This week in the Back Room: a look back at Frieze L.A., a deeper gaze into Peter Doig’s solo act, Ernie Barnes rises again, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (2,099 words).
Top of the Market
The art market passed its first big test of 2023 last week, as the latest editions of Frieze Los Angeles and the Felix art fair spurred the international art caravan to spend like mad in the City of Angels while its galleries multiplied, its collectors opened their homes, and its museums tried to put their best foot forward.
Although the consensus opinion is that L.A. has now cemented its once-questioned status as an art business power center, however, not everything went according to plan.
Below, our four biggest takeaways from a week on the ground (and freeways) of Los Angeles…
1. Sellers Did Well Across Price Tiers and Events.
Of opening day at Frieze, our colleague Eileen Kinsella wrote, “To call sales brisk is putting it mildly.”
At least three major galleries told Artnet News they sold out their respective booths by nightfall on preview day: Gagosian (showing Rick Lowe, solo, with several of the nine paintings going to museums), David Kordansky (showing market phenom Chase Hall, solo), and Perrotin (featuring Josh Sperling and Aya Takano, along with various others).
At least seven dealers reported placing works for $1 million or more by the fair’s end. Hauser and Wirth’s $3.5 million sale of a new Mark Bradford painting led the high-priced pack. Gladstone Gallery moved a 1998 Richard Prince “Cowboy” for $3 million. Thaddaeus Ropac (famously averse to pre-selling) closed deals for a Robert Rauschenberg work listed at $1.7 million and an Alex Katz canvas listed at $1.5 million.
Dealers further down the price ladder also performed well across expos, too. A slew of Frieze exhibitors relayed sales ranging from the six figures (see: Lehmann Maupin, Tina Kim, Château Shatto) to the five figures (see: James Cohan, Goodman Gallery, Jessica Silverman).
Felix brought healthy business at lower price points. Charles Moffett gallery told Artnet News it sold out its presentation of 25 landscapes by Ontario-based artist Keiran Brennan Hinton during the preview day, at prices ranging from $4,000 to $15,000. Portland, Oregon dealer Adams and Ollman sold over 20 works by gallery artists ranging in prices from $5,000 to $24,000.
At least one heavy hitter bought at the hotel, as well. Residency Art Gallery, based in nearby Inglewood, sold multiple works to Beth Rudin DeWoody, according to Janelle Zara in
2. Frieze’s New Venue Received Mixed Reviews.
Frieze took up residence at the Santa Monica Airport this year, leaving behind its former venues at Paramount Studios (2019–20) and 9900 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills (2022). Multiple “glaring logistical hiccups” emerged at the new spot, Eileen wrote:
“Road closures… forced numerous fairgoers to circle around the airport, and there was resulting confusion about the whereabouts of the entrance. Several visitors griped at being dropped off as far as one mile away and having to continue on foot. Security officers barked at slowed or stopped cars as passengers tried to make their way to the fair.”
Multiple exhibitors, including some in the “Focus” section for galleries aged 12 years and younger, also said they were surprised to learn on install day that their booths would be in the Barker Hangar, a permanent structure separated from Frieze’s main tent by about a quarter mile of tarmac.
A Frieze spokesperson said, in part, “The two locations were communicated to all galleries well ahead of time” and noted that several “Focus” exhibitors “made significant sales within the first hour of the fair.” Frieze and lead sponsor Deutsche Bank also offered golf carts to ease the commute.
Still, in conversations with Tim (who was on site for preview day), several dealers and other visitors blithely referred to the Barker Hangar as “the kids’ tent,” a perception of lesser standing that Frieze will have to work to counteract should the fair return to the airport in 2024.
3. Frieze’s Move Had a Knock-on Effect on Felix, for Better and for Worse.
Felix stayed put at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, its home for all four of its full editions (plus a poolside-only mini-edition staged in 2021). However, the fair opened a day earlier than Frieze for the first time ever, a response to the newly untenable distance between the two events.
The good news was that Felix tallied an all-time-high of 4,000 visitors on preview day, according to a fair spokesperson. But becoming the main attraction on Wednesday also pushed the fair’s venue close to its breaking point.
Yes, visitors complained about the line for the elevator from the cabana-level exhibitors to their upper-floor counterparts at every past edition, too. But this year the opening-day crowds sometimes clogged the hallways and rooms to a standstill, making the dense but mobile throng at Frieze the next day feel almost luxurious in comparison.
It’s not clear if the crush hurt business or not. While many dealers relayed sales and gushed about great conversations with collectors, multiple returning advisors and buyers said that the logistics and the offerings at Felix’s 2023 edition made them feel like the fair could use a refresh next year.
4. Not All Gallery Expansions in L.A. Are Created Equal.
Although multiple dealers unveiled new spaces during Frieze Week, the early returns on investment varied based on their experience level with Los Angeles.
The second Angeleno galleries for François Ghebaly and Hauser and Wirth, both in West Hollywood, were well placed in enclaves amenable to high-end business. That’s not surprising given that both dealers have years-long roots in the city and enough capital to be choosy.
More exploratory are the galleries in Melrose Hill, which is currently less a neighborhood than a real-estate aspiration in a transitional stretch between Hancock Park and East Hollywood.
The complexion of Melrose Hill could change dramatically after David Zwirner and James Fuentes finish their new locations there later this year, joining Clearing and the space shared by Lower East Side galleries Sargent’s Daughters and Shrine. Together, they may prove to be a critical mass able to consistently draw buyers and attract complementary development.
For now, though, these latter spots feel like outposts in the truest sense.
