House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

David Collins

At Frieze, the art of the artist is overshadowed by the art of the deal

David Collins

October 11 2010
David Collins

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In recent years art has become linked with design; think Art Basel and other shows which have promoted 20th-century and contemporary designers with the same energy as a superbrand.

Art is now seen as the endorsement of good design. It has usurped the French 18th-century furniture that used to be the big money-shot of a design scheme. With Frieze this week the art of the artist is overshadowed, so to speak, by the art of the deal and importantly the art of the dealer. There is often more creativity and work poured into invitations, press placing, private dinners, previews, private previews and previews of the previews than goes into the creation of the work itself.

It is the dealers, not the painters, who are the unsung artists – they can persuade their clients that buying art is an indication that you can spend money guilt-free and create an investment as well as some social kudos; this is high art indeed.

An artist does not need to be starving or living in a garret to be “discovered”, and so at Frieze it is all about the sales speak: shop assistants become “gallerists”, naïve newly-minted shoppers become “collectors”, and those who pay top prices are known as “important collectors”. A posse of girls run around the fair eyeing up likely purchasers – these are the “art consultants”, a very noughties type of estate agent who work on a commission basis and when faced with a difficult or challenging piece of art by an artist they neither know nor understand, inevitably they refer to it as “fun” to clinch the deal.

Everyone here is a winner, from London, to the public, to the artists, and most of all the dealers; after all, isn’t it a genius piece of art in itself to sell a slab of wood for a seven-figure sum and still make the buyer think you are doing them a favour?

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