Sun and sales on the best coast: LA’s second edition of Frieze firms up the city’s art market potential

Strong sales during VIP hours at both Frieze and Felix have dealers embracing the California dream

Fair visitors chat outside of Thaddaeus Ropac's booth at the second edition of Frieze LA. © David Owens

Fair visitors chat outside of Thaddaeus Ropac's booth at the second edition of Frieze LA. © David Owens

“Do you think you could live here?” It is a question repeatedly heard asked in Los Angeles for the second West Coast edition of Frieze Art Fair, always by a New York- or London-based dealer, adviser, curator, etc. It is no secret that the siren call of California sun in mid-February has anyone working in cooler climes reconsidering their life choices. But underlying the seemingly innocuous question at this year’s Frieze is a much larger one: does LA have what it takes to become the art trade’s next big hub?

The star-studded first edition of the fair last year was deemed a success, but whether the Endeavor entertainment agency-backed fair could pull it off again has been preying on the minds of many. Speedy sales during Frieze’s VIP day on Thursday, however, certainly seem to suggest there was little cause for worry: there is plenty of spending power and collector grace in the City of Angels.

In the opening hours of the fair, Pace Gallery and Kayne Griffin Corcoran sold four works from James Turrell’s recent Glass series from their joint booth devoted to the Pasadena-born artist, who has been embraced by the public and celebrities alike since his 2014 retrospective at LACMA. Most of the works reportedly went to local collectors, including Kardashian royalty—Kendall Jenner was among those picking up work by the Light and Space artist.

Hauser & Wirth sold all five of Avery Singer's new works, priced from $85,000 to $495,000, after recently announcing its representation of the artist. David Zwirner’s sales topped $8m during the first day with Neo Rauch's $2m Aprilnacht (2011); five paintings by Lisa Yuskavage, each priced between $120,000 and $1m; and two works by Carol Bove for $500,000. Early on at Thaddaeus Ropac’s booth, Robert Rauschenberg’s Bowery Parade (Borealis) (1989) sold for $1.3m.

At Lisson’s stand, a gold mirrored Anish Kapoor work sold for $700,000 and Allora & Calzadilla’s Electromagnetic Field (2019) went for $145,000. Lehmann Maupin reported that a number of works by Lee Bul, Liu Wei and Liza Lou sold, including a major work by LA-based Lou named Shelter from the Storm to a US collector for $275,000.

Local galleries cleaned up as well. Various Small Fire’s solo booth dedicated to Calinda Rawles, whose dreamy yet photorealistic pool paintings are also on view at the gallery’s space in Hollywood, sold out within a couple of hours. Priced between $14,000 and $30,000 each, the gallery’s co-founder Esther Kim Varet says she was surprised by the rapid-fire pace of sales. “It kind of feels like the next Miami—which has felt kind of stale to me over the past couple of years,” she says.

Next door at Chateau Shatto’s booth, co-founder Olivia Barret says its works by Aria Dean and Helen Johnson had sold by the afternoon. All priced at $9,000, Dean’s work will be included in in the upcoming Made in LA biennial opening at the Hammer Museum in May. Johnson’s smaller paintings sold for $15,000 while Basic Needs (2020), the largest and the centrepiece of the booth, sold for $75,000. “Frieze LA is kind of condensed, it’s manageable,” Barret says, noting the fair’s cap at roughly 70 exhibitors makes it easier to close sales.

At Felix, the homegrown hotel fair launched last year in response to Frieze by the LA dealer Al Moran and collector Dean Valentine, exhibitor numbers swelled by 50% for the second edition bringing its participant count close to Frieze’s. More was evidently better: the London gallery Alison Jacques sold $1.3m worth of work during the VIP day, also on Thursday—a sizeable sum for any satellite fair presentation, suggesting that Felix has plenty of its own gravity. Among the works sold at Jacques’s stand was a number of works by Sheila Hicks, including a new installation, Amathyst Forest (2020), priced at $550,000, a woven panel for $135,000 and a series of new Comet sculptures for$90,000 each. The gallery also sold works on paper by Hannah Wilke ranging from $35,000 to $65,000 and sculptures from $20,000 to $150,000.

Held at the iconic Roosevelt Hotel, the distinctly Hollywood vibe and laid-back experience of Felix has been a hit with exhibitors and collectors alike. “I would have to say that my favourite office I’ve ever held so far has been poolside at the Roosevelt,” says Emanuel Aguilar, the co-founder of Chicago’s Patron gallery. He says that foot traffic and sales have been great at the fair. Works ranged from $5,000, for Alex Chitty’s cat sculpture series, Bunch of Pussies, to Greg Breda’s $30,000 paintings. “We could have sold our Greg Breda work a hundred times over,” Aguilar says of the LA-based artist’s popularity.

The general rule of thumb for an art fair’s success however, is the results of its third edition, and on that front Frieze 2021 will be lacking LA art scene stalwart Bettina Korek at the helm as she decamps to London’s Serpentine Galleries in March. As one fairgoer was overheard saying at David Zwirner’s Sunset Tower party on Thursday night: “LA forgets quickly—it’s all well and good to have a week of events, but things are quiet for the rest of the year. You have to put in the effort to be here.”

A little bit of effort can go a long way, as evidenced at Pace and Kayne Griffin Corcoran’s Turrell party where, after Pace president Marc Glimcher failed to thank his co-host in his remarks, he was forced to do his speech again with Maggie Kayne next to him. For major international galleries (and maybe fairs) looking to capitalise on a California dream, showing some deference for the dealers that pioneered the market in LA will be paramount going forward.