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If Frieze magazine can be considered a meritorious arbiter of character, then its decision to base an outpost of its growing art fair empire in Los Angeles last February has bestowed upon the city strutting rights on the art world’s red carpet. Even without Frieze’s ‘benediction’, Angelenos interested in the art world have been watching with glee and swelling breasts as more and more new galleries have opened across town. Yes, some New York subsidiaries have moved in; Gagosian has been here for a while, but now we have galleries like Jeffrey Deitch and Matthew Marks, showing some of their name brand artists and often doing bang-up shows. But it’s the galleries indigenous to LA who have been tossing the seriously startling shows into the global fray and perking up the ears of the ‘cognoscenti’.

Anyhow, on to the scene at Paramount Studios, site of Frieze LA. Fifty-dollar, entry level, day passes to the fair did not deter countless Angelenos who, in this vast, often lonely town, are always looking for a party and/or a sense of community and have discovered the gallery scene provides it in spades. And of course, LA’s hipsters like to be seen, so naturally people were coming,  in addition to the genuine titillation of the art, to scope each other out. And when it comes down to it – eight hours spent in a buzzing visual hallucination, a live reality show – the price is a fair deal.

Four hipsters in Mike Kelley’s installation, ‘Unisex Love Nest”, presented by Hauser + Wirth, Los Angeles

But I must say that this fair is more of a fair than other art fairs – by that I mean an event replete with multiple attractions. Beyond the extremely well curated selection of artworks presented by visionary gallerists from São Paulo, London, Seoul, Paris, New York, LA, etc. the fair’s setting at Paramount was a major draw. Beyond the voluminous ‘tent’ that housed all the galleries, the fair spilled into Paramount’s back lot – a miniature, generic West Village that, for the weekend, was crammed with cafés, book stores, a smattering of purveyors of art paraphernalia, and a number of winning installations. Beneath massive green worms winding their way in and out of brownstone windows, and beneath puffy bits of hand painted laundry and clouds strung over a street, Dom Ruinart proffered glasses of rosé bubbly from a street cart and hosted pop-up performances as well.

Although most visitors, if they thought about it all, think the backlot was built in the 20’s or 30’s, it is in fact a complete $15 million recreation finished in 1990. There is some poetic justice in this early 20th century simulacra hosting a 21st century phenomenon. While we ostensibly refashion and redefine ourselves through our art, we love a taste of history and make believe in our mouth as we do. In fact how else could we be so very very ironic? Of course New Yorkers, ever smug about their hegemony over the artworld, are tsk-tsking about the fact that the fair set itself in a New York City environment. Yes, but it’s our version!
(Below: Kori Newkirk, Frieze Projects commission… this installation was originally upright but the crazy winds took it down and it works just as well horizontal. The artist even hoped it might bust through a window, giving the place a real world vibe.)

The Max’s Kansas City Project (a fund offering emergency aid for artists and support for creative youth) set up a tiny bar in one of the old storefronts, selling cocktails and rock and roll artwork. (I had my eye on a print of Iggy Pop on his hands and knees looking like a bad puppy.) Matches Fashion, a London based curator of contemporary fashion, took over a whole ‘block’ to present a few of their emerging designers and host a few events, the hit of which, in my book, was a conversation between filmmaker/writer Miranda July and author Maggie Nelson (her book The Argonauts is brilliant and now a classic in queer auto-biography). They each brought three objects that had deep significance for them and switched off riffing on the stories behind them – a humorous and poignant confessional performance.

As well, true to the persona of Frieze Magazine, there was a whole program of intellectually engaging cultural talks. I caught one of a series on the nature of contemporary patronage and ‘supporting the ephemeral’. An MIT genetic engineer and an artist who creates works based on algorithms often relating to social media, discussed the cross-pollination between technology, engineering, and art, and the disappearing boundaries between nature and technology. I wouldn’t say the twain actually met, but the conceptual basis for both creators was eye-opening. How modern patrons deal with such things as strings of code or termite hives driven by math, I don’t quite know. Nor how you collect a piece like this below, by the legendary Barbara Kruger. Plaster the bumper stickers all over your rec room? But it’s not my problem, since, alas, I’m not in that princely strata.

Anyhow, it was a nice touch for Frieze to offer up a frisson of adventure by including the hyper-avant-garde, since the bulk of the art shown was the sort people hang on their walls, the domestic sort, which is not to say domesticated. So much for the death of painting. There were some striking pieces in the show proving that the lush reality of paint on canvas is an evergreen source of inspiration and repository of genius (despite the prognostications of Marcel Duchamp to the contrary). There were some novel bas reliefs and sculpture, and some innovative photography, and everything was eminently collectible even to my slightly jaded perspective. Here are a few artists I’m going to keep my eye on.

