When Frieze announced in 2018 that it would launch a new art fair in Los Angeles the following year, the excitement was tinged with a whiff of skepticism. Could a major international art fair make a home in a city as unruly, as mercurial, as sprawling as Los Angeles? At the time, Artnet News columnist Tim Schneider went so far as calling L.A an “art fair graveyard,” predicting that “Frieze Los Angeles would be dead on arrival.” With two successful editions under its belt and a third set to open this week, Frieze L.A. has proven its detractors wrong. It seems like L.A. is finally ready for a fair on par with the caliber of its art scene. But what effect has Frieze has had on the city’s art market?
Several local gallerists felt that Frieze L.A.’s success was a reflection—more than a cause—of the city’s arrival as an international art capital. “For us, Frieze L.A. has not changed the market so much as confirmed beyond any doubt what we’ve always felt and known: Los Angeles is unique in the world as a site of cultural production, with a homegrown art scene that exerts influence internationally,” Marc Payot, president of Hauser & Wirth, which opened its L.A. outpost in 2015, said in an email.
Long dismissed as a city where art is made but seldom sold, L.A. is seeing the rise of an increasingly strong collector base. “For years, people didn’t take the galleries that were here seriously—they would still go to New York to buy work,” said Kimberly Davis, a director at L.A. Louver, which was founded in neighboring Venice almost 50 years ago. “Now galleries in New York are coming to L.A. At first that was to take care of their artists, but now it’s for their clients that are here.”
Alongside Hauser & Wirth, Sprüth Magers, and Deitch Projects, several other New York– and Europe-based galleries have opened branches here over the past decade. And as the art world begins to return to its pre-pandemic pace, numerous other galleries have announced plans for Angeleno outposts at lightning pace: Sean Kelley, Lisson Gallery, Pace Gallery, the Hole, and a joint venture between Sargent’s Daughters and Shrine. (David Zwirner is also beefing up its West Coast operations.)
While the “Basel effect” may describe the significant cultural boost the behemoth Swiss art fair has given to cities like Miami and Hong Kong, the influence of Frieze L.A. on the city is more akin to fanning the flames than starting the fire. While at last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, there were only three Miami galleries among the 254 exhibitors, there will be almost 40 hometown galleries out of 100 participants at this year’s Frieze L.A.
“For a city like Los Angeles, which has historically been seen as peripheral—and decentralized—a consistent international art fair can play a big role in highlighting the artistic activity here,” said David Kordansky, whose namesake gallery opened in 2003 and who recently announced plans to expand to New York.
One thing Frieze L.A. has managed to accomplish, local dealers say, is galvanizing the city’s heterogeneous and far-flung art communities. “The city’s atomized—everyone’s got their little patch,” said Charlie James, who founded his eponymous gallery in the city’s Chinatown in 2008. “For years, I’d be at Zona Maco [in Mexico City], and I’d meet an L.A. collector who I’d never met before.”
“Frieze managed to create a one-week event where the art world stops in L.A. It’s instantly become the most important week in L.A. for us,” said François Ghebaly, whose gallery opened in 2009. “The energy here is spread out, and ranges across many types of spaces and events. To channel all of this energy in one week is difficult.”
While sales are the engine that drives any fair, several gallerists cited Frieze L.A.’s programmatic breadth for its success. “The first Frieze L.A. wasn’t just your usual commercial art fair; it had ambitious projects and great community events,” said Jeffrey Deitch, who opened his gallery’s L.A. outpost in 2017, four years after the end of his rocky stint as director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. “Artists, collectors, museums, galleries—they’re all on board. It’s embraced by all sides of the art community. That’s not true of every art fair.”
One such project at this year’s edition is the BIPOC Exchange, a communal space featuring ten L.A.-based organizations who work at the intersection of art and social justice, including the Los Angeles Poverty Department, GYOPO, People’s Pottery Project, and Contra Tiempo. Organized by artist Tanya Aguiñiga, the BIPOC Exchange is located in the Beverly Hilton hotel adjacent to the main fair, and will not require tickets for entry.
“I love the idea that there are these highlights from L.A. throughout the fair,” said Christine Messineo, the recently appointed director of Frieze’s two U.S. fairs. “It shows the more expansive nature of what our city does.”
“Our geography, diasporic communities, palimpsest of histories and cultures, the light, the New Age spirituality, the (Hollywood) Industry, and even the traffic, they all inform the vibrant art-making and community-making in L.A.,” said the staff of Commonwealth & Council gallery in a collective email. “And it is great to be able to share a slice of our life with everyone.”