Frieze Los Angeles Marks Hollywood’s Spot On The Annual Art Calendar

By Ann Binlot

Mike Kelley, Unisex Love Nest, 1999 Installation with 1-channel video (color, sound) Installation view, Hauser & Wirth, Frieze Los Angeles, 2019; Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VG Bild-Kunst, Berlin, Germany.COURTESY HAUSER & WIRTH PHOTO: FREDRIK NILSEN

It looks like Los Angeles finally landed a spot on the annual art calendar. Paris Photo Los Angeles, an international photography fair, attempted to do that a few years ago with three editions (the last one was in 2015), but eventually canceled after low sales. Its parent company, Reed Exhibitions, also tried to bring FIAC, its international Paris art fair to Los Angeles, but that never came into fruition. The inaugural Frieze Week Los Angeles, held during the run of Frieze Los Angeles from February 15 to 17, proved that the art world is ready and willing to make the week, which was sandwiched strategically between the Grammys and the Academy Awards, into an annual occurrence.

“These things have to happen organically, and it feels really like the right time for Frieze,” said Los Angeles artist Alex Israel, who unveiled his sunset-inspired collaboration with German suitcase maker Rimowa through a roadside attraction structure shaped like a piece of luggage. “It’s great for L.A. to have this annual spot on the calendar. It hasn’t ever, and now it’s time. And maybe that will be this week every year.”

When Frieze opened on February 14, some 70 galleries waited for collectors, like the Los Angeles-based Ghebaly Gallery, Night Gallery, Jeffrey Deitch, and Blum & Poe, as well as international galleries such as Lehmann Maupin, Hauser & Wirth, Zwirner, and Lehmann Maupin, a frenzied crowd filled the tent at Paramount Studios—the same venue where Paris Photo Los Angeles had set up shop years earlier. Everyone wondered, Would the sales occur?

With its location on a Hollywood studio as well as leading talent agency William Morris Endeavor’s stake in the fair, a number of celebrities showed up to peruse through the works at the fair, which included a portrait of the late Anthony Bourdain by Raymond Pettibon at Zwirner, and an Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonakdar. Brad Pitt, Sylvester Stallone, Amy Poehler, James Corden, Michael Keaton, and Jane Fonda were among the A-listers seen walking through Frieze.

Frieze the art fair was born in London in 1993, which stemmed out of Frieze the art magazine, a London publication founded by Amanda Sharpe and Matthew Slotover with artist Tom Gidley. After nearly two decades of success with the London edition, Frieze New York would come to Randall’s Island in 2012 to mixed reviews. While New York would remain the art capital of the United States, the art fairs in the Big Apple never carried the same amount of allure and seductiveness as the week that surrounds Art Basel in Miami Beach, with its art credibility, celebrity pull, decadent parties, warm weather—and palm trees.

With New York heavyweights like Klaus Biesenbach moving to California to take over as director of MOCA, and Jeffrey Deitch setting up a gallery there after his embattled tenure as director at MOCA ended in 2013; a number of artists making the city their home due to its larger  and more affordable studio spaces; and several international galleries like Sprueth Magers and Hauser & Wirth building locations there in the last few years, it seems as though Los Angeles is ready to finally secure a place on the art calendar.

BMW even returned as one of Frieze’s global partners—joining, Ruinart, Bombay Sapphire, LIFE WTR, and Richard Mille—providing not just transportation for the fair’s various VIPs, but also support for programming like Frieze Music, a night of music curated by LAX Art executive director Hamza Walker that featured Robert Glasper with Chris Dave, Derrick Hodge, Ambrose Akimmusire, and DJ Jahi Sundance. BMW also allows for artists to do extensive research with its own technologists and experts through its BMW Open Work by Frieze program, one of its alums is the Los Angeles-based artist Olivia Erlanger. Thomas Girst, head of BMW Group International Cultural Engagement, says that the German automaker hopes the fair is a success. “I’m not only talking about the marketplace of galleries, I’m also talking about what the director, Bettina Korek, speaks about when she says this should also be a civic endeavor.” he explained. “If you just look at the past 10 years, the infrastructure for the arts, for the public art—it’s growing, it’s getting better, and it’s in the greater L.A. area and all of California, so to play whatever minute part has us feeling a great sense of pride.”

