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Frieze fairs: Putting London’s art scene on the map

Every October, Frieze welcomes art connoisseurs and investors to London's Regent's Park in the hope they'll spend thousands on contemporary and modern art.


Anton Kern, Frieze London 2015
Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.
Anton Kern, Frieze London 2015

Investors with a place to show off a rare masterpiece have more than enough to choose from, with both Frieze London and its upmarket sister fair, Frieze Masters, offering pieces that range from as little as £100 ($155) to several millions.

"The work the galleries make available is not just of outstanding quality, but also represents an extraordinary breadth – alongside prestigious, established contemporary galleries with iconic names," Abby Bangser, artistic director for the Americas and Asia at Frieze Art Fairs, told CNBC by email.

"With Frieze Masters opening at the same time, both fairs bring together thousands of years of art history in a singular structure; allowing us to truly present an experience for collectors at all levels and of diverse interests."

With the China slowdown putting investors on edge, investors may think art sales at upmarket fairs could dwindle, but people's love for art overall still seems to grow.

Hundreds of art pieces have already sold for millions in 2015, including Picasso's "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')," which became the most expensive artwork sold at auction. The global art market itself smashed an all-time record high in 2014, topping $53.7 billion in sales.

And this appetite hasn't withered at Frieze either. From paintings to sculptures, the first two days of both fairs have sold art pieces for high amounts, from the $10,000s to way over a million.

Frieze London (Work sold, courtesy of Frieze)

  • Damien Hirst "Holbein (Artist's Watercolours)" - Over $1.2 million
  • Ai Weiwei's "Iron Root" - Around 500,000 euros
  • Chris Ofili's "Midnight Cocktail" - $750,000
  • Robert Longo's"Untitled (Holy Tree/Cedar)" - $650,000

Frieze Masters (Work sold, courtesy of Frieze)

  • Williem Blaeu's "Wall Map" - £400,000 (sold on preview day)
  • Albert Oehlen's "Untitled" - $700,000
  • Gunther Uecker's "Weibe Spirale" - 2 million euros
  • Martin van Cleve's "Wedding procession" - £1.8 million
  • Bridget Riley's "Vapour 3 (2009/1970)" - $1.4 million
Frieze Masters 2015
Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.
Frieze Masters 2015

While Frieze is often perceived as an exclusive event, Bangser says the art fair is trying to be more than just "a platform for buying and selling art" by incorporating free events, like its Sculpture Park.

To boost London's art industry even further, auction houses set up contemporary art sales during the week to boost the local economy and art energy.

Phillips auction house raked in millions in two contemporary art day sales, with the Cy Twombly's "Untitled (2006)" selling for £7.9 million ($12.2 million) and Mark Bradford's "Constitution IV 2013" sold at £3.78 million. This week alone, four Christopher Wool paintings have sold for over a million, with one selling for £4.9 million ($7.5 million) at Christie's.

And that's good news for London's economy! Frieze estimates that it generates "tens of millions of pounds every year" from visitors coming to the capital, with 2015 being no exception, Bangser said.

"The energy this influx generates is palpable, both at Frieze London and Frieze Masters and, moreover, across the city, with events and major exhibition opens all timed to coincide with the week of Frieze."

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.