Can Los Angeles sustain a big art fair with international ambitions? With this week’s opening of Frieze LA, we’re about to find out—perhaps once and for all, given that the immense resources and effort being put toward the debut edition are unlikely to be matched.
Taking place in a Kulapat Yantrasast-designed tent on the Blue Sky Tank lot of Paramount Studios, the fair enjoys the backing of Ari Emanuel’s global talent agency Endeavor (owner of the Frieze Art Fair group) and is sure to host more celebrity firepower than has ever traipsed the aisles of an art-industry trade event before.
At the helm of the fair is Bettina Korek, the founder of the art production organization ForYourArt and as redoubtable an art-world connector as LA can offer. She has organized an array of some 70 galleries together with a robust assortment of nonprofits and other art spaces, which will occupy the film studio’s historic New York City set—an intriguing note to strike, since at least some fairgoers will have traveled from the Big Apple only to end up in the Hollywood version.
The question of whether Tinseltown’s wealthy players will meaningfully patronize the galleries at Frieze LA hangs over the event, as does the fate of Endeavor’s financial ties with Saudi Arabia, which the agency announced it was taking steps to undo after last fall’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi (which is now back in the headlines).
But there is simultaneously a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for this week’s debut—with the hope that, if the fair can succeed in emulsifying the as-yet oil-and-water mix of the art world (and market) and the entertainment world, it could lead to a new era of patronage, cross-pollination, and, who knows, a whole new evolutionary stage for art itself.
To discuss the planning that has led to the first Frieze LA and the challenges it needs to overcome, artnet News’s Andrew Goldstein spoke to Korek ahead of the fair.
How did the idea for a Frieze Los Angeles art fair come about? Why does the world need another art fair, and why should it be in LA?
Frieze leadership has been thinking about Los Angeles for a long time. We’ve seen how Frieze Week has created moments in London and New York, and for me, Los Angeles—being a vast horizontal landscape that has seen an increased tempo in art activity over the past 10 years—needed an event like this too. We haven’t had this annual access point.
There was a time when people viewed LA’s art scene as kind of small and weakly rooted, but any doubt that it can produce a really exciting citywide art event has been put to rest by the success of blockbusters like Pacific Standard Time and the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial.
Pacific Standard Time was the first one that not only canonized the postwar art history of Los Angeles, but also raised the general consciousness here about how important LA is as an art city. I grew up in LA, and I was struck by how many friends mentioned that their parents were excited about Pacific Standard Time because they knew these artists, and there was a kind of realization that by living in LA you were also living through art history.
At the same time, LA’s art market has gained the reputation as something of a sleeping giant, where you have all these millionaires and billionaires from the entertainment and tech fields, but they either haven’t awakened to collecting contemporary art or, alternatively, prefer to do their shopping in New York or at the glamorous international art fairs. The flip side of that is that there’s a broad population of artists living and working in LA, but they tend to do their selling elsewhere. Does this ring true to you?
The museums here, particularly LACMA and MOCA and the Hammer, have grown their boards over the past 10 years. LA’s patrons and collectors are traveling more for art events and have a stronger sense of the important role that they play as ambassadors of Los Angeles’s art community. The fair is ideally a moment that projects energy from the tent throughout the city. And what makes that successful is that galleries and museums and artists and patrons here take this as their own and use it as a platform for the things that are most important to them.
It’s been reported that you did “a huge amount of research that has shown that this is something the city wants.” What are some of the most encouraging data points that came out of this research?
You’ll have to ask someone from the Frieze London team about that, because they made the decision to come here. But anecdotally, from my experience with ForYourArt, when I started it as a newsletter that I wrote myself 14 years ago, I could track and manage it alone. Now, with the number of submissions that we track? It’s a job. So I know from that perspective there is a lot more going on here.
You’ve spent nearly a decade and a half trying to knit together Los Angeles’s disparate art scene through ForYourArt. What have you learned through your successes there that has helped you shape your vision for Frieze LA?
My personal career in art has always been from the perspective of producing a guide to Los Angeles and encouraging people to get involved in the art community, and I’ve come to realize that a fair is a really important opportunity for emerging collectors to meet a diverse array of galleries.
One of the challenges we’ve had with ForYourArt is trying to serve different kinds of art lovers, because we make a long list every week of 30 to 50 events and shows, and then you get someone who’s just dipping their toe in and maybe wants to see one show a month. It’s a vastly different audience to serve, and that’s another reason why I’m so excited about Frieze because people will get to come to one place and experience the best of LA’s vast gallery landscape. But we’ve also mapped 12 different routes throughout the city to make an event of going out and seeing things.
It seems the trick would be to get people to take the step beyond appreciating art and convert to buying it, too. It’s no secret that LA has been a difficult terrain for art fairs to take root, with Art Platform Los Angeles, Paramount Ranch, FIAC LA, and Paris Photo LA being examples that weren’t able to find success among the city’s collectors. How will you manage to crack the code?
Our hope lies partly in having a host committee—and being really candid that we hope those people will support the galleries. We’ve also put together a kind of unofficial guide to the fair: I reached out to galleries and asked them for examples of works from their programs that they might offer to a new collector, and so we’re literally sharing examples of how much works cost from different galleries and giving a specific contact name at the gallery so that people know who to talk to. I think it’s easy to forget how intimidating an art fair can be if you’ve never been to one, and so we’re really trying to help finesse that process so potential collectors feel more empowered and have information at their fingertips when they get to the fair. Freeze Week also offers advice from art advisors.
I’ve got to say the guide sounds like a terrific idea, because if there’s one thing people in LA know how to do it’s to navigate a menu.
[Laughs] Yeah. So, we’re sharing it informally with different groups. We also have different philanthropy groups coming—people who are invested in the civic life of Los Angeles, partially because of Pacific Standard Time and also because of the Otis Report on the Creative Economy, which has done so much raise the general consciousness about how important the art world is here in LA.
You mentioned you’ve encouraged the members of Frieze LA’s host committee to shop at the fair. Did you ask them to make any specific commitments? Like, did David Geffen say, “I’ll be there, and I will be buying art left and right”?
It would be great if he did that. [Laughs.] Certainly we have commitments, and we’re excited about the turnout that we expect from the host committee on opening day.
I have this scene in my mind of you going around the city like Danny Ocean at the beginning of Ocean’s Eleven, rounding up an ace crew of conspirators for the perfect heist. The lineup of the host committee is impressive—you’ve got everyone from Tobey Maguire to Eli Broad to Michael Ovitz to Serena Williams to Brian Grazer. How did Frieze convene this star-studded supergroup of art patrons? Obviously Endeavor had a big role in this.
I mean it’s a combination of LA’s most passionate collectors and patrons—a lot are people who are on art museum boards—and others who came forward and were really excited to be supportive. So we hope that this is a strong foundation for the community that we want to develop around the fair. A lot of them are people you know just from being in LA, and it was really great how many of them were happy to lend their names and participate in different ways.
Are you texting with Ari Emanuel all the time about how the fair is progressing?
[Laughs.] I think Ari is excited about it.
The fair is happening in a busy season for the LA community—it’s taking place between the weekends of Grammys and the Oscars. Was that a deliberate choice of timing?
Well, we’re at a moment when there’s increasing focus on how these different worlds collide and collaborate. LA is a naturally less hierarchical city in a way, and I think this timing articulates something that’s been happening for a long time in terms of people who live here having a stronger appreciation for how important art is to the city.
Would you say these different fields are mixing these days in a more deliberate way than they have in the past?
Nothing happens overnight, but that’s happening at the Hammer Museum and LACMA galas, and if you think about when the Murakami exhibition opened at MOCA and with a performance by Kanye [West] and a retail store in the museum, you got the sense that the fashion world kind of woke up to the potential of bringing entertainment and retail to the art world. LA has really been a testing ground for those different collaborations. We’ve been hosting informal gallery visits and artist walk-throughs, and it’s been really exciting to invite people from the entertainment community to experience the gallery landscape and realize how much curiosity there is.
Another quirk of timing, of course, is that the fair falls on Valentine’s Day.
Yes, our VIP day is on Valentine’s Day, so you will also have chocolate at the fair. The local chocolatier andSons has collaborated with [LA artist] Sarah Cain on an immersive installation in one of the backlot spaces where they’ll serve a vegan Earl Grey chocolate all day on the 14th and then during special hours the rest of the fair.
Is there any worry that Valentine’s Day might pose a challenge for the fair? I’ve heard on good Angelino authority that Valentine’s Day is one of the worst traffic days in LA, since everyone is running around the city on little romantic missions.
Well, we’ll see! We’ve collaborated with Paramount and the Department of Transportation to make plans for the 14th.
What’s your ambition for this first fair? What do you want this edition to do?
On a local level, my hope is that the fair does inspire people to go to art institutions and support them throughout the year. We’ve been doing events almost every month, so we definitely want to keep the energy going.
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