The parties of the week took place across Los Angeles’s iconic locations; gallerist Jay Jopling—whose opening party for White Cube at Soho Beach House during Art Basel in Miami Beach is usually the week’s most coveted invites—and hotelier André Balazs hosted an opening party for Frieze Los Angeles at Chateau Marmont. Swizz Beatz hosted an opening of a group show of black artists with works by Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, and Carrie Mae Weems curated by Nicola Vassell at UTA Artist Space that attracted Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Pharrell. ALAC, which celebrated its 10th anniversary, took its festivities to Silver Lake, at the home of Grammy-winning producer Daniel Lanois. The evening included joints and wood-fired pizza, along with live music. There was also a party at Casa Perfect in Beverly Hills that showed photos and films by Andy Warhol. Perfect backgrounds for parties connected to L.A. art fairs.

Artists also seized the week to showcase their own work. Doug Aitken rented a storefront at a shopping mall, while Despina Stokou used the empty living room of a collector’s home that is to be demolished in the Hollywood Hills as the canvas for her sharp gestures and lyrical phrases. Graffiti pioneer Lee Quinones gave a talk linked to his exhibition at DTLA gallery Charlie James.

“I see myself as a bridge to their history and what’s happening in L.A.,” said Frieze Los Angeles director Korek. “L.A. is a city of artists. We have so many art schools and intergenerational relationships between artists, so I think that having the freedom that Frieze has given, to make the fair really suited to the context, I try not to compare L.A. to other places, for me it’s really the only place.”

L.A. is certainly the only place where you can find an art fair on a Hollywood studio just before the entertainment industry’s biggest night of the year. It’s also the only place where access to a premier international art fair and the subsequent events that happen around it are limited by long distances between locations—and lots of traffic. But that didn’t stop the satellite fairs from setting up shop. ALAC, one of the few art fairs in Los Angeles that showed a strong selection of contemporary art, moved its usual dates at the end of January to align with Frieze, and New York fair Spring/Break, a good place to spot emerging talent, set up shop in Downtown Los Angeles.

Felix—a fair co-founded by Dean Valentine, Al Morán and Mills Morán took over some 40 or so rooms and suites at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood—sought to recreate the intimate feel of hotel fairs like the Gramercy International at the one at Chateau Marmont in the ‘90s. When it wasn’t overfilled with curious visitors, the fair did just that, boasting works by Kim Gordon at White Columns, Katherine Bernhardt Pink Panther paintings at CANADA, and at André Butzer’s playful characters giving viewers the side eye at Nino Mier. Exhibitors said that the fair gave them a chance to interact with visitors and collectors in such a way that the bigger fairs wouldn’t allow. There was even a room called Jennifer Aniston’s Used Book Sale; Pitt was rumored to be a visitor.

And in case you’re wondering—the sales were there. Early on in the VIP preview day, Hauser & Wirth announced the $1.8 million sale of Mike Kelley’s 1999 work Unisex Love Nest. Jack Shainman sold El Anatsui’s ornate masterpieces for $1.25 million.  One of Loie Hollowell’s erotic abstractions sold for $80,000 at Pace. Three stands—Lehmann Maupin, 303 Gallery, and Mendes Wood DM—boasted sold-out inventory. Aside from the logistics issues, Frieze Week Los Angeles certainly has all the right ingredients—proximity to Asian collectors, star power, and the ability to attract art heavyweights—for the City of Angels to finally earn its spot on the annual art calendar. Frieze Los Angeles will more than likely be back for another year, but, in a world where Los Angeles collectors usually shop in Miami and New York, convincing them to buy local could be the key to giving it staying power.

“I think we’re off to a great start,” said Korek between the fair’s aisles on the first day, before she rushed off to her next appointment.