The arty party descends on London – with money and champagne in full flow

The Frieze Art Fair has barely started but the dealers, creatives and A-listers started schmoozing days ago
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The Independent Culture

As some of the biggest spenders and dealers in the art world descend on London this week for one of Britain's most spectacular art fairs, the sound of gavels ought to be echoing across the capital. But visitors to the Frieze Art Fair are more likely to hear the fizz of champagne and the clip-clop of designer heels this year as the art market emerges from the recession with a pop.

Frieze officially opens this morning at Regent's Park, where 173 galleries from 29 countries will set out their stalls for four days of frenzied buying, but the real business – the partying – has already started.

Monday night saw the launch event for Steve Lazarides's show Hell's Half Acre down in the Old Vic Tunnels, where Kevin Spacey sipped from vats of champagne laid on by sponsors Veuve Cliquot.

Things really got going last night, when several parties boasted guest lists crammed with big names. Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin were among the crowd celebrating the opening of a new exhibition by Mat Collishaw at the Blain Southern Gallery. Starting at the gallery itself, the party later moved on to the club above the exclusive Ivy restaurant in the West End, before finishing in the early hours of the morning at Bungalow 8 in Covent Garden.

Meanwhile Steven Spielberg and Jerry Hall were on the guest list for Marina Abramovic's soirée at the Lisson Gallery, while Bryan Ferry was expected at DKNY for Art Attack, and Claudia Schiffer and Bryan Adams were among the invitees for a private view complemented by bubbly at the Pavilion of Art and Design's satellite fair.

The climax is still to come. Mark Inglefield, communications director of the Blain Southern Gallery and a veteran of Frieze's whirlwind of events, said it's only once dealers have a few big sales under their belts that they tend to let their hair down.

"All the dealers who have stands here at Frieze tend to take things fairly easy at first," he explained, "because it's first thing on Wednesday morning that the elite bands of collectors are admitted into the fair, and that can be a bit of a stampede, a supermarket sweep."

Unsurprisingly, the twin centres of Frieze's social calendar are The Groucho Club and the Ivy. "They are the normal centres for art anyway, but with dealers over from France and Japan and New York and LA all descending on the place it does tend to intensify. It's late at night when a lot of deals get done and when amazing ideas about new projects begin."

Yet while there is always plenty of champagne available at the official events at private bars, the heaviest hangovers tend to originate away from the headline events.

"Don't forget, the dealers aren't kids," said Mr Inglefield. "Most of them are in their 30s and 40s. But a lot of the younger artists let rip, and that tends to go on away from the Mayfair-centric crowd in the Shoreditch House, which is their version of the Groucho."

Artist Ryan Gander confirmed that the artists tend to carve out their own social spaces away from the administrators and businessmen.

"Usually the best social events are the things that happen on the periphery of the art fairs. They take advantage of the fact that everyone's in town, but they happen in really dirty, grungy clubs in the East End."

This year Mr Gander has perhaps got into the spirit of things more than any other artist. He has set up his own bar, offering cocktails mixed by fellow creatives as an art project at another of Freize's satellite events, the Sunday Art Fair.

Fiona Banner, the woman responsible for hanging two fighter jets in the main exhibition space at the Tate Britain, will be offering Punch – a wide-rimmed glass of champagne for which it is compulsory that the buyer must drink it wearing a boxing glove.

"You can drink as much as you like as long as you use that glass and a glove," said Mr Gander. "It's like a very cheap artwork that you can consume. I'm running a bar because a lot of the best ideas come from bars. It's like a salon type of atmosphere," he said.

The parties - and the guest lists

Last night: Marina Abramovich

The Serbian performance artist showcased a range of work to coincide with the opening of the fair. On the guest list were: designer John Galliano; the models Jerry Hall and Natalia Vodianova; the director Steven Spielberg; and the publisher Jefferson Hack.

Tomorrow: Gino Hollander and de Grisogono

A pop-up exhibition of contemporary art from American artist Gino Hollander and Luxury jewellery by de Grisogono. On the guest list were: the model Elle Macpherson; the actress Donna Air; the designer Dasha Zhukova and Tyrone Wood, son of Rolling Stone Ronnie.

Frieze by numbers

173 Number of galleries exhibiting at this year's fair, presenting works by more than 1,000 artists.

29 Number of countries represented at this year's fair.

200,000 Area in square feet of the marquees in Regent's Park, London.

60,000 Average number of visitors expected over the five-day event.

£60 The price of a four-day pass for the fair.

1,000 Number of glasses of champagne chef Mark Hix expects to sell in his restaurant and champagne bar over the course of the fair.