Los Angeles is an American cultural stronghold mostly known for the entertainment business, yet the city of stars is now touting an expanding art market. While celebrity helps to connect art enthusiasts and piques interest in works, the jury is out as to whether the local market, absent the fair circuit, is viable for the volume of sales to support recent gallery expansion.
Within the past year, Los Angeles has seen more than 10 major gallery spaces open. Many local galleries have also been expanding. Additional locations by James Fuentes Gallery, Anna Zorina Gallery, Half Gallery, Lisson (upcoming), Pace Gallery, Perrotin, Shrine and Sargent’s Daughters joint gallery, and many others, make Los Angeles more of a destination in the eyes of the art world. However, increased competition does not necessarily equate to more market share. Because the culture of Los Angeles supports media and marketing, rather than taking New York’s approach of associating value with canonization, it appears that those who do both most effectively are most successful.
The Frieze Art Fair in LA opened on Thursday, Feb. 16 for a VIP crowd. The lines were larger than ever, as compared to prior to Frieze openings at the Felix Art Fair in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Many collectors immediately lamented the wait, where they felt paired with influencers, who do not frequent the fair circuit, and wannabe celebrities. The difficulty of oscillating between the fair’s two locations, inside and outside the Santa Monica airport, also frustrated collectors. Doubling in size, this Frieze edition bifurcated into two segments: 19th-century and emerging works were housed in the Santa Monica Airport hangar. The swath of established and blue-chip contemporary works was largely housed in the main fair tent.
MASSIMODECARLO gallery held a solo exhibition of emerging artist Ferrari Sheppard’s work in their booth. Preceding the fair, Sheppard landed a feature article in The Los Angeles Times, as well as write-ups in The Washington Informer and other major publications. The most incredulous part of Sheppard’s success are the absence of residencies, museum acquisitions, and other tangible “markers,” which one would generally assign to canonization. That withstanding, Sheppard’s market is healthy – with MASSIMODECARLO’s booth selling out at prices ranging from $60,000-$85,000. Notably, the gallery changed the booth the following day. The subsequent presentation featured yet another outstanding solo presentation of the even more challenging futuristic reliquary-esque sculptures,by American artist Matthew Monahan ($22,000-$40,000).
In the main section, there were a range of interesting blue-chip works featured in the hangar area, selling quickly at different price levels. Among the top-priced works selling on the preview day, a $3.5 million Mark Bradford at Hauser & Wirth gallery. David Zwirner also reported early high-priced sales of works by the Belgian painter, Michaël Borremans, ranging from $260,000 for the smaller works to $500,000-$1,000,000. A piece by Lisa Yskavage, and a series of black and white charcoal works by Dana Shultz, sold for $1,000,000 and $150,000, respectively. Yskavage’s oil on canvas “The Encounter” (2022) went for $1.2 million to an European Museum.
After the recent rediscovery and auction records, momentum continued for the former football player-turned-professional artist, Ernie Barnes. Barnes’ was presented in a joined booth by Andrew Kreps and Ortuzar Project, who now co-represent the estate. The galleries reported selling works by Barnes for over $1 million in the first hours of the VIP preview. During Frieze week, Barnes also had a full survey opening at the UTA Artist Space.
Quite predictably, fast sales were registered around the fair also for other of the most look-after women artists names in ultra-contemporary art. A large Chloe Wise sold by Almine Reich in the first hours for $79,000. Canadian painter Danica Lundy sold for $100,000, by White Cube, to a major museum; along with other sales of Louise Giovanelli ($60,000) and Marguerite Humeau ($85,000). All these artists just recently joined the gallery roster, determining a boost in both prices and demand; as demonstrated by Lundy’s standout auction record of $189,000 at Philips in last November’s sale. Following a sold-out solo at Magenta Plains, Lundy could be acquired at significantly lower prices this time last year.
Michaela Yearwood-Dan sold out her booth with Tiwani Contemporary, adding to the list of now impossible-to-access artists (priced between $40,000-$70,000). Young Mexican artist Hilda Palafox, presented by Proyectos Monclova, also sold out. Palafox already had a strong market, both in Mexico and abroad, and maintained attractive prices between $5,000 and $18,000. All of this data provides signs of a promising correction of the canon, with more attention given to women artists. For now, however, this seems to happen mostly on the market (and sometimes speculative) side.
Pretty surprisingly, early good activity was also registered in the modern section at the hangar. TornabuoniArt (Florence/Paris) reported sales of twp Pablo Atchungarry works (priced around $300,000 each) and a huge Alighiero Boetti tapestry within the first hours of the fair. The Arte Povera master has seen a quite substantial rise in prices in the past two years, with many international buyers, both in Asia and the US, finally appreciating the wit and innovation of his playful, but critical, approach to art. Access to quality Provera pieces is becoming more rare, especially for his colorful tapestries and maps. Today, both reach prices over the $1 million range.
Active appreciation and demand also for some of the great Korean masters of the Dansaekhwa movement were reported by some of the major galleries of the country. Kokjie gallery and Johyun Gallery provided the wide geographical and cultural extension of buyers’ interests at the fair. Some of the main names have also seen significant growth, both in admiration and prices, over the past years. This is a byproduct of international galleries’ representation and building a market outside of the region. Primary works by Park Seo-Bo (also represented by Perrotin) are currently priced in the range of $420,000 USD and works by Yun Hyong Keun are selling for $65,000 USD, following a solo also at David Zwirner Paris last month.
