It's almost, almost, as if the last two years never happened. Next Thursday, Christie's will hold its annual October Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening auction. The top lot? I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, a butterfly canvas by Damien Hirst, with an estimate of £2.5m to £3.5m resting on its delicate, kaleidoscopic wings. It's the most important (read expensive) work by the artist to be offered at auction since September 2008. Back then, in the heady days before credit crunch became a cliché, Hirst broke all records at Sotheby's, with combined sales of £111m for 223 lots, on the very same day that Lehman Brothers broke down.
Since that dizzying high point, the art market – and every other market besides – has suffered lows, teetered, at times, on the brink of collapse. Take Frieze Art Fair, London's annual international contemporary art jamboree. Last year, there were sales – most notably Hauser & Wirth sold Louise Bourgeois' The Couple for $3.5m. There were crowds – 60,000 visitors or thereabouts over five days. There were celebrities – Gwyneth Paltrow, Lily Allen, Valentino and Roman Abramovich were all papped at the V.V.I.P preview. And there were parties – fish 'n' chips and champagne for Hirst at The Wallace Collection, Patti Smith's impromptu street gig at the Alison Jacques Gallery and Mat Collishaw's bash at Mark Hix's newly opened restaurant, to name but three. But somehow the atmosphere was muted, the glitz a little dulled, the sales figures that bit harder to come by. Though the committee, dealers and gallerists would never admit as much, it was a tentative affair.
So what can we expect when the eighth edition of Frieze opens next week? Does a Hirst under the hammer mean that, once again, all is well with the art world? Perhaps. The 2010 Frieze Art Fair is the largest yet, with 173 galleries from 29 countries setting their stalls in Regent's Park. In a sign of increased stability, the fair had more applications than ever before and this year welcomes new additions from as far afield as New York and New Zealand. At a quietly expensive lunch to launch the 2010 fair, co-director Matthew Slotover was cautiously optimistic. "I have no crystal ball but certainly in the art market, things have settled down," he said. "Very few galleries have closed. It's surprising, but the economy seems to be buoyant enough."
As always, the proof will be in the purchasing, but signs that confidence has returned to the market can already be found in the buzz around the traditional run of Frieze week auctions. At Christie's, Hirst will be auctioned alongside two works by Gerhard Richter (valued at up to £1m) and, hollow laugh, Andreas Gursky's photomontage of the New York Stock Exchange, last seen hanging in the boardroom at Lehman Brothers (estimate: £100,000 – £150,000). Sotheby's has Jerry Hall's extraordinary collection up for sale – including work by Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol. And Phillips de Pury will hope to break the £1m mark with David Hockney's Autumn Pool while Maurizio Cattelan's Una Domenica a Rivara, a rope of knotted bedsheets to hang from a window, is estimated to sell at £400,000 to £600,000. Elsewhere, in a bold new addition to the landscape, £20m-worth of art will go on sale in an 18th-century mansion part-owned by the Russian real-estate billionaire Sergei Polonsky. The House of the Noble Man, a stone's throw from Frieze in Cornwall Terrace, is curated by Victoria Golembiovskaya and the artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz and will include four rare Picassos and Cezanne's Don Quixote.
For all of these and more, the international arterati will descend on London next week, jetting in from the traditional hot spots of New York, Berlin and Moscow, as well as from the emerging collector territories of the Middle East, India and China for what is now known simply as Frieze week. It's no longer just about the fair; a whole city's-worth of cultural activity has coalesced around those big white marquees. The breakfast views are booked in, the big museum shows are up and the parties – from a Frieze week opener at the Groucho Club to the ritzy annual Cartier dinner at Bar Boulud and ArtReview's Power 100 party at Sketch – are planned. After its initial struggles, the hype-filled boom years and fear-filled bust years, Frieze is now firmly established, an unmissable stop-off between Basel and Miami on the global art calendar. A decade ago, London didn't even have its own contemporary art fair. Now, for five days in mid- October, the art set wouldn't dream of being anywhere else.
"London needs this vital injection of new art from around the world," says Alistair Hicks, curator at Deutsche Bank. "The city's success lies in its ability to be one of the great showcases of what's new. We have had a great last five years, but we can take nothing for granted. The artists are showing us how quickly the world is changing. Today's hub can be tomorrow's heap."
In an effort to remain ahead of the game, this year Frieze has introduced its very own app, allowing visitors to navigate the 200,000sqft of white marquee on their iPads, browse works for sale by medium, size or price, or simply find the nearest bar. There are moves, too, to become a greener enterprise. Running the marquees on biodiesel will cut emissions by some 30 per cent, an admirable statistic even if, privately, fair insiders worry that the vegetable waste fuel will leave their Prada suits smelling of chip fat.
