Action! Cinematic works abound at Frieze Los Angeles as galleries go all out for glamour

First LA edition of the British fair focuses on local artists and pieces that speak to a Hollywood crowd

Blum & Poe booth at Frieze Los Angeles Photo: David Owens

Blum & Poe booth at Frieze Los Angeles Photo: David Owens

As the first Frieze art fair in Los Angeles opened among the fake New York stoops and production trailers at Paramount studios on Thursday, a parade of Hollywood stars braved the torrential rain, scurrying into the tent beneath bright pink umbrellas that matched Frieze’s branding.

“The rain is dramatic, we love drama here,” the actor Brad Pitt told The Art Newspaper. The downpour failed to dampen sales at the VIP preview too. At White Cube, the Late Show presenter James Corden bought a Tracey Emin gouache, My Heart for You (2015)—“a Valentine’s gift for my wife”—while Leonardo diCaprio was rumoured to have purchased Andy Warhol’s painting of Georgia O’Keefe at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. (After the fair, it was revealed that the art advisor Lisa Schiff bought the work for another client.) Sylvester Stallone, Jodie Foster, and Michael Keaton were also seen perusing the aisles.

As if on cue, dealers have channelled the movie industry setting and are spotlighting artists from the city’s robust art scene. The day before the fair opened, the local artist Dave Muller was busy painting the walls of Blum & Poe’s stand, which he has transformed into a cartoonish vision of Hollywood, complete with its famous white sign. Muller’s mural serves as a backdrop for works by the gallery’s Los Angeles artists.

Next door, cinematic works by the quintessentially Californian artist Doug Aitken adorn the walls of the New York’s 303 Gallery. The space’s founder Lisa Spellman likens one piece, Midnight Sun (distant view with pools) (2019, priced at $250,000), to a projection that “creates this cinematic scene of the mountains with a classic Los Angeles night-time view”.

Exposing the darker underbelly of popular culture is Mike Kelley’s Unisex Love Nest (1999) at Hauser & Wirth, which is being shown for the first time in Los Angeles, 20 years after it was first conceived for the city. The late artist’s unnerving installation of a child’s bedroom, which challenges conventional gender roles, sold to a private European foundation for $1.8m. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will benefit the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts in Los Angeles, which provides grants for artists’ projects.

More understated, but no less emphatic, is a display of nine ink drawings by Ken Price at New York- and Los Angeles-based Matthew Marks Gallery. Priced between $20,000 and $35,000, they feature panoramic views of Los Angeles, created at the time of Price’s return to the city in the early 1990s. “You can feel him falling in love with the city all over again as he mythologises both its wonder and urban sprawl,” says Jacqueline Tran, the gallery’s senior director. All nine works sold out on the fair’s opening day.

Andy Warhol's Judy (White, 1979) Photo: David Owens

The glamorous face of Hollywood can be seen at Pace gallery, which has a black-and-white painting of Judy Garland by Warhol (works on the stand range from around $10,000 to $4m), while dealer Thaddaeus Ropac has designed his stand around a “Californian road trip theme”.

Oscar fever has gripped other art institutions in Los Angeles. Photographs by Carlos Somonte, shot during the filming of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2018 film Roma are at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until 19 February). “The fact that Roma gets this artistic status is pretty cool, but cynically, you could say it’s all just advertising for the big day,” says Ossian Ward of Lisson Gallery, which is showing two artists with Los Angeles connections: Channa Horwitz and Roy Colmer.

Indeed, with the Oscars around the corner, Frieze Los Angeles’s bid to woo Angelenos tied to Hollywood’s production schedule appears to have paid off. But, as Doug Aitken notes, it is artists who have been at the forefront of the city’s drive for creative experimentation over the past 50 years.

“The thing about Los Angeles is that it has resisted the urge to tighten up and become more official. That’s why it is an artists’ city rather than a collectors’ city,” he says. “At its best, what Frieze can contribute has nothing to do with capitalism. Instead it can act as a beacon for people to seek out different encounters in the city, as focus shifts to this region.”