Swing Time

October 19, 2021
• London

“THAT’S WHAT ARTWORKS ARE BEST FOR, aren’t they?” said Grayson Perry, posing in front of a painting by Sarah Sze. “Backdrops for photos!” It was Monday of Frieze week, and the British artist appeared at Victoria Miro’s “intimate dinner for eighty,” hosted inside its vast Islington space, as his alter ego, Clare, in pink Mary Janes and turquoise tights. After admiring Perry’s large silver necklace—a mini version of his sculpture Chris Whitty’s Cat, 2020—I ate pink macaroons, spied Zadie Smith, and papped Isaac Julien against another of Sze’s electro-dystopic abstractions.

I’d arrived at Miro from across the Thames at the White Cube’s Bermondsey venue, where a fête for Ibrahim Mahama’s “Lazarus” exhibition was underway. Getting there early, I’d spoiled my appetite on tiny canapés made from caviar and violet petals in an almost-empty gallery, wandering past rows of unclaimed champagne cocktails. As infection rates continued to rise in the capital, I wondered: Was Frieze going to flop? But by 7 p.m., the ultrarich had arrived. Up from her Surrey mansion was billionaire Russian collector Ekaterina Aven (wife of oligarch Petr Aven) and her daughter Katya, the latter sporting a multicolored suit and tie designed by Jaden Smith.

At Pace’s party for Torkwase Dyson at the NoMad Hotel later that evening, the bar lit up every few minutes as a Getty photographer revealed the crush of people with his flash: a crowd knocking back the shellfish circulating on platters and picking at bowls of popcorn. In one decadent suite, walls painted a streaky night-sky blue, the psychedelic folk musician Eartheater, flown in from Athens, took the stage in a rope bodice and white latex ruffles, looking like an intergalactic milkmaid. (Alas, the yapping crowd barely took note of her acoustic set.)





Did I mention The Carters? Jay-Z and Beyoncé were, rumor had it, in town and feeling spendy. Would they add another George Condo to their collection? Hauser & Wirth’s directors were reportedly wiggling in their seats. After the couple’s red carpet appearance at the London Film Festival (their trip’s raison d'être), the art world purported sightings of Jay-Z: at Pace during a Dyson performance; slipping into Zwirner for the (excellent) Noah Davis show; at the opening of “Social Work II,” curated by Antwaun Sargent for Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill location. “Jay came by,” confirmed Sargent as we walked through his show the next day. Arms splayed wide, in a cuff hat and sunglasses, he anticipated my next question. “She waited in the car because, well—she didn’t want to upstage the artworks.”

On Wednesday, the fair opened its flaps and VIPs poured into the marquee. This year’s booths were loaded with paintings, every dealer’s cash-cow. But were the rich shopping? By the end of the day, the answer was a resounding yes. At Thaddaeus Ropac, an Alex Katz sold for almost $1 million in the first few hours. At David Zwirner, a Kerry James Marshall (a small new painting of a pigeon) went for $2.2 million. Timothy Taylor cleared an entire booth of canvases by Honor Titus, mainly depicting athletes. Meanwhile, at David Kordansky, all seven paintings by Lucy Bull—monstrous swirls of acid yellow and shrimp pink—were snapped up before sundown.

That evening, Zwirner celebrated at Ristorante Frescobaldi. A suckling pig, baked to terracotta, took up an entire table, and waiters sprung about with baskets of black truffles liberally shaved into each dish. Standing beside a painting of Bacchus, the Belgian painter Michaël Borremans kissed the air, perhaps saluting his five works sold that day.





Fear of Covid (FOCO?) was superseded that night by FOMO as guests trotted ten minutes across town to drop in on the Gagosian party at the ritzy Creole restaurant Louie. By Thursday, a new, Millennial crowd roamed the tent, fraternizing in the Focus section. Striding past life-size cutouts of the performance artist Sin Wai Kin, at Blindspot Gallery’s booth, I saw London artists Jenkin van Zyl, dressed in a pair of Renaissance pantaloons and a dog collar, arm in arm with Alex Margo Arden, wearing an antique, silk duchesse corset, her face painted with black spots as if sporting a tulle veil. At this point, inevitably, the gallerists were looking a little wrecked, but most booths had sold their hits already. Luckily, many regained their sea legs at dinners aboard the Feng Shang Princess, a restaurant that bobs on Regent’s Canal—one hosted by Soft Opening gallery (in the elite downstairs suite), another by Kordansky above.

Who crawls back to into the tent on Friday, unless they can’t help it? I ended the week at Delfina Foundation, famous for its resident chef and “family lunches” where collectors and artists mingle. Greeting me at the door was the ageless Aaron Cezar, who wore a silver wool jacket which, he told me, was gifted by the London restaurateur and Sketch founder Mourad Mazouz when Cezar complimented Mourad’s own. The jacket arrived by courier the next day. My table companions included collector Irene Panagopoulos (daughter of the late Greek shipping magnate Pericles Panagopoulos) and Turkish collector Fusun Eczacibasi, of the Eczacibasi dynasty. Over (more) champagne and sourdough focaccia, one guest told me of a “shocking” recent sale at Sotheby’s—a canvas by the British artist Flora Yukhnovich, whose abstract remakes of French rococo paintings are collectors’ favorites. Given a low estimate of $82,200, the aptly named I’ll Have What She’s Having, 2020, sold for $3 million on Thursday. “So inflated!” the collector told me, sliding a spoonful of semolina cake into his mouth. “Soon, I won’t be able to afford art!”



— Izabella Scott