The Bottom Line
There are few tropes more tired than out-of-towners parachuting into Los Angeles for a few days to pass judgment on how well (or poorly) the city is meeting their expectations of what it should be. That said, the collective conclusion from visiting dealers, collectors, and other art pros this February is that L.A. has earned a lasting spot on their itinerary.
Hopefully, this means we can now move on from the central question around the city’s art scene being whether it can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other fair-based destinations for one week on the annual circuit, and instead transition into what L.A. can offer, and how it is evolving, year-round.
The latest Wet Paint tracks the new artist in residence at the Rubell Museum and takes a closer look into Peter Doig’s surprising departure from Michael Werner Gallery.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Here’s our full round-up of reported sales at Frieze Los Angeles, ranging from the aforementioned $3.5 million Mark Bradford painting at Hauser and Wirth, to a $10,000 ceramic sculpture by recent MFA grad Jane Margarette at Anat Ebgi. (Artnet News Pro)
- These are the 285 galleries showing at the 2023 iteration of Art Basel’s flagship fair, whose VIP preview days will be held June 13–14. (Artnet News)
- Photo London announced the 110 galleries from more than 50 countries exhibiting at its next edition from May 11–14 at Somerset House. The fair will include a special focus on the work of Iranian photographers. ()
- This May in New York, Christie’s will present a dedicated evening sale of 16 modern and postwar paintings from the collection of S.I. Newhouse that is collectively estimated to surpass $144 million. (Artnet News)
- Phillips announced that its new 52,000 square-foot headquarters in the WKCDA Tower in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District will “open for business in phases” starting March 18. The house’s spring auction calendar in the region opens with its 20th century and contemporary evening art sale on March 30. ()
- Our columnist Kenny Schachter reported that, this May, Valentino cofounder Giancarlo Giammetti will auction a major untitled 1983 Basquiat canvas with an estimate in the range of $45 million. In May 2021, Giammetti sold a Basquiat skull painting for $93 million against a roughly $50 million estimate at Christie’s 21st century evening sale in New York. (Artnet News)
- Marian Goodman Gallery and Alexander Gray Associates are each moving their respective New York headquarters to Tribeca. Both galleries’ new spaces will open in 2024 on the same block as JTT, PPOW, and Arne Glimcher’s project space, 125 Newbury. ()
- Nicodim now reps South Korean painter Yoora Lee. (Wet Paint)
- Lehmann Maupin named Katherine Rochester its new curatorial director, while Natalia Sacasa, a former Luhring Augustine director, is joining the New York outpost shared by France’s Galerie 1900-2000 and Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Valloist, at 1018 Madison Avenue. ()
Institutions and Other Nonprofits
- Rachel Schectman, the Brooklyn Museum’s first ever “entrepreneur in residence,” sounded off on why adding a position like hers could benefit museums writ large. (Artnet News)
- The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) hired Margot Norton as chief curator and Victoria Sung and Anthony Graham as senior curators, all effective this May. ()
- Performa tapped Katherine “Kat” Bishop to be the next president of the organization’s board of directors. (Wet Paint)
Tech and Legal News
- The U.K.’s culture minister created a new hurdle for British restitution cases by stating that all works slated to leave the country must go through the complete export licensing process first, even works (like Benin bronzes or the Parthenon Marbles) potentially being repatriated to their home countries. ()
- A French court ordered Paris’s Musée d’Orsay to restitute four paintings alleged to have been stolen and sold to the Nazis after the abrupt death of their one-time owner, famed French art dealer Ambroise Vollard. (Artnet News)
- The Joan Mitchell Foundation sent Louis Vuitton a cease-and-desist letter alleging that the French luxury brand committed copyright infringement when it featured the late Abstract Expressionist’s paintings in the background of advertisements for its Capucines handbags. (Artnet News)
“It’s been incredible to see this [Los Angeles] art scene become what it is today. But it’s still not New York, where we recently opened a gallery. It’s a totally different landscape there. On a weekly basis, we’re looking at 150 to 200 visitors in L.A. versus 2,500 in Chelsea.”
Work of the Week
Price: $1.25 million
Sold at: Frieze Los Angeles
Sales Date: February 16
If you haven’t heard, the life story of Ernie Barnes is movie-ready. With his childhood dreams of life as an artist forestalled by segregation in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, he channeled his athletic gifts into football. After playing five years in the NFL, however, Barnes became eligible for a pension and retired to do art full time.
Inspired by Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Wyeth, and other midcentury American regionalists, Barnes dubbed his painting style “Neo-Mannerism.” That expressive, elongated aesthetic is on full display in this painting of two basketball players leaping into a sky reminiscent of a brighter El Greco, framed by raw wooden planks that simultaneously evoke a southern readymade and a Renaissance icon.
Though Barnes quickly found popular success as an artist, the fine art world kept its distance during his lifetime. Suffice to say, much has changed since his 2009 death. In 2020, the UTA Artists Space in L.A. gave Barnes a solo show, Andrew Kreps mounted an exhibition in 2021, and the demand for his work reached fever pitch when his 1976 painting sold for $15.3 million at Christie’s in May 2022.
Since then it’s been off to the races, and the joint Frieze L.A. booth of Kreps and Ortuzar Projects (who together co-represent Barnes’s estate) was the equivalent of a touchdown dance, with the artist’s family hanging out in “Team Barnes” sweatshirts and stars like Lionel Richie and Tyler the Creator coming by to pay respects among artworks ranging from $2.2 million (for a painting titled ) to works on paper in the $60,000-to-$125,000 range. was snapped up by an American collector on the first day of the fair.