Old Masters Sizzle at Frieze

London -- An Old Master painting found in Africa sold Tuesday night for $9.6 million as big-ticket art buyers looked beyond the contemporary buzz of Frieze Art Fair.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are visiting all the aisles of London-based Frieze Fair.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s figure-packed “Census at Bethlehem” had recently been discovered by the London-based Old Master dealer Johnny van Haeften in a house in Kenya.

The oil-on-canvas work, dating from about 1611, was owned by a descendant of the third Lord Delamere, whose ‘Happy Valley’ set was the subject of the film “White Mischief.” His family had owned the Brueghel for four centuries. A dead gecko fell out of the frame when Van Haeften first took the painting off its wall.

“I’ve met a lot of new clients,” Van Haeften said in an interview. “I sold another smaller Brueghel to a collector I have never met before for 650,000 pounds ($1 million).”

The larger painting was priced at 6 million pounds for the second edition of the Frieze Masters fair, which opened to VIP visitors Tuesday.

Frieze Masters and its contemporary sister Frieze are the flagship events of a week that sees as much as $2 billion of art for sale at fairs, auctions and gallery shows.

The second edition of Masters, devoted to a range of modern and traditional works, was expanded by about 30 percent to include 130 dealers. Tuesday's VIP preview was noticeably more crowded than last year.

The lineup of the fair has been bolstered by the arrival of heavyweight 20th-century specialists such as Mnuchin, Dominique Lévy, Michell-Innes & Nash from New York, as well as Van Haeften.

Confirmed Cardinals

Other early confirmed sales at Masters included Carl Andre’s 1972 aluminum “First Eleven Cardinals,” sold to a European collector for $2 million at the booth of the New York-based gallery Sperone Westwater.

The London dealer Daniel Katz sold a Damien Hirst-like 19th-century Italian “Vanitas” marble head, priced at 125,000 pounds, to another European buyer.

Meanwhile, nearby in Regent’s Park, the 11th edition of the Frieze Art Fair opened to VIP visitors. Europe’s biggest fair exclusively devoted to works by contemporary artists was this year trimmed down to 152 galleries from more than 170 and made more spacious. Floors were wooden and walls white, contrasting with Masters’ carpeted aisles and grey booths.

“Frieze Masters has in some ways redefined Frieze,” Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at White Cube, said in an interview. “There has been an instinct to look back a bit. It’s too early to tell if it’s brought new buyers into the contemporary market.”

Gates Roof

In the first hour of the fair, White Cube sold the 2013 abstract “Brown Roofing Exercise With High Road” by the Chicago-based painter Theaster Gates for $125,000.
Frieze primarily attracts wealthy collectors looking to buy works by emerging artists priced in the $10,000 to $200,000 range.

Oscar Murillo, who has a studio in London, is one of the contemporary market’s hottest names. The New York-and London-based dealer David Zwirner had two of Murillo’s gritty abstracts on his booth. Both sold, priced at as much as $150,000. Two years ago, the Colombian-born artist’s canvases could be bought for less than $3,000.

Most conspicuous of the works by big-name established artists was an installation of five pieces by Jeff Koons on the booth of Gagosian.

The stainless steel “Sacred Heart (Blue/Magenta), (1994-2007), part of the U.S.-based artist’s acclaimed “Celebration” series, was priced at $22 million, according to dealers, making it the most expensive work in the fair. As the preview entered its evening phase, gallery staff members said there was serious interest in the works on the booth, without specifying which.

There was also plenty of interest -- and confirmed sales -- on the booth of the Paris and Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. Georg Baselitz’s monumental black bronze figure sculpture, “Yellow Song,” dating from 2013 and from an edition of six, sold priced at 1.3 million euros ($1.8 million).