. The primary reason is economics: The fairs are increasingly expensive to participate in, and photography is still relatively undervalued compared to painting or sculpture.

The most expensive work on display at the fair was a mobile by Alexander Calder that Pace Gallery had pried loose, priced at approximately $20 million. The most expensive contemporary work was a sculptural piece by Paul McCarthy that sold for $1.3 million within 10 minutes of the fair’s opening. The most expensive painting was by Georg Baselitz, at $1 million. Against these showstoppers, the most expensive photograph was a 2007 Andreas Gursky image, offered by London’s White Cube Gallery at approximately $650,000 (above).

Much of the photography on view was by well-known, blue chip contemporary figures, particularly the Dusseldorf school: Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, and Candida Hofer. Wolfgang Tillmans was also represented, but it was his more abstracted, rather than figurative work. Pace Gallery showed Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Henry VIII and His Wives” series (below). Originally commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum and shown at several of the Guggenheim outposts, these pictures were also the perfect accompaniment to the Rothko/Sugimoto show that Pace mounted in its new, 9,000-square-foot Burlington Gardens space in London.

Works by Clegg & Guttman, Jane & Louise Wilson, Rodney Graham, Gillian Wearing, and Adi Ness rounded out the photographic pieces on view. Overall, there was not much photographic work of a more figurative nature; noticeably absent were pictures by artists such as Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Jack Pierson, or Ryan McGinley, all of whom might be featured at fairs like Art Basel Miami. Interestingly, Team Gallery, which now represents McGinley, showed ink on paper pieces by Marc Hundley, who was featured as a subject in quite a few of McGinley’s early photographs. London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery did, however, show a mix of Diane Arbus photographs.

Most observers felt this year’s Frieze was generally successful. One New York gallerist was quoted in London’s Daily Telegraph, calling this iteration “busier and buzzier” than ever. Art fairs present a quandary for those interested in contemporary, cutting-edge photography: Those focused on photography tend to emphasize the traditional and highlight 19th or 20th century work. Contemporary art fairs show cutting-edge work in abundance, but, proportionately, only a small fraction of it is photographic. It’s amazing, almost nightmarish to think that there is actually a gap here for yet another art fair to fill.

from American Illustration and American Photography, October 2012