Soundbite innovations aside, for 2010 the main focus is on consolidating the fair's unique reputation as not only an important marketplace but also a creative hub. There are, as always, treats to be found among the trading. Frame, dedicated to galleries under six years old, returns for a second year. By far the most exciting section last year, it once again welcomes 25 galleries from Berlin and Bucharest, New York and Mexico City, all showcasing work by a single, upcoming talent. Frieze Projects similarly inject a little curatorial fun into the hard-selling arena. This year the vogue is for interactive work, including a game show with Spartacus Chetwynd, Ei Arakawa's and Karl Holmqvist's poetry/yoga haven in the park and Jeffrey Vallance's séance with late, great artists. Elsewhere, cocking a snook at the idea of art as commodity, Matthew Darbyshire has redesigned the fair's ticket office in lurid pink (inspired, apparently, by the interior of a certain mobile-phone store) and Gabriel Kuri has replaced the ashtrays with sculptures. In the sculpture park proper – complete with bicycles designed by Gavin Turk for weary walkers – there will be work from Franz West, Jeppe Hein and Marie Lund. And for five glorious days there will be talks from Bridget Riley and Wolfgang Tillmans, free film screenings in an artist's cinema and, for the first time, a music programme, including a Hercules and Love Affair gig underneath London Bridge station.
Further afield, many of London's museums and institutions have already rolled out the big guns – Gauguin and the Turner Prize at the Tate, Egon Schiele at the Royal Academy, Anish Kapoor at the Serpentine – in time for the October influx of culture vultures. Elsewhere, smaller galleries and commercial spaces have saved up their most intriguing shows for this moment. Tatiana Trouvé has created a new installation at South London Gallery while the Turner Prize nominee Susan Philipsz's new sound work for Artangel was unveiled in the City last weekend. Other big tickets to tempt the collectors include Hirst's foil butterflies at the Paul Stolper Gallery and Julian Schnabel's large-scale Polaroids at Colnaghi, both of which opened this week.
That's not to mention the many, many other shows – some of which are highlighted on the previous page – throwing open their doors over the next 10 days in a blur of private views, champagne and cheque books. Not that you need to be a millionaire to get in on the action. In a sign of Frieze's increasingly establishment status, a number of smaller, younger satellite fairs have cropped up on the margins. The Future Can Wait and Moniker International Art Fair, featuring Polly Morgan and street artist Ben Eine, both take place in Shoreditch. And while the original off-shoot, Zoo Art Fair, will be sadly missed this year, SUNDAY, a free three-day event in Marylebone's Ambika P3, is shaping up to be an intriguing replacement. Sponsored by the Zabludowicz Collection, it features 20 up-and-coming galleries, including London's Limoncello and Arcade, Frankfurt's Neue Alte Brücke and Tanya Leighton from Berlin. In Ryan's Bar, run by the artist Ryan Gander, it also has what is likely to become this year's hottest hang-out. Here you can enjoy cocktails invented and mixed by artists including Fiona Banner, Bob & Roberta Smith and Liam Gillick, for the princely sum of £50 a glass. Which just goes to show, in Frieze week, you really can find art to suit all tastes.
Regent's Park, London NW1 (0871 230 3452; www.frieze.com) 14 to 17 October
Ten things not to miss
Ai Weiwei, Tate Modern
Ai Weiwei is the 11th artist to take on the cavernous challenge of the Turbine Hall and the first artist living and working in Asia to be commissioned for the project. The Chinese artist, who co-designed the Beijing "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium, is best known for large-scale, powerfully provocative work such as an installation made up of thousands of children's backpacks to commemorate the victims of the Sichuan earthquake, and a photographic triptych of himself smashing a Han Dynasty vase.
12 October to 2 May 2011 (www.tate.org.uk)
The Museum of Everything
Widely regarded as the most successful new addition to the Frieze scene last year, the quirky Museum of Everything returns to its vast disused dairy home in Primrose Hill. This year, Peter Blake has curated a show of outsider art and artefacts from his own collection, which includes Victorian taxidermy, Elvis-themed curios and Shirley Temple dolls. There will also be talks from Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jeremy Deller and Polly Morgan.
13 October to December (www.musevery.com)
Louise Bourgeois, Hauser & Wirth
Louise Bourgeois was working on this exhibition when she died last year. Taking place in Hauser & Wirth's new Savile Row space, it consists of 70 "fabric drawings", intimate, small-scale works made from domestic items such as napkins, buttons and scraps of clothes, made between 2002 and 2008. The show also has four larger sculptures, including the typically menacing 2003 work 'Crouching Spider' (below).
15 October to 18 December (www.hauserwirth.com)
Move, Hayward Gallery
The Hayward Gallery invites visitors to don their dancing shoes for this exhibition, which investigates the links between the visual arts and movement. Highlights include Isaac Julien's nine-screen interactive video installation 'Ten Thousand Waves', shot in China and featuring Maggie Cheung, and William Forsythe's 'The Fact of Matter', which challenges visitors to cross the gallery without touching the floor, using 200 gymnastics rings suspended from the ceiling.
13 October to 9 January 2011 (www.southbankcentre.co.uk)
The Chapman Brothers, Polly Morgan and Tim Webster and Sue Noble head a macabre gang offering a 21st-century take on the 17th-century tradition of Vanitas paintings. Death, decay and the transience of human life are all on the menu in the shape of stuffed blackbirds, a Mao bust made up of hundreds of tiny skulls and an electric chair studded with butterflies. The exhibition takes place in the former Embassy of Sierra Leone in Portland Place, site of last year's popular The Age of the Marvellous show.
