Felix Art Fair
Hotel Roosevelt, Los Angeles
Art is Business. Business is ArtAttributed to Andy Warhol
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
The Felix Art Fair, held in the fabulous, storied Hotel Roosevelt in the heart of Hollywood (I stopped by Liza Minnelli’s star, Douglas Fairbanks and Louis Armstrong on my way inside) is usually a festive casual affair with the obligatory cocktail around the David Hockney painted pool. The fair normally fills four floors of the hotel and is a fun labyrinth to negotiate, although one invariably misses some galleries. This year, after the Covid 19 restrictions and quarantines were lifted, and before the Delta variant started to worry us, it was held in person, albeit as a much smaller, more intimate, very LA centric event, with 29 local galleries represented, all on the cabana level.
It’s always engaging to see how the galleries navigate the intimate space of a bedroom or a bedroom suite. Nino Mier had a solo showing of Jonathan Wateridge, whose figurative portraits echoed both Gerhard Richter blurred paintings and Alice Neel’s distinctive blue contour line. Wateridge’s theme of swimmers around the pool was perfect for the cabana setting. The Marc Selwyn gallery had a group show, including one of my favorite pieces – a tiny trompe l’oeil gem by Kristen Morgin, of unfired clay, paint and ink imitating a well- worn vintage children’s book. In keeping with the Hollywood theme, Selwyn also had another unfired clay piece by Morgin (in the shower!) paying homage to movies (Janet Leigh from Psycho) and Disney (Woody the Woodpecker).
David Kordansky hosted paintings and ceramic nose pots by Calvin Marcus. The lush, superheated intensely red/green hued tropical landscapes (the simultaneous contrast of the color relationships reminded me of Op Art of the sixties and Larry Poons palette in particular) were perfect for the cabana. The banana plants on the patio and Marcus’s frond paintings intentionally brought the outdoors inside, merging the painted with the real.
The hallways of this hotel were filled with large-scale color photographs from the 1960’s curated by MobArt Gallery that are so very Mad Men – the images a nostalgic look into the way we were. Nearby, from the Bert Hardy Advertising Archive, 1960, was a black and white image of a man “relaxing” (noteworthy for his crisp white shirt, slacks, and highly polished black shoes) which highlights how informal our society has become in the intervening 60 years.
Blum and Poe had a large suite and cleverly used the bar area as a bookstore. Umar Rashid’s (Frohawk Two feathers) painting in the bedroom was a quiet standout, an engaging mash up of colonial history. The Kohn Gallery treated their space like a regular exhibition with complete information wall text on each of their artists. It was a delightful oldies but goodies show with works by Wallace Berman, Bruce Connor, and Martha Alf, to name but a few. On a personal note, I lived in San Diego in the 1970’s and ran into a young man who told me his mother was an artist who painted toilet paper! And yes, that was Martha Alf’s son. Her minimalistic oil painting shown here using the ubiquitous roll of paper as a black cylinder against a searing red background is one of the best from that series. In light of the recent pandemic induced toilet paper scarcity and Walmart toilet paper wars this image has even more resonance. In the bathroom were handsome sepia toned silver gelatin prints taken by Edward Sheriff Curtis (more often known for his iconic portraits of Native American Chieftains) of the nascent DeMille Studio in 1925. Like so many LA galleries, the Kohn Gallery cleverly tied their exhibition to the LA’s history, often referencing the California Dream, the movies, the weather and even the freeways.
M+B Gallery had a novel concept and gave 5 artists solo shows on different days. When I visited on day number one, the young local painter Elmer Guevara’s work was on display. Luckily for him (and me) the irrepressible Jerry Saltz was live streaming then and spent quite awhile in front of Guevara’s mixed media painting examining the way immigrants risk everything to come to America. Currently Guevara, a graduate of California State University Long Beach, is getting his MFA from Hunter College. His work is about dislocation, inherited trauma (literally the complex story of his family is embedded under the skin of his self portraits- like a tattoo on the heart) and the ever -fraught tattered American Dream.
The Charlie James Gallery highlighted the low-relief painted plaster torsos by the veteran John Ahearn, whose sculptures pay homage to his Bronx neighbors and friends. His wonderfully quirky portraits of Devon and Freddy are two of them. The works are from 1989-2019 and each is accompanied by “words from the artist,” a text narrative that details the artist’s relationship to each subject and what is going on in their lives. These are poignant and intimate tales of love, loss, and illness. The last line of one of these tracts is the cheeky statement “Actually most of this is true.”
Gagosian, here at Felix for the first time, had a suite and used it quite well. In the bar area was a small framed iconic Tom Wesselmann – aptly titled “Study for a Bedroom Painting #74 (1983).” In the adjoining room, Duane Hanson’s hyper realistic lanky high school student (1990-2) leaned against the wall, a model of teenage self-involvement and ennui, frozen in a time warp that now is back in style. Sterling Ruby’s mixed media installation in the back room was a joyful romp. Ruby collects quilts and often uses sections of them as “collage” pieces -here he mixes fabric that he bleached and dyed with quilt sections and yarns that he washed in the washing machine (the tangled masses look like Phyllis Diller’s hair) as a unique bedspread. Hanging over the bed was Ed Ruscha’s large-scale work on paper of a single mattress, which at this time of rampant homelessness becomes a provocative and politically charged image. Normally a mattress connects us to intimate sensual acts, relaxation, sleep and creature comfort. But seen alone and unmade it becomes a forlorn and abject object in direct opposition to Ruby’s lively bedroom accouterments.
And in homage to Angelino’s fanatic obsession with car culture, the Matthew Brown Gallery showed the naturalistic freeway painting by Vincent Valdez of a procession of cars at twilight heading home in a daily tedious commute. Although The Felix Fair this year was smaller, more intimate, more hometown than in the past, it satisfied the real pent-up demand for the community to get together and to view art in person. Collectors were eager to buy and the gallerists seemed pleased with the sales generated. Though uneven, and sometimes disappointing, fairs still provide the viewer a chance to see new and occasionally surprising work in a compressed space and for that we are grateful. Looking forward to a more diverse, festive and international fair next year!
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles
July 29-August 1, 2021