Occupying a room on the 11th floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, as part of the second edition of the Felix L.A. art fair, is a gallery based in Athens, Greece, called Fomo Haber. The two young men who work there are L.A. locals. One is a musician, the other works for Hauser & Wirth. The proprietors of Fomo Haber had “visa problems,” these two will tell you, and couldn’t make it, so they were hired at the last minute.
In fact, the “gallery” is an installation by Darren Bader, who has faked every aspect of it, from the enterprise (which doesn’t exist) to all the artists on view (who are given elaborate, fake CVs). Bader’s masterstroke may just be those two fellows manning Fomo Haber’s room. This is Hollywood, baby, and they are acting.
Not to be outdone by the star power at Frieze, Felix, a fair also in its second year and spread out among the rooms and cabanas of the Roosevelt Hotel, had some of its own spectacle. One of the special projects put on throughout the hotel—a brand-new section this year, overseen by critic William J. Simmons—is the ground-floor one by Judy Chicago—works picked by none other than Jill Soloway, writer of the TV show Transparent.
The by-invite fair got bigger this year—going from 41 international exhibitors last year to 60—but it is still manageable, not least because the organizers have solved their crowded elevator problem by enlisting the freight elevator.
Hollywood history is as rich at the Roosevelt as it is at Paramount Studios, and galleries in the fair are playing on it. Portland-based gallery Adams and Ollman is debuting three new abstract portraits by Vaginal Davis that are part of her ongoing “make-up” paintings series of obscure Hollywood actresses. There’s Della Reese at the Cine Grill (Reese was an R&B star who performed at the Cinegrill, once a hot club in the Roosevelt, and ended up in a fantasy TV Show called Touched by an Angel in which she played an angel’s supervisor), Carole Lombard (the three-level penthouse in the hotel is named for Lombard and Clark Gable, who once lived there), and Frances Farmer (plagued by mental illness and alcoholism, she was honored there in 1958 before she moved back to Indianapolis), all of them made with materials including hydrogen peroxide, glycerine, food coloring, coconut oil, nail polish, enamel, and hairspray.
These pieces were in the bathroom of Adams and Ollman’s room, and hours into the preview, they’d sold for $1,200 apiece. Davis has lived in Berlin since 2005, but her own life is deeply intertwined with Los Angeles, where she got her start in the queer and punk club scene during the 1970s.
Roberts Projects, an L.A. gallery, has a 2019 painting by Amoako Boafo that sold for $40,000 before the fair opened. The gallery did Boafo’s first-ever solo exhibition in the United States, back in January 2019, well before his residence with the Rubell Museum in Miami. A painting by Boafo meanwhile sold earlier today at Phillips London for £675,000 ($881,000).
The room housing the website A Hug From the Art World sold 123 of 126 of their Eric Doeringer small “bootlegs” of artworks in Eli Broad’s collection—each priced at $1,000.
In Miami, the satellite fair to be at is the one put on by the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). At Felix, NADA, a membership organization that has year-round programming, teamed up with Pace Prints to produce a limited-edition print by Tomoo Gokita. It’s an edition of just 40—NADA has the odd-numbered prints and is selling 20 as a fundraiser edition, and Pace has the even-numbered prints. Gokita’s work has been hot on the auction market recently, with his painting hitting the million-dollar mark last year ($1.1 million last May at Phillips New York). The record for a print by him, a 2008 one in an edition of 25, is $35,980, achieved last July at SBI Art Auction Co., Ltd in Japan. NADA had nearly sold out by 5 p.m. on opening day of Felix—only one remained, which meant NADA made $235,000. (The first ten prints went for $10,000 each, the next five for $12,000, and the five after that for $15,000.) A nice haul for a nonprofit.
Felix isn’t just for young talent. London gallery Alison Jacques had a new woven piece by Sheila Hicks who, in her mid-80s, is still going strong. A regular on the major fair circuit who last year was promoted to the first floor of Art Basel, Jacques said when she found out she was not accepted into Frieze Los Angeles, she came out to the city this past summer to look at the rooms at the Roosevelt to do a presentation there. She wanted a suite, and found this one on the 11th floor. The walls in one of the rooms were painted in a somewhat unusual manner, the bottom half of them a pale blue. She sent photographs of the room to Hicks, who lives in Paris, and Hicks thought it would work well with her pieces. Jacques paid $10,000 for her space in Felix (a fraction of what a booth costs at Frieze L.A.) and had sold $1 million worth of art, by Hicks and the deceased artist Hannah Wilke, by 4:30 p.m. on the fair’s first day.
The fair, Jacques said, is extremely accommodating in terms of adjusting the rooms. “They bend over backward,” she said. “You can remove huge ceiling lamps if you want.” She also liked seeing the “caliber” of the many museum representatives at the fair.
She said the experience of the Felix fair takes her back to the Gramercy Park Hotel fair in New York in the 1990s, which she visited before she opened her own gallery. What’s old is new again.