Below: Kim Dingle (an Angelena from the get-go): Duke Jars, Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles

Below: Raul De Nieves, Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery, Los Angeles… Yes, I went mad for this Disco elf and if I’d had a spare 10K in my pocket she would have come home with me.

Below: Koak, Altman Siegel, San Francisco… to me, this piece is about as timely as it gets… The imagery is swell: a court (or museum?) setting, a display of vessels, and a pissed off nude about to…

Below Paulina Olowska, Metro Pictures, New York… Sumptuous brushwork and a sly integration of the representational with mod graphic elements. Best of both worlds…

Then there was a selection of contemporary film screenings. I caught Paradox Bullets, by Tom Sachs. A fairly insider-y and conceptual piece, narrated by Werner Herzog, it starred Ed Ruscha (who, if you don’t know, is one of LA’s biggest art heroes). I found the film quite amusing and thought provoking and asked a provocative question of the directors, who did a Q&A afterward with Herzog. (Part of the reason for my attendance – I just had to hear Herzog’s voice in person.) Anyhow, you can read my review in an upcoming blog piece…

Frieze is not LA’s first rodeo as regards art fairs; there have been multiple fairs here before, but Frieze swished into town with an impressive provenance and a stellar crew of galleries. Though it might appear to be counterproductive in terms of competition, all the various art fairs that have happened here in the past decided to schedule them the same week. (Frieze calls it Frieze Week, which might appear to be a bit self-aggrandizing but Frieze does act a bit as a ring leader here and draws in all sorts of ancillary players.) Art Los Angeles Contemporary has been around for some time, and then there’s a newbie – Felix LA, a free and very popular fair staged at the Roosevelt Hotel, and an LA edition of Spring Break (hosted by a group that takes over disused buildings and leases for the week to galleries and individual artists whose sales yield them a percentage). Then there were three more: stART Up, Art in LA Affair, and Superfine fairs, which I was completely unaware of preceding Frieze. What this lovely 7 ring-circus wound up producing was a robust and jolly week all around town and an obvious attraction for local as well as foreign buyers and sellers. (I loved the focus of this gallerist below, from Galeria OMR, Mexico City. Not to mention his spunked up colors! )

The unspoken question on the tip of everyone’s lips here was whether or not this elaborate fantasy would actually yield hard-core transactions. (That’s another and huge topic and of course touches on the relative vigor of the world-wide market overall.) Yet, apparently exhibitors were not unpleased. Of course the big buzz about Frieze LA is the participation, as stakeholder in Frieze’s fair division, of the Endeavor Agency (originally a ‘talent’ agency for the film biz). Hollywood is finally waking up to the entertainment value of art. Compounding the noise about Endeavor’ is their attempt to escape a $400 million Saudi investment in Endeavor, post Khashoggi. (A fact reported in my new favorite art rag, out of the U.K.,The Art Newspaper; accessible writing in the art business is hard to come by. I also love Frieze, but that’s another, less scrutable but alluring animal altogether.) Then there is the major sponsorship of the fair by Deutsche Bank, whose entanglement with Trump could lead it into an embarrassing corner. But then that corner is getting a bit crowded these days with a lot of the world’s ‘big players’ .

Although LA’s arts community has undergone a deep transformation over the past decade or so, the heavy hitters in the film world  finally recognizing the arts is turning on the arc lights over a truly vital indigenous scene. This is a town of artists, if you didn’t know. Now whether or not LA becomes just another satellite of the larger apparatus of the global art market is yet to be determined but, as an Angeleno, I’m a believer in the homegrown aesthetics of a town that daily breathes the heady mix of languages, cultures, and aesthetics, oh, and sunshine. This town is poly-glot, poly-amorous, poly-morphous, and a little absurd, and no big wig ‘collectors’ or galleries can take that away from us.

One last comment on the fair: to their credit, Frieze bent over backward to promote every gallery and event going on that week. Staggering agenda. One thing I do know is that next year I’ll be sure to examine the program ahead of time and try to hit as many of these events as possible. The intellectual and visual stimulation going on all around town is fairly seismic (Oops, did I say that?) No really, this is a great week to hit Los Angeles, whether or not you’ve ever done so. (Allow a little risk into your lives! :@)

And Frieze 2020? If that isn’t a year to do a bang-up visual extravaganza, there never will be. I’m sure Frieze will be on top of their game. LMK if you make it to my hometown, the new Art Capital of the US :@)

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