In a move that has annoyed those people who take art fairs extremely seriously, Larry Gagosian decided to devote his entire booth at Frieze New York to Richard Prince’s Instagram paintings, “New Portraits.” When they made their debut at a space adjacent to the Gagosian Shop, “New Portraits” contained works that were simply Instagram screenshots — of famous artists and famous porn stars and of lots of anonymous hot chicks — inkjet printed on canvas. They were called dumb, the were called misogynistic, they were called the work of a pervert. People really got mad about this thing!
So imagine the shock of realizing that the biggest dealer in the world decided to use his prime real estate at Frieze to show nothing but these works. Less of a shock: Just a few hours into the VIP collectors preview on May 13, all were sold except for one.
Hate the Instagram works all you want, but you have to admit they feel very at home at an art fair. The self-obsession and need for constant “like”-based affirmation is everywhere here, what with the omnipresent stunt-ish Instagram bait. And Prince’s way of commenting on celebrity culture can be liberally applied here, with the constant flow of famous people haunting the aisles: Leonardo DiCaprio checking out a Brent Wadden at Peres Projects, Uma Thurman walking hand-in-hand with hotelier André Balazs, Neil Patrick Harris hanging in the Andrea Rosen booth, Emily Mortimer cheek-kissing Overduin & Co. dealers, Mike Myers noshing on burgers from Prime Meats.
But there is also art to be sold — that is, the art that isn’t more or less already presold. Cynically or not, Gagosian knew there was a market for the Instagram pieces — Frieze, after all, is a marketplace in a tent, a souk, one might say. The opening hours are not necessarily a feeding frenzy, as many wait until later in the day following a few lunchtime Champagnes to close on a new piece to hang in the foyer of this house or that. And then by the afternoon, dealers are pacing through the booths whispering into iPhones or tapping on iPads. For instance! A Ron Arad at the Paul Kasmin Gallery booth sold for a cool $430,000, while a Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth went for an even million.
But then again, this is just what dealers tell you when you ask. Dealers: They lie to you sometimes! This is enough of a wink-wink thing that when a reporter approached a dealer carrying some paintings, the dealer said, “We sold everything, so we had to re-up!”
Art sales at art fairs are always a success, or so everyone always tells you. And the place does pulse with affluence, good tailoring, and self-regard.
But perhaps the most absurd things on sale under the tent — beyond the $20 sandwiches, beyond the $1,000 bottles of Champagne, beyond the artworks worth more than mansions — were the bits of ephemera on sale via auction at the Bidoun booth. Would you spend tens of thousands of dollars on what was described as Tony Shafrazi’s prescription painkillers, or Rachel Harrison’s selfie stick, or Hans Ulrich Obrist’s passport — he was there, presumably with a newer one — or Lawrence Weiner’s gold tooth? If you won’t do it, somebody else will. Or so they’ll tell you.
Oh, and the last Richard Prince standing, the last one unsold? Priced at $90,000 like the others, it broke from form and showed two men kissing instead of a selfie of a hot chick. “The dudes, man, the dudes are good,” said the Gagosian Gallery dealer on duty. “But no one wants to buy the dudes.”