By  on October 19, 2006

LONDON — This city is emerging from deep Frieze, with thousands of contemporary art works sold, gallons of Champagne consumed — Ruinart was a favorite with party hosts — and some very happy dealers.

Since the annual Frieze Art Fair debuted in 2003, it has not only exploded in popularity, with hundreds of galleries from around the world fighting to get on the roster of 150 exhibitors, it has spawned countless events and openings across the British capital.

"The energy in London now is just incredible, and Frieze has been a major factor behind that," said Simon de Pury, who last Saturday night lifted the veil on the new European headquarters of his auction house Philips de Pury & Co., housed in a former post office near Victoria Station.

"London has always been fertile ground for contemporary art, and England is a very pro-business country right now," said de Pury, whose auction featuring works by artists including Richard Prince, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas generated sales of $16 million.

Indeed, if this year's Frieze week needed a symbol, it was no doubt the giant, blinking gold dollar sign by Tim Noble and Sue Webster that was hanging on the wall near de Pury's auctioneers' podium. The piece, titled "$," sold for $348,192.

Frieze, which ran from Oct. 12 to 15 under a big tent in Regent's Park, drew gallery owners, museum directors, auction houses, consultants, collectors, and the curious alike. Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, Zaha Hadid, Nadja Swarovski, Alannah Weston, Charles Saatchi, Nigella Lawson, Hedi Slimane, Kate Moss, Elle Macpherson, and Jamie Oliver were all spotted wandering the maze of 152 galleries showing the work of 1,000 artists at the fair.

The fair drew roughly 63,000 visitors this year, and sales were expected to easily top last year's $60 million. More than half the galleries showing were from continental Europe, Great Britain and Ireland, with the remainder from the U.S., the Middle East and Brazil.

"It has become the prominent European fair, after Basel," said Matthew Carey-Williams, associate director at Haunch of Venison London, which was selling works by Bill Viola, Ian Monroe, Anton Henning and Keith Tyson."And we're not just getting the usual suspects passing through — we're getting new collectors on board — Europeans, lots of Americans and even some Asian clients," said Carey-Williams, adding the gallery sold three-quarters of the works in its booth on the first day.

David Maupin, a founder of Lehmann Maupin in New York, said the fair offered him the chance to show some of the gallery's more offbeat works. "Frieze has an edge that other fairs don't have. I'm never concerned about editing what I show," he said.

Maupin pointed to a work by Tracey Emin called "The Orange One," which is a bed sheet embroidered with orange thread that depicts a naked woman on all fours looking over her shoulder at an erect penis. "I wouldn't show this at other fairs," said Maupin with a smile. "But the English are eccentric, they're used to provocation — and they're not easily shocked."

Clearly not: the sheet sold for $37,000 to a collector who, perhaps understandably, prefers to remain anonymous.

Carole Christensen Lieff, a Los Angeles-based dealer who comes to London for the annual Christie's and Sotheby's art sales taking place this month, said she gets more work done at Frieze than at other fairs.

"It's a really intimate way to catch up with other dealers, as opposed to Basel, which is so crowded. You're not competing with quite so many people," she said.

And given all the big money in town for Frieze, events taking place on the edges of the fair have mushroomed over the years. This time around, in addition to the opening of de Pury's auction in the new Victoria space, there was the unveiling of the Louise T Blouin Institute, a new arts venue in northwest London funded by de Pury's former companion Louise T MacBain; a show of new, collaborative works by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Paul McCarthy and George Condo; the unveiling of the David Hockney retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, and an auction of modern and contemporary work at Sotheby's to raise money for the Whitechapel Art Gallery in east London.

Pia Getty organized a show of portraits by photographer David Seidner at her Knightsbridge home, while Alannah Weston opened her house in Chelsea for an exhibition of a video installation called "United" by Beth Derbyshire, her old friend from Oxford."I'm by no means a dealer, but I wanted to show her video work while the whole gang was here in London," said Weston, whose guests included Larry Gagosian, Sadie Coles, Jay Jopling, Jake Chapman, Avery Agnelli, Peter Brandt and Christopher Bailey. "What I'm hoping is that she gets a chance to show it outside the U.K."

Getty, too, wanted to take advantage of the week's buzz to show off works by her late friend Seidner, whom she described as "a perfectionist who took hours of care when he shot a photo."

During the cocktail party to kick off the show of 17 black-and-white works — including portraits of Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Jasper Johns — Getty remembered Seidner taking pictures of her and her sisters for Vanity Fair. "He was already sick and losing his eyesight. But the precision with which he worked was just amazing," she said.

The show's curator, Misha Milovanovich, said: "We wanted to celebrate David's life, honor his work and expose it to a fine art audience. We're hoping that the Tate will take a look, and that other fine art institutions in Europe will start showing his work."

Plenty of which were in and around the art fair. "It's getting like Art Basel Miami around here," said Louise MacBain during the opening of her new space. "Frieze brings with it so much activity, and an international market."

MacBain admitted, however, that her favorite work of the week wasn't sitting under the Frieze tent at Regent's Park, but in Larry Gagosian's London gallery. "It's Jeff Koons' blue egg — and you've absolutely got to see it."

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