Will Frieze Los Angeles Represent the “New Normal” for Art Fairs?
Interior view of Frieze Los Angeles 2020. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Frieze.
Cast your mind back, if you can, to February 2020. Before the lockdowns, before the online art fairs, before vaccination passes. That month, Frieze Los Angeles kicked off on Valentine’s Day without a mask mandate in sight.
Fast forward two years, and the subsequent edition of Frieze L.A. is very different. Having skipped 2021, the West Coast fair—about to stage its third edition—is returning to a much-changed world. In a new location (an enclosed tent adjacent to the Beverly Hilton), a larger roster of galleries, and new director Christine Messineo at the helm, will the fair offer galleries and collectors a glimpse of a more “normal” art market in 2022?
“There is a psychological need to put the last 24 months behind us,” said Massimo De Carlo, founder of the eponymous gallery with outposts in Milan, London, and Hong Kong. “At least that’s what I see in Italy and in general in Europe, so I’m expecting to see the same thing in California.” The dealer was anticipating mostly American visitors, rather than an international audience, to his booth, which will feature a presentation by McArthur Binion, Brian Rochefort, and Rob Pruitt, a representative of the gallery said.
Betye Saar, L.A. Energy, 1983, 5th Street between Flower Street and Grand Avenue. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles, California.
Dealers, unsurprisingly, are excited about the L.A. fair’s return to in-person events, and several are presenting ambitious pieces, such as Gagosian’s presentation of Chris Burden’s Dreamer’s Folly (2010), the sole work in the gallery’s booth and the first time it will be shown in the United States.
Elsewhere, Roberts Projects is showing a new site-specific installation by Betye Saar that reinterprets her 1983 city-commissioned mural L.A. Energy, which the 95-year-old artist will be creating in person, on site. “We’re not worried about walk-in sales, more about having the best booth,” said gallery co-owner Bennett Roberts, who is also showing works by Amoako Boafo, Brenna Youngblood, and Kehinde Wiley.
Some galleries were particularly excited about the new set of collectors that had popped up since the last Frieze L.A.: younger buyers working in tech, newly interested in purchasing from established galleries. Mira Dimitrova, director of sales at Stephen Friedman Gallery, said that the gallery had seen U.S. interest from collectors with tech and crypto backgrounds, and they expected to see more of those faces in L.A.: “It feels quite youthful at the moment and there are a lot of young collectors there,” she explained.
Of course, international art fairs in New York, Basel, Miami Beach, and London took place to some extent last year, and so collectors and dealers have a sense of what to expect. But there seems to be a strong feeling that, for local L.A. galleries, this is a major moment of communion for the city’s art scene. Luis De Jesus, whose gallery will participate for the first time in the fair’s L.A. Focus section, said that the Los Angeles fair provided vital engagement for the whole art scene: “It’s kind of like a house party for us.…Frieze is a hub around which other activities are organized.”
Kurt Mueller, a director at David Kordansky Gallery, said, “Frieze L.A. still feels new, even though it’s the third time.” He noted that, even though fairs have begun to take place in person internationally, the art-world circuit is still getting reacquainted with one another, and there is still a “collective effervescence” around the idea of being together at the fair.
Perhaps no one is more excited than Christine Messineo, who recently joined Frieze to direct its U.S. fairs, moving from Hannah Hoffman Gallery, through which she exhibited at the first edition of Frieze L.A. A resident of the city for the past six years, she is excited to portray the vibrancy of the local scene to an international audience, with 39 galleries from L.A. participating: “I know the fair is going to be an amazing representation of what’s actually happening right now in Los Angeles,” she said. She pointed to Frieze’s hosting of the BIPOC Exchange, a communal space located within the Beverly Hilton, which will present 10 local artist-led projects that focus on social impact. “That’s another way that we really reach out to the city,” Messineo said.
Indeed, Frieze’s emphasis on what’s happening in L.A. has kept it from experiencing some of the shipping and travel headaches that COVID-19 has caused, and continues to cause, for art dealers. By comparison, as many Asian art hubs continue to restrict travel, Art Basel in Hong Kong, which was postponed to May, has a higher contingent of remote participation—of the 137 galleries slated to take part, 82 will take the form of satellite booths, mostly due to international galleries avoiding the region’s onerous entry policies. COVID-19 has affected Asian galleries’ participating in Frieze L.A., too, with just two (Gallery Hyundai and Taka Ishii Gallery) slated to make it.
Seoul’s Kukje Gallery, which traveled to major fairs in Europe and the U.S. last year, had to pull out of Frieze L.A. “reluctantly” due to “the skyrocketed cost of shipment and uncertainties amidst the Omicron [variant],” a representative said.
But Frieze L.A. itself didn’t manage to entirely escape the challenges of the Omicron wave: This edition of Frieze was supposed to have a sculpture program held in an outdoor garden, which fell victim to supply chain and labor issues.
And yet—for the art world, at least—the worst of the pandemic’s effects is already softening, and the mood is bright for the season of art fairs ahead. “We’re definitely treating it like we’re back to normal,” Almine Rech managing partner Paul de Froment said, echoing what many gallerists told me. “We’re planning for a good outcome.”