How Oscar Weekend Launched a Buying Spree for L.A.’s Art Collectors
Photo by Caleb George.
There’s usually a picture-perfect view of the Hollywood sign from the balcony of what was once Cary Grant’s Spanish Colonial Revival house in Los Feliz, the hilly neighborhood in Los Angeles by Griffith Park. But last Friday was one of the approximately three-dozen days a year when it rains in L.A., and the sign was obscured by rolling clouds, nothing visible beyond the hanging gardens that engulf the house.
“It’s actually great that it’s raining,” said Jeffrey Deitch, bounding down the stairs of the classic La La Land manse, which he purchased in 2010, passing Warhols and a Jordan Wolfson wall work and plenty of technicolor Gaetano Pesce sofas. “We’ve been desperate for it.”
Deitch has been spending more time in Los Angeles as he readies a new 15,000-square-foot gallery out here for its September opening—his grand return to the West Coast after leaving the directorship of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 2013—and this particular weekend was a critical one. The run-up to the Academy Awards ceremony sees Los Angeles at its most frenzied, but it’s also a key window for the city’s galleries to show off for the art-collecting entertainment big shots—and, increasingly, tech world titans—who fly into town for the festivities. And he’s not the only one placing a big bet on L.A. in early spring. Next year, Los Angeles will officially become a stop on the global art world circuit when Frieze opens a fair in Paramount Studios, which will run the week prior to the Oscars festivities, creating a two-week boondoggle for collectors to snap up canvases and hit all the movie parties.
Why hasn’t this happened before? Several international art fairs have, in fact, tried and failed to set up shop in Los Angeles. FIAC, the Paris fair which will have its 45th edition this October, was set to open an edition here in 2015, but it was first postponed, and then canceled. Paris Photo had an L.A. iteration from 2013 to 2015, but cancelled the fair after just three years because, as a representative for the parent company put it, “the level of sales during Paris Photo Los Angeles is not sufficient to support such a Fair and to offer our exhibitors the best conditions of return on their investment.”
But Deitch insists that this time is different.
“I was there when Norman Braman was trying to bring Art Basel to Miami Beach, and that’s what this feels like,” Deitch said, walking past the stained glass windows that were built into the house.
“Everyone is going to come, it will be just a new spot on the schedule—Asian collectors, Latin American collectors,” Deitch said. “People want to be a part of the scene here—they can relax here.”
Los Angeles does share a number of elements that made Miami such an attractive city for a European-based art fair company to put down roots. There’s a ravenous and unabashedly rich base of collectors both young and old, clusters of white-hot galleries, big mansions with wallspace to be filled, and museums that constantly need to replenish their holdings with fresh material. There’s a rich institutional landscape full of deep-pocketed boards—the Hammer Museum recently announced that it has raised $133 million of a $180 million fundraising goal, LACMA inched closer to its long-awaited new building with a $150 million donation from David Geffen, and the Getty is still attracting new donors despite being the richest art institution on earth, with an endowment of nearby $7 billion. There are also newer private museums, such as the Broad (founded by Eli Broad, dubbed the “Lorenzo de’ Medici of Los Angeles” by The New Yorker) and the Marciano Art Foundation, and George Lucas is building his $1 billion museum in the city’s Exposition Park, set to open in 2021.
Frieze may have more of a fighting chance to succeed where others failed, thanks to a built-in entree into Tinseltown’s inner sanctum: mega-agent Ari Emanuel, whose company Endeavor—a talent and events business that reps Ben Affleck, Tina Fey, and others—purchased an initially undisclosed slice of Frieze in 2016; ArtReview later pegged the stake at 70 percent. Deitch himself is one degree away from Frieze—he is Emanuel’s informal advisor and often curates shows from work in Emanuel’s collections. For Emanuel’s famed pre-Oscars party on Saturday night, attended by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Stone, Deitch chose work by young artists of color to install at the bash, which was held at a Beverly Hills home that formerly belonged to Paul McCartney.
In the days leading up to the Oscars, the city’s rapidly intensifying art-social circuit was on full display, with a number of openings, dinner parties, and plenty of art being sold. The spree began as early as Wednesday, when Guess co-founders Maurice and Paul Marciano hosted a dinner for the opening of Olafur Eliasson’s Reality projector (2018) at the private museum they opened last year, located in a former Masonic Temple on the outskirts of Koreatown. That was a mere run-up for Thursday’s festivities, the opening of the annual Oscar week show at Gagosian’s Los Angeles outpost.
Installation view of Damien Hirst “The Veil Paintings” at Gagosian, Los Angeles. Photo by Emily Berl for Artsy.
This marathon of a night began at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s venerable watering hole, the Polo Lounge, and then onto the gallery, where hundreds of people saw Damien Hirst’s new exhibition, “The Veil Paintings.” It kicked off a week of art selling out at galleries—all 24 works in the show sold by dinner, for prices between $400,000 and $1.6 million, Gagosian confirmed. For the select few, there were cocktails on the gallery’s roof, which has a little garden displaying work by Sterling Ruby. There, the model Karlie Kloss talked to the artist Alex Israel, and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, the youngest billionaire on the planet, hovered nearby. He was described to me by one dealer as “the one all the dealers are after.” Even though he’s barely filled the walls of the $12 million Brentwood house he bought last year, he’s seen as part of the next generation of Los Angeles collectors.
