On a sunny but still chilly Thursday morning, Frieze Los Angeles opened its 2023 edition to VIPs at its new location, the Santa Monica Airport. Split between two sections (the larger of the two in a custom-built tent and the smaller in the airport’s Barker Hangar, with golf carts available to shuttle visitors between them), the preview day was well-attended with several of the fair’s blue-chip exhibitors reporting robust sales.
Like past Frieze LAs, several Hollywood celebrities were in attendance (is Owen Wilson a Bob Thompson fan?!), as were major art world figures, including Met Museum director Max Hollein, Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, LACMA head of contemporary art Rita Gonzalez, and such collectors as Beth Rudin DeWoody. And, of course, there’s a boatload of art on view, until Sunday.
Below, a look at the best booths around Frieze Los Angeles 2023.
Dyani White Hawk at VSF
A breakout star of the 2022 Whitney Biennial, Dyani White Hawk has four works on view in the Various Small Fires booth, in dialogue with textile pieces by Diedrick Brackens. White Hawk is invested in reorienting the history of abstraction and reclaiming the narrative that it was a 20th-century invention by white European and American men when it is, in fact, a centuries-old visual language long used by numerous Indigenous cultures. The biennial showcased one monumental piece by the artist, a mixed-media work; of the works on view here, one is a simple abstraction made with acrylic on canvas—it’s just as thrilling as the others.
This presentation shows how broad is her approach to abstraction and how fertile her practice—a preview of sorts for her upcoming solo show with VSF in September.
Chase Hall at David Kordansky Gallery
Born in the Midwest to a white mother and Black father, Chase Hall moved to Los Angeles in his teens with his mother. He was immediately drawn to the city’s surf culture and became a regular at Southern California beaches. But, as soon as he got there, he experienced hate crimes, othering, and microaggressions. In this solo presentation, Hall presents almost a retort to that treatment in the form of a suite of paintings that show Black people in surf scenes. In one, we see six men performing a pyramid on the water as a boat pulls them; another is a group portrait of the first all-Black team of lifeguards in LA.
The tour de force, however, is Bruce’s Beach Surf Club (2022), a diptych showing eight Black men on the beach with their surfboards standing behind them. Bruce’s Beach has been in the news in recent months due to a nearly century-long battle to pay reparations to the Bruce family, Black landowners who had established a resort and whose property the city of Manhattan Beach seized through eminent domain that has been widely reported as racially motivated. In 2022 the land was finally returned to Bruce family heirs and, in January, they sold it to LA County for nearly $20 million to help establish the generational wealth the family had long been denied.
Ming Smith at Nicola Vassell
Currently the subject of a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Ming Smith has several photographs on view in Nicola Vassell’s booth, all of which show the power of feminine energy that Smith has captured for some five decades. Smith was the only woman founding member of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in 1963 who, among other achievements, used innovative techniques to better photograph and print a variety of skin tones (photographic standards historically privileged white skin tones). Smith’s photographs on view showcase her—and Kamoinge’s—technical achievements, showing various levels of saturation.
Titled “The Things She Knows,” the booth includes blurred images and double exposures showing Tina Turner and Ed Love on the set for the music video to “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Grace Jones at the Cinandre hair salon in Manhattan. Smith had moved to New York in the ’70s from Ohio to become a model, and came up together with Jones. It was posing for the camera that made her fall in love with photography and take up the lens herself. The most powerful work on view is a portrait of singer-songwriter Phyllis Hyman, hand-painted in blue; Smith painted it in 1995, shortly after learning that Hyman had died by suicide at 45.
Ernie Barnes at Andrew Kreps and Ortuzar Projects
One of the 20th century’s most important figurative painters, Ernie Barnes has had a bit of a revival over the past year or so, after his iconic 1976 painting Sugar Shack sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking $15.3 million. While the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills recently opened a survey of his work, Barnes is the subject of a joint booth via dealers Andrew Kreps and Ales Ortuzar, who jointly represent his estate. The works displayed span five decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, and there are several stunning pieces here (most of them are loans, however), including Street Song (1971), Groovin’ in the Bottom (1978), and Homecoming (1994). Walking through the booth, it is apparent that you are in the presence of true masterpieces—a rarity at most art fairs.
Chris Watts at Welancora
To create these ethereal abstractions, Chris Watts applies pigments to a polyester chiffon fabric that is later sealed with resin. While researching his Indigenous heritage, Watts recently traveled to Peru to learn more about the local Native cultures, and ended up sourcing from there the blue and pink pigments he used in these works. Watts’s research also allowed him to ponder what a cooperative relationship between Nyame (the supreme god of Ghana’s Akan people) and the Great Spirit of several Native American cultures might look like. That research lent the series its title: “The spirits that lend strength are invisible.”
Camila Falquez at Hannah Traore Gallery
Brooklyn-based artist Camila Falquez uses her photographic practice to manifest what she describes as the seemingly impossible—images of power that we’re not used to seeing. Specifically, that means showing Black and Brown people in poses of power. With her training in fashion photography, Falquez creates beautifully choreographed tableaus, framed with raw silk, that look to question the white male–dominated iconography of art history. What does it do to that history to disrupt it with images like one showing a Puerto Rican man as the endlessly depicted Saint Sebastian?
Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin
LA-based artist Catherine Opie has taken countless road trips over the years, photographing her travels and the people she encounters along the way. During one such trip in 1998, Opie photographed gay couples in their homes, highlighting their intimacy in a domestic setting at a time when such depictions of queer love were few and far between, a radical and revelatory gesture. The images here, however, are totally new, taken on this road trip but never printed. Opie’s photography has never looked so fresh.
Edgar Ramirez at Chris Sharp
Born and raised in Wilmington, California, near one of LA’s main ports, Edgar Ramirez has on view several works made from corrugated cardboard that he painted and distressed. Ramirez didn’t grow up around art; encountering the work of fellow LA-based artist Mark Bradford was a turning point in his life. Bradford’s influence here is clear but Ramirez takes his own approach to this tattering of signage. In one work, the logo for the shipping container company Evergreen is visible, while in another that signage has completely disappeared. These are landscape paintings that embody the scene they depict.
As part of Frieze Projects, LA-based artist Ruben Ochoa has restructured his iconic mobile gallery in a van, CLASS: C, that he retired in 2005. The van has all the requisite spaces of an ordinary art gallery: an office (with an overhead fluorescent light) in the driver/passenger seats, a white-cube space with wooden floors and outlets at the center (maximum occupancy: 3), and a redbrick storage space at the back. A sign leaning against a front tire reads “Art Show Here.” Ochoa created CLASS: C as an alternative space to show the work of artists of color who were not being shown in major galleries. This time around is the first in which Ochoa shows his own art: bronze renderings of tortillas. (Another of his famed series is portraits painted directly on tortillas.) Ochoa has also worked with the company Revolution Carts to design four street food carts, from which vendors are selling tamales and cut fruit during the fair’s run. Thus, Ochoa is honoring his family history (both his parents were street vendors) and bringing it into the present alongside his activist work with the nonprofit Inclusive Action, which advocates on behalf of street vendors and their rights. The project has a prime location, just outside the entrance to Frieze’s larger section. It’s a powerful—and delicious—statement.