Art Market

What Sold at Frieze Los Angeles

Nate Freeman
Feb 19, 2019 4:11PM

Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

Los Angeles has long played a supporting role in the drama—and, occasionally, comedy—that is the global art market. But last week, the cinema capital finally took a starring part in the narrative of how art is bought and sold.

The first edition of Frieze Los Angeles marked the entrance of the country’s second-biggest city into the international art fair circuit—and with great fanfare. Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jodie Foster were among the movie stars who came out in full force to Thursday’s VIP opening at Paramount Pictures Studios. More importantly for dealers, a number of the world’s biggest collectors were in town, and buying with enough consistency that most of the galleries in the small and focused 70-booth expo reported strong sales by the fair’s end on Sunday.

Frieze L.A. was the anchor of a city-wide contemporary art bonanza. There were satellite fairs such as Felix LA and the long-standing Santa Monica fair Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC); a dozen museum openings timed to the fair week; and nearly 100 gallery shows for visitors to peruse while in town. In all, it amounted to level of excitement on par with London’s Frieze Week bonanza, which has been held each October since 2003, and the fair’s New York edition, which will take place for the eighth year this May.

Frieze Projects, Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.


Frieze Fairs director Victoria Siddall said that generating local support was key to the success of this first edition.

“The city has really come out to support the fair,” she said. “All the significant collectors from L.A., all the museum directors—they’ve all been here, and they were here at 11 a.m. when the doors opened.”

Rumors that Frieze would open its third fair in L.A. began circling the organization in April 2016, when Endeavor, the entertainment powerhouse run by mega-agent Ari Emanuel, snapped up a chunk of Frieze’s holdings—which include the art fairs in three cities, Frieze magazine, and Frieze Academy, a more nascent educational events initiative (Endeavor’s stake is rumored to be between 50% and 70%). Frieze L.A. was formally announced in February 2018, but the fair’s success was far from a sure bet.

Problems have besieged art fairs in this sprawling, traffic-clogged city, even as the L.A. gallery circuit has thrived, and its constellation of world-class institutions have expanded with the opening of The Broad and the Marciano Art Foundation. Paris Photo ended its L.A. fair in 2016 after three editions, and the French art fair FIAC canceled an announced L.A. expansion before the first edition could even open. ALAC has remained a constant on the city’s art calendar, but has largely struggled to attract the very top tier of the world’s art galleries.

Paul McCarthy, Frieze Projects, Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

Siddall said what was missing was one clearly defined moment for collectors and curators to travel to L.A.

“Over the last five years, the art world has really continued to grow here, and the only thing it lacked, really, was this kind of moment to celebrate that extraordinary cultural scene,” she said. “It’s a city that had all the right ingredients; it just didn’t have that moment to tie it all together.”

Even so, Frieze dipped its toe into the L.A. waters: The fair’s modest size of 70 galleries was less than half the size of Frieze’s London and New York fairs, which have around 160 and 190 exhibitors, respectively. That means the directors could better ensure that each gallery chosen to participate received the attention from collectors they might not have gotten in a larger fair.

The choice of Paramount Pictures Studios helped combat the traffic and provided the fair with a central location, while allowing space to erect one Frieze’s signature white tents—this one designed by wHY, the studio founded by L.A.–based architect Kulapat Yantrasast. Paramount’s New York backlot provided additional square footage for Frieze Projects and a number of pop-up restaurants; it also caused double-takes for visitors in town from the Big Apple, with the rainy weather making the sets of SoHo apartments and subway stops look uncannily real.

Trulee Hall, Frieze Projects, Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

The approach worked. By the end of the fair’s final day Sunday, many galleries were reporting sold-out booths, and several big-ticket sales would have been notable at any of Frieze’s locations: Hauser & Wirth sold Mike Kelley’s Unisex Love Nest (1999) to a European foundation for $1.8 million, and Lévy Gorvy sold Günther Uecker’s Spirale III (2002), which had an asking price of $1.2 million, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets (B-A-Y) (2001), which had an asking price of $1.6 million.

Lévy Gorvy senior partner Emilio Steinberger said it wasn’t just the numbers that Frieze L.A. was putting up that had impressed his team.

“We were pleasantly surprised, not only about the sales, but about the quality of the people coming by,” he said. “We weren’t sure where our expectations were. It’s a different crowd than Miami, less international, but not having come with any expectation in advance, the quality of the people seem very good.”

Installation view of Mike Kelley, Unisex Love Nest, 1999, at Frieze, Los Angeles, 2019. © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VG Bild-Kunst, Berlin, Germany. Photo by Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Other notable sales from throughout Frieze L.A.’s run included:

It wasn’t just big, internationally recognized names who fared well during Frieze Los Angeles. Siddall was careful to lean heavily on L.A.–based galleries, working closely with Bettina Korek, executive director of Frieze L.A. and founder of the local cultural force ForYourArt, who has long been a presence in the city’s art scene.

Günther Uecker
Spirale III, 2002
Lévy Gorvy

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Nets (B-A-Y), 2001. Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy.

All told, 24 galleries that currently have spaces in L.A. participated in the fair’s first edition. The strategy helped generate a healthy flow of foot traffic between those galleries’ booths and their brick-and-mortar spaces in town. Ghebaly Gallery, which was founded in 2009 by François Ghebaly and now occupies a 12,000-square-foot space in downtown L.A., had works on view by Kelly Akashi, Neïl Beloufa, Sayre Gomez, Patrick Henry Johnson, and Kathleen Ryan, and director Gan Uyeda said that the gallery’s local collectors showed up in full force.

