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When the Fine Art World Came to Los Angeles: A Day at The Frieze and Felix

This last weekend, The Fine Art Ledger had the pleasure of visiting both Frieze, Los Angeles, and Felix LA ,the inaugural editions of the two fairs for Los Angeles.

Truly an exciting development for Los Angeles, Frieze opened its doors on February 15th at Paramount Studios, the iconic lot on Melrose, near fashionable Larchmont. An interesting venue, with a distinctly Hollywood flavor, the main fair housed in traditional art-fair style, and the back-lot serving up additional space for installations, stores and entertainment in a New York-type neighborhood scene. Notable in the back lot was Hannah Greely’s 'High and Dry' clothesline installation which waived in the chilly winter weather above fair-goers traversing among beer, wine and clothing pop-ups.

But nothing as creative space-wise as Felix, which took three floors of the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel from February 14 to 17, to house gallery space in the hotel's guest suites, with fair-goers walking the corridors, in and out of the hotel rooms, each with a different gallery booth. At least, one has to think, there would be no shortage of bathrooms, with each booth having en-suite amenities.

Simply the logistics in putting both fairs together is astounding. For Frieze, it meant effectively providing public access, en-masse, to a functioning studio lot, and giving them the free reign of the outdoor space, at least. The Roosevelt, on the other hand, involved, presumably, moving beds and drawers out of the rooms, clearing out three floors of guest space, drilling holes in walls, moving headboards, and hanging works shown by the forty-two or so invited galleries.

Put on by collector Dean Valentine and dealers Al Morán and Mills Morán, Felix, free to the public, created an inspiring, alternative, more personal space than one would expect for an art fair, rendering an inclusive experience of being within the art, rather than outside it, with its Hotel-room suggestion of seclusion, intimacy and curiosity.

Frieze, on the other hand, presented the familiar fine art fair feel, becoming of the major fair that it is, cast under halogen lit bright-white tent and divided dry-wall cubicles. What it lacked in intimacy it made up for in the quality of the works and the galleries presenting. Works by Barbara Kruger, Mel Bochner, Richard Misrach, Cindy Sherman, Paul and Damon McCarthy stood out for us, with Kathryn Andrews's 'Hollywood Dahlia', stainless steel, film prop piece, replete with pigs head and stainless steel german helmet (one would think fresh out of Spring Time For Hitler), and Mark Rodriguez's shelving units packed with serialized Grateful Dead audiocassettes ('5th Gen' -for a cool $65,000) catching a lot of attention.

White Cube brought in a classic Damien Hirst fish-in- formaldehyde "Love is Blind' from 2008, and Marian Goodman the striking Nan Goldin 'Blue', a large 60x 80 inch haunting archival pigment print.

Both fairs were very busy, and even though packing a relatively steep ticket price, Frieze on the general public days was packed. Each ticket was staggered for two hourly visitation slots, which apparently kept the flow of people manageable. But that's really, logistically, where the good news ended. Public access to the Frieze was difficult, with pedestrian entrance limited, it seemed to two access points on each side of the Paramount lot.

Frieze, halogen-lighted, and white, dry-wall partitioned did the opposite in true art fair style. The fair drew an impressive, assorted crowd, with the public days busy, which, given the relatively steep admission, reflected the need, and potential for a world-class art fair in LA. The staggered admission (each ticket valid for two hour windows) helped to keep the main show space manageable, but that was really where, logistically, the upside ended. Public access appeared to be limited to two side entrances, with the primary lot entrance off limits to pedestrians. That meant walking through the driveway gatehouse, only to be told to walk the 10 minutes round the studio lot, enter the pedestrian access and then walk all the way round to access the fair.

On the other hand, even within the narrow hallways of the Roosevelt, and navigating the gallery-rooms, Felix, much smaller with around forty galleries, was way easier to navigate, and in our humble opinion, better organized. Felix drew a selection of international galleries, including one of our favorites, Cape Town's Stevenson, and we enjoyed catching up on Zander Blom's collaboration with Sean O'Toole of the 'Bad Reviews' and other South African artists.

Interestingly, aside from the familiar Deutsche Bank insignia at Frieze, there was little professional service provider presence. This is telling and perhaps, and really a lost opportunity for events of this stature and attendance.

The weekend was a major development for LA, and hopefully February in LA will turn out to be LA's Basel December. We can only hope. Certainly, it was incredible seeing fairs of this calibre in Los Angeles, and full credit to the organizers of both art fairs, particularly Felix.


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