12 to 17 October (www.allvisualarts.org)
Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals, National Gallery
An Autumn blockbuster if ever there was one, the National Gallery have gathered together an unrivalled collection of views of the floating city. Canaletto's takes on the canals, bridges and gondolas (above) are juxtaposed with those of his rivals, including Marieschi and Guardi.
13 October to 16 January 2011 (www.nationalgallery.org.uk)
Christian Marclay, White Cube
The American artist Christian Marclay is a master of the collage, orchestrating artistic symphonies and stitching together visual tapestries out of the smallest cinematic fragments. For his new work, he has trawled thousands of films for moments when the time is shown or when characters look at a clock or their watch. The result is 'The Clock', a 24-hour video piece charting the passage of a day, in real time.
15 October to 13 November (www.whitecube.com)
Angus Fairhurst, Sadie Coles
The first gallery exhibition since the former YBA's death in 2008 gathers together his drawings, of disembodied limbs and gorillas, and his later bronze works based on them. The artists Urs Fischer and Rebecca Warren have curated the show and have invited friends of the late artist to design new plinths for his sculptures in posthumous tribute.
12 October to 27 November (www.sadiecoles.com)
James Turrell, Gagosian
Gagosian presents an exhibition of new installations, holographic and light works from the Los Angeles artist. Among the ethereal, trance-inducing pieces on show is 'Bindu Shards', a 10-minute, fully immersive visual and auditory experience for one person at a time.
13 October to 10 December (www.gagosian.com)
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, The Old Dairy
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld is one of the best-connected young curators on the block: his mother is Carine Roitfeld, editor of French 'Vogue', his godfather Mario Testino. So if nothing else, this show of 22 paintings by the young French artist Nicolas Pol is sure to draw a glamorous crowd to the echoing dairy near Russell Square.
15 October to 5 November (www.feedbackltd.net)
My Frieze week
The Artist: Gillian Wearing
Each year I attend Frieze with my partner, Michael Landy, and our friend Helen Van der Meij. Helen is a fount of knowledge, having been in the art world at least 20-odd years longer than me. She knows a lot about contemporary art, as well as classical, and therefore picks out things that I would not necessarily notice or, on first sight, like. At Frieze there will be painting (of course), sculpture, installation, photography, performance, film, happenings. There will be emerging and established artists' work. One thing is for sure, you won't see as much newly made work anywhere else. It just isn't possible for a museum or commercial gallery to compete with the amount of work made in 2010, showing in one location.
Personally, I'll make a beeline for Thomas Dane Gallery to look at one of Michael Landy's beautiful watercolours and will then nervously go to Maureen Paley gallery to see my new photograph, framed for the first time. It's called 'Me As Warhol in Drag With Scar'. I'll then try and methodically look at all the stands, but Frieze is very large. This year the London Film Festival coincides with Frieze. I'm showing my new film, 'Self Made', on 14 and 15 October at Vue, Leicester Square and am looking forward to escaping to the cinema to watch 'Black Swan', 'High Tide', 'Nine Muses' and 'My Joy', too.
Another reason to soak all of this up now is that we don't know how the cuts will affect the arts. We've taken free entry to galleries for granted, but have yet to see what impact cuts on public arts spaces will have.
The Collector: Anita Zabludowicz
For international visitors, Frieze Art Fair has done so much for the London art scene; it's given a real focus to the year. We never know in which direction Frieze and its satellite shows will take us. We've been researching many artists for The Zabludowicz Collection and at the moment are particularly interested in young emerging artists from the UK and North America, working with all mediums. This year, I'm most looking forward to seeing Toby Ziegler's completed installation at 176. Every day I visit it and see more layers coming together; sculptures growing and display structures shooting up high into the room. My top survival tips for Frieze week? Wear flat shoes and drink plenty of water. As for building a collection, it's important to work out a strategy. Use all of the resources available to you and don't be afraid to ask questions.
The Curator: Tim Marlow, White Cube
Frieze Art Fair messes with your head. There's so much to see, not only in the tents but outside them too. I've just seen that Simon Schama is giving a talk about beasts and beastliness in contemporary art, which I very much want to fit in. I have two strategies at the fair – professional and personal. Professionally, I'll go around the galleries that we work with around the world. Personally, I'll try not to spend too much, which can be very difficult. It's such a great microcosm; the galleries really bring their top-grade work to the fair.
The London art world has crystallised around the idea that you save your best work for Frieze week. It's shifted the calendar, and there's now a labyrinth of activity going on around the fair. All of the major institutions time their openings to coincide with it.
I'm looking forward to seeing Damian Ortega's show at the Barbican; he's a really interesting, smart, young artist. And, given that the art tourists are descending on London, it will be interesting to see the National Gallery's take on cultural tourism with their 'Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals', show. I'm yet to be convinced by Canaletto, but it should be good.
I don't adhere to it personally, but my advice is not to burn the candle at both ends. I somehow have breakfast meetings, dinners and parties every night. You just have to immerse yourself in it, and crash when it's all over.