Three years ago, when the Frieze art fair first expanded to Los Angeles, it was met with some scepticism. Columnist Tim Schneider called LA an “art-fair graveyard”, citing recent flops such as FIAC Los Angeles and Paris Photo LA.

Now, as Frieze stages its third LA iteration under new director Christine Messineo, the question has shifted from whether the fair will survive to what exactly Frieze Week can be in LA’s notoriously decentralised art scene. “When we were thinking about LA,” says Victoria Siddall, board director at Frieze and former director of its fairs, “it was really as the city that had all of the ingredients: the best galleries and museums and artists and art schools and this rich history of extraordinary art production. The one thing it didn’t have was this moment in the calendar when the entire art world was focused on that.”

More than just bringing the art world together in LA, though, Frieze wanted to bring “the whole [LA] art scene together”, says Siddall, who will step down after 18 years with the company at the end of February.

Photo of two men hugging outside a storage unit
The Spring Break fair took place in former refrigerated areas for produce in 2019
Photo of a large soft sculpture of something like a Venus flytrap
Works from Chandran Gallery at Spring Break in 2020

This centralising ambition is common to other fairs which are taking place at the same time as Frieze. Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly had been running the Spring Break fair in New York since 2012 and had begun considering an expansion to LA, especially after Frieze announced it would debut in the city in 2019. They even found a site — former produce refrigerators in downtown Los Angeles — but they had lingering concerns. “What LA lacks, especially in relationship to New York and London, is a tried-and-true infrastructure,” says Gori. “I even think the mentality out here is a little bit anti-infrastructure.”

But at the start of February 2019, Gori and Ambre decided to take the plunge. Two weeks later, they had filled 32 stalls in the cold-storage facility with art, almost exclusively featuring local artists and curators. They have now come to feel that their fair can underscore the city’s multiplicity by, at least for a weekend, transcending its sprawl. “There are so many different pockets throughout LA,” says Kelly. “We were really interested in bringing all of those pockets together, into one house.”

Artists’ openness to navigating strange parameters — the fact that no holes could be put in the refrigerator walls, among other things — gave the first show a fresh, electric energy. “That actually has been what we feel is the most exciting, culturally, about inhabiting Los Angeles — there is a little bit less of that sense of stringent homogeneity,” says Gori.

Photo of an outdoor swimming pool with gleaming white loungers and lots of tall palm trees
The pool at the Roosevelt hotel was decorated by David Hockney © LHB Photo/Alamy

“The artists have always been here,” says collector and former TV executive Dean Valentine, who co-founded the Felix art fair in 2019, along with dealers Al and Mills Morán. “It’s just the infrastructure that hadn’t caught up.” Felix, hosted in the 1920s Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, was meant to be a different kind of fair, more intimate, casual and imbued with LA energy. For one thing, the “booths” — hotel rooms — have windows looking out at the cityscape. “Most art fairs are held in closed-off spaces that could be casinos,” says Valentine. Plus, he adds, there is the famous pool (painted by David Hockney), surrounded by cabanas. “That pool gives it an instant LA vibe.”

While other fairs, Frieze included, took a year off from LA in 2021 because of the pandemic, Felix hosted a summer edition at the hotel at the end of July. It used only the cabana rooms around the pool, making it easy for visitors to be outside, and invited galleries from the city.

The show coincided with the inaugural gallery weekend organised by Gallery Platform, a local coalition formed during the pandemic, and the Hammer Museum’s Made in LA biennial. “I think, if anything, it created an esprit de corps for LA galleries,” says Valentine, “a sense that there’s something special happening.” Felix plans to continue its summer editions, focusing on local galleries, while the February editions will be larger and international, a participant in Frieze Week even if Felix’s organisers have always considered their relationship to Frieze more incidental.

This year, Frieze will move from Paramount Studios to a new location, a tent adjacent to the Beverly Hills Hilton. Gori and Kelly will relocate Spring Break as well, from downtown to a former factory in Culver City, and they are happy that they will be a 15-minute drive from the new Frieze tent.

Painting of human and animal figures against a white background
Work by Suzanne Jackson being presented at Ortuzar Projects at Frieze LA © Timothy Doyon

“In New York, I feel like you can go to so many different events in a day or over a few days,” says Kelly. “But in LA you really have to choose based on where things are happening.” They see their relationship with the other fairs in the city as collaborative. “Holistically, we share an audience,” says Gori, “and also we’re all sharing a kind of cultural moment that feeds each fair.”

It’s fitting that Frieze Week’s appeal in LA comes in part from briefly centralising an art scene that has long resisted centralisation. Still, some of the more exciting projects this year will try to channel that historical off-the-grid, open energy. In an East Hollywood storefront, curators Barret Lybbert and Stefano Di Paola will curate a show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Womanhouse, an immersive installation feminist artists staged in an old mansion. The reimagined show will have no set artist list and will evolve over its duration in an effort to capture some of the original installation’s anarchy.

At Frieze, the New York Gallery Ortuzar Projects will show the work of Suzanne Jackson, who ran the experimental Gallery 32 between 1968 and 1970. Ales Ortuzar, the gallery’s proprietor, has revelled in learning not just about Jackson’s work, but about her community in LA and the approach they took to experimentation. “There was certainly a freedom,” says Ortuzar. “The work was very varied and really not conforming to the norms.” Which could be said to sum up Frieze Week in LA nicely.

frieze.com, springbreakartshow.com, felixfair.com

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