Begun in 2019 as a throwback to the freewheeling early days of art fairs unfolding in hotel rooms and bars, the Felix Art Fair returns to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel as an established player in Los Angeles this year with two editions. No longer an upstart but still retaining its alternative vibe and lower participation cost, Felix is hosting its third international edition from 17-20 February. It takes place on the hotel’s 10th and 11th floors and poolside cabanas, with a third of the fair’s 60 small and mid-size galleries participating for the first time. It will also reprise its second, all-locals summer edition.
“We’ve found that the hotel room creates a different psychological dynamic between dealers and collectors,” says co-founder Dean Valentine, the Los Angeles-based collector and former TV executive, who had his first real exposure to contemporary art at the Gramercy International Art Fair staged in Los Angeles’s Chateau Marmont in the mid-1990s. Bemoaning what he felt was a loss of camaraderie in the soaring art market, Valentine co-founded Felix with the brothers Al and Mills Morán, who run the gallery Morán Morán in Los Angeles and Mexico City, at the classic Hollywood hotel, site of the first Academy Awards in 1929.
The hotel room creates a different psychological dynamic between dealers and collectorsDean Valentine, co-founder
In the cosy setting, “people are much more interested in having a conversation”, says Valentine. “They’re much better able to visualise how that work hanging on the wall will look in their space. It just creates more intimacy.”
Valentine and the Morán brothers, originally from El Salvador, share a deep interest in emerging artists, galleries that are passionate in promoting them with a distinct point of view and a no-nonsense approach to the art world. The name of the fair was inspired by the 19-century French art critic and anarchist Félix Fénéon. Felix is also the Latin word for “felicity”. While not averse to commerce, the co-founders wanted their venture to prioritise community beyond the transactional.
The success of Felix’s launch in 2019, with 41 galleries showing by invitation and drawing more than 12,000 visitors, prompted the organisers to take a second floor of the hotel and bump up the number of galleries to 60 for the second international edition in 2020, which attracted even larger crowds. “We had a lot of interest from galleries,” Mills Morán says. “We wanted to keep the quality high and we were able to do that.”
While the pandemic curtailed all Los Angeles fairs in February 2021, Valentine and the Moráns rebounded last summer with a scaled-down, outdoor-only version of Felix featuring 29 local galleries around the pool painted with a mural by David Hockney, at a moment when Covid-19 appeared to be waning.
“It felt like a party in your backyard,” Valentine says, noting strong attendance by curators from around the US but few European visitors. “The LA community had survived the pandemic; some of the galleries had thrived even,” he adds. “It was really worth celebrating.” He and the Moráns felt inspired to do it again this summer, following their main event in February.
The 20 first-time exhibitors selected for this edition include Misako & Rosen from Tokyo, Luce Gallery from Turin, The Breeder from Athens, Kadel Willborn from Dusseldorf, Maximillian William from London, Lyles & King from New York and One Trick Pony Gallery from Los Angeles.
“As you grow the fair, you really want some turnover in order to let new blood in, give younger galleries a chance to see what they can do,” says Mills Morán. “In this case, we started with a balance of a lot of different people that maybe collectors don’t know. You always want to keep it interesting for discovery.”
The cost for galleries to participate ranges from $7,000 to $18,000, depending on the location in the hotel. “We’re about 20 percent of the price of some other art fairs,” Valentine says. “One of the core ideas of Felix was that it would allow younger gallerists to participate without putting them in danger of going out of business if they didn’t sell enough work. Its financial structure is a major appeal to gallerists.”
While galleries could show simultaneously at Felix and Frieze in 2019, the inaugural year of both fairs in Los Angeles, Frieze now does not permit dealers to do both—a policy Valentine hopes will change at some point. Some of the more well established galleries opting for Felix this year include Kasmin and P.P.O.W from New York and Kavi Gupta from Chicago. “Many galleries have artists that show at different price points,” he says. “We think it’s in the larger interest of both collectors and gallerists and the community as a whole for galleries to be able to participate in both.”
- Felix Art Fair, 17-20 February, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel