Frieze Art Fair - Los Angeles, California

Glenn Ligon at Regen Projects.

Glenn Ligon at Regen Projects.

It was cliche. And maybe too “Hollywood”. Tupac’s anthem California Love thumped through my headphones as I waited curbside at LAX airport for my Uber. This wasn’t a fateful moment orchestrated by the universe. Instead I had 7 minutes to spare and found the song on YouTube. That moment lacked the genuineness of serendipity but was full of the human interference of a Hollywood production (save for the plot twist: The Uber that arrived, to my dismay, was not a low rider). I was ready for Los Angeles.

I was in LA to attend the first ever Frieze LA. Held at Paramount Pictures Studio the fair spared no ingredient of a film production. In fact, the section for special projects was even held on a set that resembled New York City, complete with brownstones too.

Despite the potency of “Hollywood magic” LA has had a sour history with art fairs. Fairs that prosper in cities like New York and Paris fail to take root (the discontinued FIAC LA and Paris Photo LA as examples), and as movies have their critics art fairs do too - see here and here. But general consensus post-fair is that Frieze LA was a resounding success. Some of those critics are now touting the fair’s success. A true plot twist indeed.

While nearly all art fairs have the presence of celebrity, in LA celebrity is necessary. Celebrity legitimizes an event. VIP night at Frieze opened with cameos from Brad Pitt, who was crowd-friendly and mingled, and the far more reclusive Leonardo DiCaprio. The fair was a smaller and tightly curated version of its New York and London editions.

In Beverly Hills, Beyonce and Jay Z attended the opening of Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean’s Dreamweavers show, which is sponsored by his arts initiative, Dean Collection, and curated by Nicola Vassell of Concept NV.

The show features its own jazzy lineup of artists, like Kehinde Wiley, Toyin Ojih Odutola, David Hammons, Arthur Jafa,and Kerry James Marshall, among others.

The artists, “sit within the powerful Black renaissance of this era,” reads the press statement. Central themes in the exhibition are identity and civil injustice, and reason versus surrealism. To underscore the dreamlike effect a cloud motif was painted on the floor.

The small footprint of UTA Arts Space, where Dreamweavers is on view, would make a less interesting show a quick walk-through. I spent 1 hour there challenging myself to create linkages between the work of artists typically not on view collectively. The show continues through April.

In true “fair week” style, there were satellite fairs running concurrent to Frieze. I attended Felix at the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The 11th floor and poolside cabana suites were converted to exhibition spaces.

Hotel rooms-cum-galleries are peculiar spaces. Small rooms become tight exhibition space where traffic flow is often problematic. Still, the quaint charm of being in an art space more humble than the sprawling Frieze brings its own respite. It’s important to note the uncommon setting of a hotel-gallery does not equal a reduced quality of work (to be fair, mega-fairs have their share of awful art on display, so in this case size does not matter). Chicago based gallery Kavi Gupta showed works by Gerald Williams and Sherman Beck, co-founders of AFRICOBRA, the African American artists’ collective founded in Chicago in 1968. The gallery will be present at Frieze New York in May.

In LA I also stopped at Regen Projects for the closing weekend of Glenn Ligon’s exhibition. The master of neon text art with subversive meaning, one work simply read, “Nov 3, 2020,” in reference to the next US election day, which, unlike his constant red flashing “Untitled (America)” (2018), will illuminate on said day. Americans on all sides of the political spectrum await that day. Maybe also mirroring that eagerness will be the city’s anticipation for the next Frieze.

Kevin Beasley with Casey Kaplan Gallery at Frieze.

Kevin Beasley with Casey Kaplan Gallery at Frieze.

I stayed in Hotel Figueroa in DTLA (downtown LA). I admit the hotel’s design inspired my booking - I liked the Spanish Colonial architecture and interiors with Moroccan flair. But after reading about the building’s history I realized the hotel was more than just a pretty facade: Opened in 1926, the hotel was a safe haven for solo female travelers who at the time were prohibited from most hotels without a male chaperone. (I traveled to LA solo). True to its roots in social activism, the hotel was also a gathering place for political rallies against sexism, racism and other social issues. Learn more of the hotel’s cherished history here - it’s impressive #OnlyattheFig.

Photo courtesy Hotel Figueroa.

Photo courtesy Hotel Figueroa.

Photography by Nadia Sesay unless noted.

Nadia Sesay