Sales of works by California artists boomed during the first two days of Frieze Los Angeles amid a gold rush as more dealers—hometown galleries and international heavyweights alike—open new spaces in the city to meet the growing appetites of collectors in the region.
Gagosian, Perrotin, Victoria Miro and David Kordansky all reported sold-out stands after the fair’s VIP preview day. Kordansky, a fixture of the city’s gallery ecosystem, had devoted his stand to new paintings by Chase Hall, a local artist whose work explores race and identity and is informed by his experiences growing up in Los Angeles.
Ortuzar Projects and Andrew Kreps Gallery, which are running a joint solo presentation of works by the late Angeleno Ernie Barnes, reported selling a painting for more than $1m during the first hours of the VIP preview. They also placed three other Barnes paintings for roughly $500,000 each and said that they secured a reserve from a museum on another for more than $1m. (Collectors hoping to snap up a Barnes might still be able to at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, where Ernie Barnes: Where Music and Soul Live continues until 1 April.)
David Zwirner sold a Dana Schutz painting, The Encounter (2022), for $1.2m to a European institution on the first day of the fair, as well as Lisa Yuskavage’s work Sari (2015) for $1m. Thaddaeus Ropac sold Copperhead-Bite VI / ROCI CHILE (1985) by Robert Rauschenberg for $1.7m and Straw Hat 3 (2021) by Alex Katz for $1.5m. Victoria Miro’s stand of 18 new works by Doron Langberg sold out on the first day, with prices ranging from $18,000 to $80,000, the gallery reported. Perrotin sold a sculpture by Daniel Arsham—soon to be fêted with a major exhibition at the Petersen Automotive Museum—for around $150,000.
The pace of sales—some pre-arranged, of course—seemed to reflect subsiding fears of a worst-case recession, which were looming over the art market just a few months ago. Dealers at the fair also suggested that certain pandemic-era changes are having an enduring impact: collectors are willing to spend money on art to display at their homes, where they are still spending more time even as the third anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic’s arrival in California approaches.
Alex Rojas, a director at gallery Anat Ebgi, which has three spaces across Los Angeles, says the visual nature of social media has also been a driving factor of increased interest in art in the city. “Socially and culturally, art is different than it was five or 10 years ago,” she says. “It’s not as niche as it was. With Instagram, it’s like a social currency to be somewhere and art has this cool cachet now.”
With 124 exhibitors, the 2023 edition of Frieze Los Angeles grew by nearly 25% over the previous year. It is the largest iteration of the event since Frieze launched the Los Angeles fair in 2019. The fair’s growth has been helped by a boom in the Los Angeles art scene, as more global galleries either expand to the city or open additional locations here. London-headquartered Lisson Gallery will open its first permanent space in Los Angeles in April.
“The art market in general has grown and Los Angeles has a very good and very important group of collectors,” Lisson chief executive Alex Logsdail says. “Increasingly, Los Angeles is a place which people come to as a major art destination. That cannot be ignored.”
After the first day of the VIP preview, Lisson Gallery reported selling a rare Carmen Herrera wall sculpture, Untitled Estructura (Green) (2007/2016) for $750,000. The gallery’s debut exhibition at its Los Angeles space will be a solo show of the late Cuban American artist’s work.
Hauser & Wirth sold Shall Rest in Honor There (2023), a monumental canvas by the Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford, for $3.5m. The gallery also sold a painting by the Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor (whose acclaimed survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art continues until 30 April) for $450,000 and another by Luchita Hurtado—the celebrated artist who died in her longtime adoptive hometown of Santa Monica in 2020—for $225,000.
Just one day before the fair opened, Hauser & Wirth launched its second Los Angeles space inside a former car dealership in West Hollywood. The inaugural exhibition in the space—a solo show by George Condo—sold out in a day.
Fair traffic control
With Frieze Los Angeles spread out over two sites at the sprawling Santa Monica Airport (a first-time venue for the event), exhibitors at the smaller Barker Hangar site say they were unaware of how far they would be from the larger “East Site”, where the bulk of stands are located inside a cluster of large tents. Some believe the large distances and complicated logistics of the fair’s layout is keeping some attendees from visiting their stands.
“None of us realised how far it was going to be from the main tent. We are a little disappointed,” Rojas says. However, she does not think this has affected the gallery’s sales.
The stand features a solo presentation of Jane Margarette’s massive ceramic work. “Approaching these works and buying them on the spot is really unlikely,” Rojas says. The gallery had sold three Margarette pieces on the stand and another five that were not on view, on the morning of the fair’s second day. Anat Egbi is also present at the Felix Art Fair across town at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which features a wider breadth of works by the gallery’s artists and has been “great” for sales, Rojas adds.
Auction join the fray
Though they had been on the periphery during past editions of Frieze Los Angeles, this year the auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams all moved closer to the centre of the action. The auction houses threw parties, hosted panels and scheduled exhibitions in their Los Angeles locales timed with Frieze, and on Friday afternoon Bonhams held a 71-lot sale.
“We have this sale specifically timed to coincide with Frieze because there’s so many great things and so many interesting people in town from all over the world,” says Sharon Squires, Bonhams’s senior director of post-war and contemporary art on the West Coast.
The Bonhams auction was anchored by Robert Colescott’s Miss Liberty (1980), which sold for $3.7m ($4.5m with fees) to Art Bridges, the parent organisation of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. “This painting is so significant to an American audience and deserves global attention,” Squires said before the sale, which ultimately brought in a total of $5.9m (including fees). Miss Liberty’s sale marked the second-highest auction price for a work by the late California artist after George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975) sold for $15.3m (including fees) in 2021 to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles’s Exposition Park in 2025.
The museum is named for Star Wars creator George Lucas, who founded the museum with his wife, Starbucks chairwoman Mellody Hobson. It will add to the concentration of major art institutions in Los Angeles, which—along with relatively affordable studio spaces—have long been a major draw for the city’s community of artists. Now, the proliferation of gallery pop-ups, expansions and outposts launching around a steadily growing Frieze fair, plus increasing auction house activity, suggest market forces will play a larger role in the scene.
Los Angeles has “always been a centre for art-making that’s been super recognised for years”, Squires said. “Los Angeles, particularly now, is a real global art market with galleries moving in from London and New York. Frieze has really brought a huge global audience to Los Angeles.”