Also worth mentioning are Lee Bae’s dense total black charcoal works, also presented by Johyun Gallery, and sold to U.S. collectors in the early hours. Priced between $100,000 and $250,000, the Korean star with a long waiting list has become unaffordable. The Bae market has also benefited from the involvement of an international gallery, as Perrotin has been representing him for a few years now.
Among the most impressive presentations in the Hangar section, Los Angeles-based L.A. Louver Gallery maintained an exquisite museum-quality booth featuring the works of Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Based in Idaho, the Kienholzes’ fabricated works via the assemblage of found items. Moreover, their works commented critically on America, racism, segregation, greed, and many other taboo subjects. Managing Director Lisa Jann spoke eloquently and enthusiastically about the works, helping collectors grasp the significance of these monumental works. One such work, “Five Car Stud,” displays the castration of a Black man, in the middle of the night, surrounded by five cars and masked white men. This particular work, an edition print, was not for sale but another edition had been included by the Prada Collection in Milan.
In the same section, the powerful booth that Marianne Boesky dedicated to Jennifer Bartlett is also worth mentioning. Bartlett, who died last year at 81 years old, now sees a quite interesting evolving market. Despite the artist being known mostly for her rigid grid paintings that combine a more conceptual system-based aesthetic, the gallery decided to present instead some of her rarely seen works from the 1970s. One could also see the grid paintings in the online preview that the LACMA is hosting, but the presentation of the retrospective works were unique to the fair. When she loses control on the canvas, Bartlett transitioned to a more expressive and dramatic approach. This finds its climax in a huge flamed canvas, dominating the booth with its 192-inch-long presence and explosive colors. The work captured the doom, which resonated with the massive local wildfires. Other similar fire paintings are held in the collections of major institutions, such as the Yale University Gallery and Whitney Museum in New York ($675,000 USD).
One could get to know many relative newcomers in the hangar section, mostly woman-owned galleries, exhibiting for the first time at Frieze Los Angeles. Some noteworthy booths were the Chela Mitchell Gallery (Washington, D.C.), Anat Ebgi (Los Angeles), Hannah Traore Gallery (New York), and Make Room (Los Angeles). During the week, Make Room opened a new, larger location in Hollywood and reported a sold-out booth by the weekend.
One of the most exciting emerging presentations was that of REGULARNORMAL (New York); which featured works from Melissa Joseph and Bony Ramirez. Joseph’s work comes up in conversation with the likes of Kevin Beasley and Leonardo Drew, because of her use of textiles to fabricate works. Though more figurative, and less abstract or conceptual than Beasley or Drew, Joseph commanded the attention of fairgoers with her felted painting “2 Miles Behind the Chicken Truck in Bentonville, AR.” For only $18,000, at 60 x 43 in, this may have been the biggest bargain of the fair. The work was put on hold for institutional interest during the preview day, while the other felt pieces sold immediately to a prominent Atlanta-based collector along with the early sale of Bony Ramirez’s piece ($18,000) following his sold-out solo, which just closed earlier this month at Francois Ghebaly.
Always among the new galleries entering the fair, Sow & Taylor presented an impressive solo booth by the Los Angeles-based 24-year-old Veronica Fernandez. Fernandez has been rising rapidly in the past three years, attracting attention across continents with her highly expressive paintings. Her work discusses home insecurity and reconciliation with a troubled childhood, which provides a vivid portrait of the Latinx community and life in today’s America (priced $16,000-$26,000).
Summarily, while the art market in Los Angeles proved to be hot at different levels, it remains to be seen what its evolution will bring. Sustainability, with more and more galleries opening, is an important variable. For New York galleries to be successful in Los Angeles, it appears that they will either have to help shift the perception of Los Angeles collectors as to the importance of canonization or pivot their marketing strategy. The engagement of public relations professionals certainly plays a key role, as MASSIMODECARLO demonstrated. However, it is unclear how greatly Los Angeles will come to support art, beyond its lifestyle hysteria and attraction for popular trends.
What emerges quite clearly from the hyper-crowded openings and days, both in Frieze and
Felix Art Fairs, is that contemporary art has become more popular than ever. It’s being perceived as a fundamental element of a specific lifestyle experience and community that more and more people, outside of art professionals and collectors, want to feel part of. Whether these new crowds of influencers, wannabe celebrities, and entrepreneurs, flocking into the fairs, will also convert into buyers remains to be proved.
Andrew S. Jacobson is the founder of Balmoré Art, an art advisory and media company. He is also a lawyer, contributing writer for The Washington Informer and Washington Informer Bridge, as well as a Professor at Georgetown University. Jacobson focuses on contemporary African American art, with a specialty in emerging artists.
Elisa Carollo is an art adviser, curator, and USPAP-compliant appraiser, with a focus on contemporary and ultra-contemporary art. With over eight years in the art business, she now works for Fondazione Imago Mundi in Treviso. Carollo advises international projects and relations, and works as a freelance adviser for collectors, galleries, and artists. She regularly writes about art and its market for Il Giornale dell’Arte (The Art Newspaper Italy, by Allemandi) and Collezione da Tiffany, among others. She recently joined the IKT (International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art) and is collaborating with Innextart, an innovative start-up spin-off of Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa aiming to innovate museum management, conservation, and fundraising within Web3.