Frieze launches inaugural L.A. art festival

On the back lot of Paramount Studios, Frieze Los Angeles built a five-acre replica of New York City, complete with pop-up restaurants, storefronts and art installations. (Kitty Guo/Daily Trojan)

For four days last week, artists and art lovers alike flocked to Paramount Studios to attend the first edition of Frieze Los Angeles from Feb. 15 to 17. Frieze is a contemporary art fair with shows in London, New York and, now, Los Angeles. Though L.A. has a thriving modern art scene, the city has lacked an international fair where galleries from around the world could sell to West Coast-based collectors.

Inside a large white tent on Paramount’s lot, 70 galleries from across the world displayed art in hopes of making sales. From large international galleries like Hauser & Wirth, to smaller L.A.-based galleries like The Pit, there was a diverse lineup of dealers and artists represented at the fair.

Though the event lacked a specific theme, many galleries devoted their booths to West Coast artists. Gagosian Gallery featured selected works from artists like Ed Ruscha and Jennifer Guidi, both of whom live and work in Los Angeles, while New York-based Acquavella Gallery dedicated its entire booth to California painter Wayne Thiebaud. The choice to exhibit so many California painters may have been an attempt to show fair visitors works they’d resonate with, inspiring local first-time collectors to make a purchase.

Still, some of the most intriguing booths at the fair exhibited artists with which first-time fair visitors may be unfamiliar. Gallery Hyundai, a Seoul-based gallery, showcased a diverse array of contemporary South Korean artists, including Minjung Kim, who creates works on mulberry paper, and Yeesookyung, a visual artist who creates sculptures out of broken pottery fragments.

Another standout was Commonwealth and Council, a smaller Los Angeles gallery that dedicated their booth to artists Rafa Esparza and Beatriz Cortez. The duo created an installation that combined manmade objects, like backpacks and discarded industrial materials, with dirt and cacti. The piece merged traditional Aztec beliefs with contemporary objects and featured a representation of the Aztec god Xolotl made out of adobe and placed in a steel object the artists referred to as a spaceship. Xolotl, the traditional protector of individuals who are considered ‘outsiders’ was protected by the contemporary.

In the back of the Paramount lot, art installations merged with film at Frieze Projects, which had site-specific installations. Curated by Ali Subotnick, Frieze Projects took place in Paramount’s five-acre reconstruction of New York City. Art, pop-up shops and restaurants overtook the fake city, and it featured works from artists like Barbara Kruger and Paul McCarthy.

While there was plenty to do, the focus of Frieze Projects seemed to lean toward the commercial spaces instead of the art itself. There was little separation between the stores and art installations, and the art was sometimes presented as features of the movie scenery. The installed works didn’t have descriptive text next to them, and their signs only told viewers the title of the work and the artist’s name.

However, Frieze Projects did have some standout installations. Tino Sehgal’s “This is Competition” was a performance piece featuring gallerists who represented the artist. The two gallerists explained Sehgal’s works to an audience but were only allowed to say one word at a time. This created an interesting dynamic between the two performers, as they alternated words and tried to form coherent sentences, which was an occasional success.

Trulee Hall’s “Infestation” consisted of green papier-mâché tentacles which snaked in and traced around a fake building, with an accompanying video installation inside the building. The papier-mâché tentacles seemed to draw inspiration from old science fiction movies and was a perfect addition to the Paramount backlot.

The fair also featured a selection of talks and film screenings, which took place in theaters across Paramount Studios. The talks mostly featured prominent members of the Los Angeles art scene, while the films they showed were created by artists from all over the world. The film programming served as more of an accompaniment to the gallery and projects section, and the close proximity of all three made it easy to indulge all of the fair’s components.

The fair was first and foremost an attempt to test the waters of Los Angeles’ art market and to see if there was any interest for an art fair in L.A. To its success, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Lana Del Rey and Kanye West attended the fair and tickets for the gallery section were sold out over a week before the fair’s opening.

By the end of Frieze LA’s final day, it seemed almost guaranteed that the inaugural fair would return for a 2020 edition.