Just hours into the VIP preview day of Frieze Los Angeles at Paramount Studios on Thursday, model Kendall Jenner and Endeavor Talent Agency co-CEO Ari Emanuel had purchased artworks. Jenner picked up a piece by James Turrell at a both shared by Pace Gallery and Kayne Griffin Corcoran. Emanuel, whose company owns a portion of Frieze, bought a large painting by Jordan Casteel at Casey Kaplan gallery’s booth. At 1:30 p.m., Alex Israel, the quintessential Los Angeles artist who features the city in many of his artworks, could be found, standing just inside the entrance to the fair wearing a sweatshirt that said “California” on it, making him an unintentional mascot.
Like many annual events, an art fair’s sophomore edition is when it needs to prove itself. Frieze got lucky. Last year, because of the novelty factor, the torrential rain on VIP day didn’t deter fairgoers. This year, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, temperatures hovered around 70 degrees, and collectors came out in droves.
There were Cindy and Howard Rachofsky from Dallas, the Rubells from Miami, the Horts, the Eisenbergs and Sascha Bauer from New York (and Maja Hoffman, from New York and Switzerland). And there were plenty of locals, including, Beth Rudin de Woody, who has a residence in Los Angeles as well as New York and Palm Beach.
As for celebrities, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez showed up. So did Leonardo DiCaprio, with his signature reporter-deflecting hoodie. (These are the celebrities whose attendance ARTnews can directly vouch for. Toward the end of the day, the fair’s PR firm emailed that many more were present: Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos, Usher, the Weeknd, Amy Poehler, Natalie Portman, Diplo, and Jill Soloway. L.A. doesn’t disappoint!)
In the parlance of people who attend a lot of art fairs, Frieze L.A. is “manageable.” Seventy exhibitors sounds like a lot until you consider that Art Basel Miami Beach has 269. In fact, when you add up the exhibitors at Frieze and the other fairs in town this week—Felix, Art Los Angeles Contemporary, and Spring/Break—you still end up with fewer booths to visit than are in the convention center in Miami. This makes the whole lot of LA fairs doable in a few days, especially since ALAC, the homegrown fair that is now in its 11th year, has relocated from its longtime location in Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar (a 40-minute drive west of Frieze), to the Hollywood Athletic Club, around the corner from Frieze (in L.A. terms—it’s an eight-minute drive) on Sunset Boulevard.
If you are in the market for, say, a $50 million Rothko, Frieze L.A. is not your art fair. The highest-priced works tend to hover in the low millions. On opening day, David Zwirner sold a large 2011 painting by Neo Rauch for $2 million. Zwirner also sold five paintings by Lisa Yuskavage priced between $120,000 and $1 million. A standout in the booth was a brand new, large, Yuskavage painting of two figures bathed in red light; it went for around $850,000. Also selling at Zwirner were two pieces by Carol Bove, for $500,000 each, and a bevy of works by other artists represented by the gallery.
Meanwhile, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, which has locations in London, Paris, and Salzburg, sold a painting by Georg Baselitz, Schwarzes Pferd [Black Horse], 1986, for 800,000 euros (around $866,000).
By noon, the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth had sold all five of the new paintings they’d brought by Avery Singer, a young artist on the rise that the enterprise just started representing. The works went to one major American institution and international private collections, and prices ran from $85,000 (for smaller works) to $495,000 (for the largest ones). Singer’s primary-market prices have gone up since a 2013 painting of hers came up for auction at Sotheby’s New York in May 2018 with a pre-sale estimate of $80,000–$120,000 and went for $735,000.
Kendall Jenner bought a James Turrell piece from a combined booth put on by Pace Gallery (which has locations around the world) and the L.A.-based Kayne Griffin Corcoran, both of whom represent Turrell. One of Turrell’s light pieces in the booth was one commissioned by a West Coast collector and premiered at the fair. The blue illumination came from the ceiling of a room within the booth, and the dealers had put cushions on the floor so that you could lie down and look up at it. The two galleries emphasized that the majority of the four works they sold on opening day, from Turrell’s recent “Glass” series, went to local collectors, Jenner among them.
Emanuel, whose company, Endeavor, is majority owner of Frieze, bought his Jordan Casteel painting—a large one from 2019 of two figures titled Angie and Kiana—from New York dealer Casey Kaplan, who declined to name the price. The day before Frieze opened, a smaller 2013 painting by Casteel sold at Christies London for £515,250 ($672,000), against a pre-sale estimate £180,000–£250,000.
Kaplan’s gallery is one of those single-location mid-tier galleries that these days is being choosier about the fairs it does. Why return to Frieze L.A. for a second year? He said his gallery has “always had a lot of support in L.A., so we had a foundation to build on. L.A. collectors are a lot different from those in New York. A lot of them come from creative backgrounds. It’s refreshing.”
There was a lot of hometown pride to be found in this year’s edition of the fair, not least in the newly inaugurated “Focus L.A.” section, dedicated to 13 galleries from the city that have been around for 15 years or less.
Opening day was also a time for strong statements. L.A. dealer Suzanne Vielmetter had a solo show of Genevieve Gaignard in her booth. Gaignard, whose photographs and sculptures deal incisively with race and identity, was in the booth, wearing a coat that said across the back “Sell to Black Collectors.”
If collectors of color were thin on the ground during VIP day—something that is gradually changing at art fairs everywhere—artists of color had a strong presence. New York dealer Jack Shainman brought one of Barkley Hendricks’s rarely-seen “Basketball Paintings,” this one a nine-foot-wide triptych. Hendricks, who died three years ago, completed the painting in 1969, when he was in his mid-20s and working as an art teacher with Philadelphia’s parks and recreation department. The piece sold on opening day, and while the gallery declined to disclose the price, major paintings by Hendricks sell for up to $5 million privately; his auction record, set last May at Sotheby’s for one of his large, signature figurative paintings, is $3.7 million.
There were sales for artists who have exhibitions on in Los Angeles at the moment—White Cube gallery sold a 2018 grid of nine paintings on paper by Julie Mehretu, who is currently the subject of a mid-career survey at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for $360,000 to what the gallery characterized as a “major art foundation”—and sales for artists based in Los Angeles. Lehmann Maupin sold one of L.A. artist Liza Lou’s pieces made from glass beads, paint, and thread on canvas for $275,000 to an American collector. L.A. gallery David Kordansky sold two paintings by LA artist Jonas Wood, for $500,000 apiece. Blum and Poe, which has spaces in L.A., New York, and Tokyo, sold paintings by L.A.-based artists Mark Grotjahn (for $600,000), and Henry Taylor (ranging from $100,000 to $120,000).
“The energy for this fair is really building,” said Marc Selwyn, who has had a gallery in the city for over 20 years. “Last year was terrific for us. This year we are seeing more people from out of town. It’s great energy.”
“After years of thinking a work of art was better if you bought it in New York,” said Michael Findlay, a longtime director with the New York gallery Acquavella, “Los Angeles collectors are now proud and confident that they can buy artworks in Los Angeles.”