Deep Frieze

Where next for the global art market?

Look, bubbles create other bubbles, they're like derivative bubbles . . .

An anonymous hedge-fund manager, quoted in the new issue of N+1

Among the "derivative bubbles" created by the bubble in financial assets was a bubble in the global art market. And one event, more than any other, came to symbolise its excesses: Frieze, the annual art fair held in London, was, as Tim Adams put in a New Statesman piece last year, a "frenzied narcosis of Prada and oligarchs", a three-ring circus of conspicuous consumption.

Until the near-collapse of global financial capitalism, that is. At last year's Frieze, Adams reported, the "excess . . . seemed finally to have run dry". The art, he wrote, "was never quite the point of Frieze; that was always the buzz, generally loud enough to drown out any shouts about the emperor's new clothes". And the buzz stopped abruptly on the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy (last year's Frieze took place exactly a month after Lehman went down).

At last night's private view for the 2009 iteration of the fair, there wasn't any frenzied narcosis -- at least, none that I saw (though I wasn't allowed into the inner sanctum of the Deutsche Bank VIP suite) -- but the crush at the bars was discernibly thicker than it was last year. The bald figures, however, suggest that, for all the "buoyancy" of the mood last night, the art market is still in the doldrums.

Only 135 galleries are participating in the main fair this year, compared with 150 last year. And, as one artist I spoke to remarked mordantly, most of the gallerists who have turned up are showing second-rate work, as if they're hoarding the best stuff through the financial winter. (One exception to the medicore, reheated conceptualism that tends to predominate at Frieze were the vaguely hallucinatory paintings of the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans.)

Another sign that the art market won't be recovering any time soon is ArtReview magazine's "Power 100" list, announced today. "This year's list inevitably refects the financial tumult of the last 12 months," the press release reads, "with just about a third of last year's entries falling off and being replaced with newcomers. Collectors as a bracket suffered the heaviest fall within the list, with many former high-rollers going or gone." Perhaps the most precipitous fall is that of Charles Saatchi, who has fallen from 14th in 2008 to 72nd.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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