Frieze Mania: The First Frieze Art Fair in Los Angeles
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
Los Angeles is having a moment as The Frieze Art Fair of London and New York fame came to Los Angeles for the first time. Heavily anticipated, it did not disappoint. Situated at Paramount Studio (how appropriate) in a specially designed tent by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture, 70 carefully vetted galleries (mostly, but not all very big names) had plenty of space to hang well-curated exhibitions. Fun fact — the tent “is built over an area which could be flooded with over a million gallons of water to film aquatic scenes, from The Ten Commandments (1956) to Waterworld (1995). The 177-foot wide mural wall, painted like the sky completes the illusion.” This tidbit is from the Frieze week Los Angeles 2019 guide.
Now back to the art. Many of the 70 galleries choose to exhibit well-known artists in essentially solo shows. Jeffrey Deitch showcased the early vibrant color field abstract drawings and sculptures of Judy Chicago before she developed her signature feminist work. Chicago’s small color pencil serial imagery — striped drawings in Easter egg colors — reveal the artist’s hand and therefore quietly subvert the cult of minimalism while using colors deemed to be feminine. Her hard- edged zigzag lightning bolt floor sculpture falls squarely in the canon of male-dominated color and light works. The exhibit looked stunningly fresh and it was lovely to see these pieces together.
Hauser and Wirth showed a large Mike Kelley installation of a kitschy child’s bedroom, replete with a vintage television, showing a video entitled “Cross Gender/Cross Genre” (1999), which is a grouping of films and interviews as part of Re-Make/Re-Model: Secret Histories of Art, Pop, Life and the Avant-Garde. Entitled Unisex Love Nest and made in 1999, this is the first time the piece has been shown in Los Angeles. Another engaging show was Kim Dingle’s paintings and mixed media works at Susan Vielmetter. Her mad-as-hell and rebellious little girls are definitely not made of sugar and spice. They seethe in dramatic fashion and appear about to jump out of the canvas and bite the viewer’s jugular. But the star of this small but potent exhibition is Dingle’s subversive and visually complex mixed-media version of Picasso’s Guernica.
One always hopes for surprises at art fairs -to turn a corner and discover an unexpected and previously unknown artist. For me, it was finding the poignant, highly personal oil paintings of Hugh Steers. These oil paintings of intimate scenes, frequently seen through doorways, of gay men and drag queens dressing up in heels, are somber and investigate the queer gaze. The viewer here is a voyeur seeing small moments and quiet interactions between two young men that are pregnant with meaning and subtext. In the small oil on gessoed paper entitled, sweetly and sadly, Valentine, 1987, one man is holding up another who seems to go limp. One realizes that these were painted during the height of AIDS contagion, when no one could envision a cure. Steers himself eventually contracted AIDS and documented his own rapid decline with brutal honesty. I had not been aware of Steers before seeing these works which reminds us of the devastation of the Aids plague, when we lost a generation of talented souls.
This Frieze Fair held at Paramount Studios had the advantage of a huge and bustling back lot that allowed the viewer to wander the “streets” of New York City and see art cleverly displayed in and out of the buildings. Hannah Greeley’s site-specific installation of items hanging from the tenements was fabulous and so very appropriate. Entitled High and Dry, Greeley mingled rainbows, and clouds alongside the two -dimensional clothes hanging jauntily on the clothesline. The piece looked striking against the dark and stormy skies.
It was clearly a place to see and be seen and there were some good outfits.
As I was charging my phone (never forget to bring your portable charger along), Istanbul arts writer and collector Berrin Saran, all in leopard skin with a Bob Dylan-like leopard skin pillbox hat with a feather, sat down next to me. Across the way, in front of a Vivian Springford color field stained painting at Almine Rech, was the stunning Tuck Muntarbhorn with his aerodynamic navy hat. Suddenly, two nattily dressed gallerists swept past me talking excitedly about how much they had sold-always a good sign.
It’s important to remember that Frieze actually started as a hip art magazine in 1991- with a golden ochre Damien Hirst butterfly on a cool blue background on the cover of their very first issue. The editors then talked about starting an art fair and were inspired to do so when the Tate Modern opened in 2000. The first Frieze London was a rousing and unexpected success when it opened its doors in 2003. Then came Frieze New York and now Frieze Los Angeles. In 2016, Endeavor, a Los Angeles based conglomerate, was the “first outside investor” (according to the Frieze Week magazine) to join the company and that brought Hollywood moguls into the mix. The rigorously researched exhibitions (from 2013 -2018) entitled Pacific Standard Time examined the underrated Los Angeles art scenes of the 50’s to the present, which was so very influential by launching extensive museum and gallery shows. The combination of these events made Los Angeles the logical place for the next Frieze Art Fair.
It was a crazy week as there was so much art to see. Some of the other art fairs here were The Felix Art Fair (Hollywood), StartUp(Venice), Superfine (DTLA), and the raw, funky Spring Break in storage units in DTLA to name but a few. Palm Springs, a mere two hours away hosted their art fair as well. This was an auspicious beginning for The Frieze Art Fair Los Angeles and there is already talk of a bigger tent next year. We can hardly wait. Bring it on (and don’t forget your charger and comfortable shoes!)