Los Angeles is open for business again

Near the Gagosian stand late on Thursday afternoon, during the VIP preview at Frieze Los Angeles, a woman dressed head-to-toe in black surveyed the aisles with a sweeping glance, then declared to a friend, “Look at all these people: this is a good sign.” They were quickly swept up by the throngs of visitors who had been pouring into the fair at a steady stream since the doors officially opened at 10am. The influx of high-level collectors, celebrities and art-world devotees continued well into the early evening until the doors closed.

Compared to last year’s art fairs—including what many consider to be the pinnacle of fairdom in the US, Art Basel in Miami Beach—Frieze Los Angeles was booming. So far, it has been the closest thing to what the art world looked and felt like pre-pandemic. The fair is coinciding with what some are calling a “second wave” of East Coast and European galleries expanding their footprints and putting stakes in the ground in Los Angeles. These expansions and the swarm of visitors suggest that the market in Los Angeles, for years a town on the verge of becoming “the next big city” in art, has finally arrived.

Jeff Koons’s Gazing Ball (Antinous-Dionysus) (2013) sold for just under $3m ​​at Pace Photo: Helen Stoilas

Sales during Thursday’s preview were brisk at both hometown galleries and their global counterparts. A 2013 Jeff Koons work at Pace, Gazing Ball (Antinous-Dionysus), took the title of highest disclosed price, selling for just under $3m. It also garnered a good bit of attention from passersby who pondered their reflections in the shiny blue orb that precariously sits on the head of a plaster, Roman bust. Also notable at Pace’s stand was a large-scale painting by Paulina Olowska, Artist’s Flea Market (2021), that sold for $200,000.

Pace is one of the megas moving west. The gallery announced in early February that it had acquired Los Angeles’s Kayne Griffin gallery in turnkey fashion. The staff will stay on, the founders will become managing partners at Pace and, in April, they will change the name on the door. One could expect a certain degree of antagonism, especially since Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian have been in town for years (the former acquiring a reputation for poaching an artist here and there from smaller local galleries with whom they shared representation), and both Lisson and David Zwirner are on the way. But that is not particularly the case.

“When you have more shows and more artists, you end up with a more informed conversation,” says the Los Angeles-based gallerist Hannah Hoffman. “I really believe in being educated by galleries. We all have specific programs informed by a personal vision, and the more layers there are to that story, the better.” Galleries like hers, locally run by a younger set, saw a lot of foot traffic throughout the VIP preview day. Chateau Shatto, one of the most well regarded of the rising Los Angeles galleries, placed work both prior to the fair and during, with most of their stand sold out or spoken for within a few hours of opening. Three of a suite of six paintings by the artist Van Hanos were prominently displayed in the gallery’s stand, the style of each radically different from the one next to it. Each was priced at $28,000, with four of the six sold before the fair and the remaining two spoken for by midday. Two works by John Negron were bought by a private collector who acquires for a public foundation in Taipei, Taiwan, for $12,000 each.

Pre-selling is common but sometimes works against a gallerist looking to expand their client base. Jessica Silverman, whose San Francisco-based gallery is participating for the first time, limited the number of pre-sold works she brought so she could take advantage of the dynamic atmosphere to have in-depth conversations with collectors. Among her sales were the artist’s proof of a large-scale Woody De Othello bronze for $400,000 and a large Clare Rojas painting for $150,000.

The constantly moving crowds, the muted rumble of conversations and the smack of air kisses muffled by masks made the fair a decidedly Los Angeles event. Celebrity sightings were common, with some famous attendees disguised in large hoodies and sunglasses, while others had an entourage of bodyguards. Will Ferrell was seen chatting up friends while roaming the aisles and Matt Dillon was engrossed in conversation with a gallerist at Carlos/Ishikawa. The energy was almost palpable and perhaps best summed up by the singular Pierce Brosnan. Shortly after arriving, he told The Art Newspaper he was thrilled to see so many people out and enjoying the art. He took a deep breath and, after surveying the space, said, “It really fills the heart with joy.”

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