Frieze Art Week in LA
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
Outside it was all Diebenkorn blue skies, bright light and a balmy 72 degrees as visitors gathered to enter the big white tent at Paramount Studios (designed by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture) for the second, eagerly awaited Frieze LA. Thursday was VIP day (think film, TV and music celebrities plus big collectors) and Friday, when I went, was press day. Upon entering the space, one was greeted by a large-scale cartoon-like Ruby Neri ceramic figure, brightly glazed in a Viola Frey manner. It was clear from this piece and the adjacent galleries that there would be high-quality works of art thoughtfully installed.
I immediately came upon a lively Rashid Johnson mixed-media piece at the David Kordansky gallery, made of ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, bronze, oil stick, black soap and wax, which had echoes of Basquiat and shades of Jack Whitten. Next door was the Gagosian gallery, which had a clever concept embracing LA’s reputation as a car capital (entitled “Shrink LA”) and only showing work related to the automobile and LA’s entrenched car culture. There was a brightly painted car parts sculpture by John Chamberlain, an entire darkly painted trashed car by Richard Prince, a photograph of Andy Warhol in a car, a text piece by Ed Ruscha entitled “Car Parts” and other pieces by Jean- Michael Basquiat, Alex Israel, and Cady Noland, among many others. The very naturalistic sidewalk that was constructed by Robert Therrien fits perfectly in this world of make believe. Regen Projects had a messy Elliot Hundley but a spectacular Lari Pittman. I spied a lovely, seemingly unfinished small Lucian Freud oil painting at Jack Shainman Gallery. Xavier Hufkens Gallery had some gorgeous Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, and a recent Julie Mehretu.
Indeed, the fair was turning out to be a very tasty smorgasbord of blue-chip artists, as I next saw an elegant Robert Rauschenberg, tarnish and silkscreen on brass, and a fairly recent (2016) triple portrait by Alex Katz, whose work remains vivacious if predictable. Spruth Magers Gallery, had a 2015 piece by the wonderful and beloved John Baldessari that I had never seen entitled “Joey Rummages Around…” Theaster Gates had a witty neon piece from 2018, just the contour of a head, entitled “Afro,” at White Cube. Next up at the Gladstone Gallery was a small but radiant Shirin Neshat self- portrait from 1995 entitled “Identified.” This is just a small accounting of the of the vast range of works – both painting and sculptural – from Eric Fischl to Neo Rauch to even Sarah Lucas’ witty “Bunny Gets Snookered, ” which I encountered as I moved from one well-curated and well lit space to the next.
Some galleries featured solo shows by younger or less well-known artists.
Glendale’s The Pit gallery had mixed media paintings (acrylic, airbrush, glitter, and flocking on panel) by LA Latinx artist Jaime Munoz, which reference specific Mexican cultural ceramic objects, iconic trucks, painted in a precise, hard-edged manner. Anat Ebgi had a mixed-media installation of flat, hard-edged paintings by Greg Ito that speaks about his grandparents’ interment in a relocation camp and their subsequent romance. The paintings are situated in a dream-like stylized painted room.
One of my favorite exhibitions was comprised of Gladys Nilsson’s twelve watercolors on paper from 1965 to 1992. I have followed her career from the start with The Chicago Hairy Who and The Imagists. Delightfully quirky, inventive and witty, this exhibit by the Parker Gallery was very special and a homage to the exuberant 79 year-old artist. Rock on, Gladys, Rock on!
Another treat and not to be missed was the LA Louver exhibit of Alison Saar’s poignant and ever so powerful mixed–media sculptures. “Sorrow’s Kitchen,” 2020, made of wood, acrylics, spray tar, ceiling tin and linoleum, speaks to the profound sorrows that black domestics and enslaved women have suffered. Her use of abandoned and unmoored objects to further her specific narrative and her superb craftsmanship make the work a standout -even in this heady company.
Then I happened on Vielmetter gallery’s lively solo exhibition of Genevieve Gaignard, who does performance work and shows mixed -media collages and assemblage created from thrift store goodies like vintage clocks, tchotchkes and that wonderful turquoise luggage of yore. Gaignard’s engaging and extroverted work (much like the artist herself) is unabashedly colorful and whimsical while posing questions about gender and race, and exhorting us to “Sell To Black Collectors.”
Another bright and festive space was Salon 94, showcasing the effervescent Derrick Adams, along with Lyle Ashton Harris, Amy Bessone, Laurie Simmons, and Thomas Barger. Adams created the wallpaper, which brought everything together and practically shouted party time!
Then I lurched outside to see what was going on at the back lot. I must admit to missing Hannah Greeley’s site-specific installation “High and Dry,” commissioned for the first Frieze LA fair. Its clothesline filled with painted rainbows and painted clothes hung from one NYC tenement building to the other and unified the back lot. This year the Frieze Projects curators Rita Gonzalez and Pilar Tompkins Rivas wrote “this selection for Frieze Projects presents a constellation of artists whose practices traverse cultural, political, historical and material concerns…”
Among the artists they chose for the back lot is Lorna Simpson, an African –American conceptual photographer, whose work centers on identity, (“I loved her “Wigs,” 1994), and here shows a video entitled “Momentum” of African American dancers, which is only minimally engaging. Mungo Thompson’s amusing piece entitled “Snowman,” painted bronze, is a mash up of Pop Art (think Warhol’s Brillo Boxes,) trompe l’oeil (Daniel Douke’s painted cardboard boxes) and looks like a stack of three Amazon boxes, each a little smaller than the one it rests on. Imagine the surprise of the porch pirate who tries to steal this painted bronze art piece! It did fool me and I have to admit that I snuck a forbidden touch. Tavares Strachan’s neon sign tucked inconspicuously into a corner of the back lot is easy to miss. It spells out “Sometimes lies are prettier.” The curators see this as “summoning Hollywood’s power to drive fantasy but also the dark drives that have become a political reality in the age of so-called post -truth.” I just thought it was a play on the mini-series “Pretty Little Lies,” about women in the Bay area and their trials and tribulations.
With the Felix Art Fair up the street at The Roosevelt Hotel, Superfine and Spring Break in DTLA, The Palm Springs Art Fair and the Start Up art fair in Venice, it was a crazed but satisfying week. Impossible to see everything, even in just one fair! I apparently missed one whole aisle inside, Frieze where James Turrell’s work was shown at both Pace and Kayne Griffin! Sigh. It was still a very satisfying visual “meal” – blending the art historical work from the 1960’s with new, young and vibrant artists of today. We look forward to next year!