“I haven’t really seen too many new connections, but we’re shoring up the connections that we have,” he said. “And what’s amazing is the energy that it’s bringing to the show that we have at our gallery downtown—the traffic there has been amazing. It’s great to have the whole city organize its calendar around one thing.”

Kayne Griffin Corcoran, another local powerhouse, also said that the city’s institutions and collectors had thrown their weight behind the new fair, reporting that the Hammer Museum had acquired a Mary Corse work on paper from the gallery’s booth for $150,000. The gallery also sold a work by fellow Light and Space artist James Turrell for $350,000. In addition to loyal Angelinos, director Beatrice Shen reported a strong turnout of collectors from China and Korea, who she said wouldn’t have come to L.A. without the draw of an international fair like Frieze.

Tara Donovan, Drawing (Pins), 2017. Courtesy of Pace.

“Not only are they coming to the fair, but a lot of them have now gone to the gallery,” which was showing Beverly Pepper, Shen said. “It’s really great to see not only what we have up here, but the permanent space, the back rooms, the day to day.” Shen noted that the gallery had done ALAC in the past, but that fair mainly drew a local crowd.

Nick Buckley Wood, who is based in Hong Kong as the Asia director for Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac—a mega-gallery with spaces in Salzburg, London, and Paris—said he, too, had many clients from Asia come by the booth.

“All the heavy hitters were here,” he said. “A lot of my clients came over from Asia because it’s much easier to come to L.A. than New York or even Miami. There’s direct flights from everywhere—Tokyo, Korea, Hong Kong, China.” He said more of his clients had come to Frieze L.A. than December’s Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Sales were strong, too. By the end of the first day, Thaddaeus Ropac had sold Andy Warhol’s Georgia O’Keeffe (1980) for $875,000; two Antony Gormley sculptures for £400,000 (approx. $517,000) each; and two Alex Katz paintings, CK 23 (2017) and Coca-Cola Girl 12 (2018), for $750,000 and $550,000, respectively.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Stripe 1), 2019. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

Bridget Riley, Measure for Measure 25, 2018. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

The strong presence of world-class, well-endowed institutions in Los Angeles—the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Hammer Museum; and the Getty Museum, just to name a few—led many galleries to bring presentations of artists they believe may be underrepresented in those institutions’ holdings. In particular, dealers featured women artists who had been ignored by the market, but are now seeing a resurgence. Jeffrey Deitch brought a solo booth of works by Judy Chicago; Sprüth Magers had an almost all-female booth of artists from its stable; and Almine Rech brought the explosive floral-like paintings of Vivian Springford, a pioneering feminist Abstract Expressionist who was ignored for most of her career.

Ethan Buchsbaum, director of Almine Rech’s gallery in New York, said that three of Springford’s works had sold on opening day for figures between $50,000 and $75,000. He said the gallery’s choice of a solo booth reflected intense collector interest in the artist, who passed away in 2003, and an effort to provide more context around her full creative output.

“We wanted to provide enough context for people to really see the trajectory of what Vivian was doing,” he said. “A solo booth at a fair is kind of the ideal way to get a cross-section of that work.”

Frieze L.A. did attract fewer collectors from London and other European art market meccas than art fairs on the East Coast. For Europeans, a flight to Los Angeles is an unenviable part of attending in a Tinseltown fair: One London dealer told me that he cancelled his upcoming flight to Art Basel in Hong Kong while in the air on the way to Los Angeles, fed up with the intense travel schedule the international fair circuit demands.

Installation view of Shirazeh Houshiary's solo presentation at Lehman Maupin's booth at Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Courtesy of Lehman Maupin.

But the European dealers who made the trek found success among the American buyers who showed up. Thomas Dane Gallery, which has two spaces in London and one in Naples, brought three works by Hurvin Anderson, the English artist who has been having a market moment following his 2017 Turner Prize nomination. He achieved a new auction record in 2017 during the Frieze London auctions when Peter’s Series: Back (2008) sold for £1.8 million, or around $2.4 million, against a valuation of £600,000–£900,000; and last year, during the Frieze London sales, a small work estimated to sell for £350,000 to £550,000 tripled the high estimate and sold for £1.9 million, or roughly $2.5 million.

The Anderson works at Frieze L.A. came from different points in his career—one from 2004, one from 2017, and a new work being offered fresh from the studio. By the end of the first day, all had sold for prices between £160,000 (approx. $207,000) and £1.5 million (approx. $1.9 million).

The success of this inaugural edition of the fair led some to question whether Frieze Los Angeles will stick with just 70 galleries, or expand in line with the size of its New York and London counterparts. Siddall confirmed that any expansion would require the fair to find a new space—the tent at Paramount cannot fit a single more booth comfortably—and said they aren’t currently looking. But she also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of expanding the fair in the future.

Siddall’s clients weren’t keen on an expansion. Multiple dealers said they loved the intimacy of the fair, and collectors who I spoke with thought that cutting that fat made for a lean and mean art-fair machine, easy to navigate and with fewer presentations that flopped.

Installation view of Thaddaeus Ropac's booth at Frieze Los Angeles, 2019. Courtesy of Thaddaeus Ropac.

Steinberger, the senior partner at Lévy Gorvy, said he would expect Frieze to add a few more galleries next year. “But I hope they wouldn’t try to make this another huge fair, because that would be chaotic,” he said.

Buckley Wood, from Thaddaeus Ropac, also encouraged restraint. “If they expand too fast, it might not be as successful,” he said.

Size aside, Siddall did guarantee that Frieze Los Angeles wouldn’t be going the way of Paris Photo and FIAC L.A., and said that the art world should mark off February 2020 for a flight out to sunny California.

“We’re here for the long term,” she said.

Nate Freeman