The tech macher conga line snaked the night—when I was getting ready to fire up the Uber app and get a car home, I turned to see Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, sitting next to me at the bar at Mr. Chow during the dinner for Hirst. Sources said the artist left the dinner in his honor and didn’t make it to his own after party—but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos did, and on Tuesday, he was named the richest person on the planet, with a net worth of $112 billion, according to Forbes.
On Friday, I made my way to Deitch’s, with the steam billowing from above the heated pool. Hung by the front door was an invitation to the first show Deitch ever put together, which included work by Joseph Beuys. The artist received the card in the mail, signed it, and sent it back to Deitch—“My prized possession,” he said. In the dining room, there was a table designed for him by Urs Fischer, featuring Deitch posing for Robert Longo’s famed “Men in the Cities” series, where he photographed ’80s figures as if they were in a mid-dance state of ecstacy, and an image of Cary Grant running from the airplane in North By Northwest. (The home’s former owner is also featured in the room’s den, where on the wall is a gigantic Kurt Kauper painting of the actor fully nude, walking through the house.) Deitch commissioned Israel to paint a mural in the bedroom, and there’s a very early Warhol in the guest bedroom, which is going to be loaned to the Whitney for the giant retrospective planned for this November.
We had originally planned to meet at the new gallery space, but the construction workers can’t work in the rain (Los Angeles more or less shuts down when it rains). It’s a breezy 15-minute drive from the house to the gallery, and when the programming starts in early September, he’ll use the house for dinners and events. The gallery is in a neighborhood that’s south of Hollywood and close to Paramount Studios, just an eight-minute drive. Galleries such as Regen Projects, Various Small Fires, and Hannah Hoffman are so close to Deitch’s space, you could walk there without Angelenos giving you weird looks—when the fair opens in February, all those spots will have shows up, creating a center of gravity in the sprawling town.
Even if it’s opening five months into Deitch’s programming, the planning for Frieze L.A. is already very much underway; when I ran into director Victoria Siddall at the Hirst opening, she said they’ve already started whittling away applicants for the founding exhibitor list, which will set the tenor of the fair. Unlike Frieze New York, which has 190 galleries per year on Randall’s Island, Frieze Los Angeles will have just around 60 galleries.
“That’s the problem right now, figuring out which galleries will make it in,” Siddall said, with an easy smile that made her appear not the least bit concerned.
Saturday morning saw more evidence of the growing appetite for art in Los Angeles: A ten-deep mob of people clutching iPhones swelled around a building downtown, mucking up traffic as cars slowed to catch a glimpse of the action. But it wasn’t some star-studded Oscars Eve happening—it was the line to get into the Broad, the private museum opened by the collectors Eli and Edythe Broad in 2015 to instant acclaim and crowds. The queue was primarily to get into Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, the 2013 Yayoi Kusama work that inspired hours-long waits when it debuted at David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery in New York. The Broads acquired it in 2014, and the rest is selfie history. (The wait to get that precious selfie last Saturday: 250 minutes.)
From the Broad, past a throng of taco stands and Thai food hawkers at Grand Central Market, the pastel-colored huts of the Toy District, and the web of yakitori spots in Little Tokyo, one arrives at the industrial feel of the Arts District, which is now anchored by Hauser & Wirth’s complex in a former Pillsbury flour mill. The Swiss-based mega-gallery’s L.A. outpost has three separate gallery spaces, an education lab, a bookstore, a gift shop, and a charming restaurant, Manuela, whose walls are hung with profane anti-Trump drawings, which Hauser artist Paul McCarthy likes to scribble onto stationery when he comes by. The first gallery had ten new paintings by Mark Bradford, all of which sold in the show’s opening days for figures between $2.5 million and $5 million, setting the tone for more sales to come. The guestbook for the Bradford show had been signed by Tracey Emin and Sam Taylor-Johnson, the Turner Prize nominee who also directed the first Fifty Shades of Grey movie.
Casey Fremont Crowe, director of the Art Production Fund, was strolling the Arts District that Saturday. She had, earlier in the week, unveiled a new project with New York artist Zoë Buckman at The Standard Hollywood, a neon work called Champ. It soars nearly 50 feet over the Sunset Strip, and it is something—“a glowing white neon outline of an abstracted uterus with fiberglass boxing gloves in place of ovaries,” according to the fund’s website.
Crowe is based in New York, but said that L.A. during Oscar weekend was now firmly on the calendar for her.
“It makes sense to take advantage of the crowds who come to town for the awards,” she said. “I’m sure it will become the next must-attend destination.”
Sunday saw the opening of a gallery consortium space-sharing experiment, something similar to (though not associated with) Condo, the gallery share that Carlos/Ishikawa co-owner Vanessa Carlos started in 2016, allowing London spots to host gallery programs in other countries. Three Los Angeles galleries—Hannah Hoffman, Kristina Kite, and Park View—would be hosting a dozen spaces from overseas, including Düsseldorf’s Max Meyer, Cologne’s Jan Kaps, and Tokyo’s Misako & Rosen.
And Sunday was also, of course, the Oscars. Deitch said he used to enjoy attending the ceremony when he was director of MOCA, taking in the full majesty of Hollywood. It was a reminder that, however big the art scene gets in Los Angeles, it will always be second banana to the movie business. After The Shape of Water won Best Picture, stars went on to a variety of parties—the Governor’s Ball, the Vanity Fair party, the under-wraps bash at the Chateau Marmont garage thrown by Jay-Z and Beyonce for Time’s Up. But Deitch said he was already looking ahead—The Armory Show was set to open in New York, and the next stop on the global art tour beckoned.