Is the third time the charm for the well-known art fair in one of the world’s emerging art capitals?
Say what you will about Los Angeles, but it’s a city that knows how to put on a show. A sprawling metropolis with historic ties to popular media, it has also become the most vibrant and exciting art nexus of the country, if not the world.
This year’s Frieze art fair, having skipped 2021, shifted from the Paramount Lot to three large, white tents abutting the Beverly Hilton. Although COVID masking mandates were firmly in place, there were plenty of upscale bars with various sponsored spirits, allowing one to be seen, a necessity for denizens of a city obsessed with self-image and presentation.
And there were many opportunities for selfies, including Mungo Thomson’s Time Magazine cover, which mirrored the viewer as well as other art fair goers who inadvertently photo-bombed one’s snapshot. Then there was Chris Burden’s Dreamer’s Folly, which not only provided shelter from the madding crowd, but also resembled a bygone era movie set. Both artists are Los Angeles locals (the latter died in Topanga Canyon) and are masters of artifice and the manipulation of space.
The theme of consumption of mass media was certainly in abundance, whether in a collage of dismembered Mickey Mouse body parts or in a tour-de-force meal for the eyes provided by Tyler Ballon. A return to realism and the figural form mirrors the trend in contemporary art, as does the use of alliterative visual cues.
Certainly welcome this year was the plethora of BIPOC artists represented, effortlessly accomplished as though their inclusion had always been the established norm. In any case, works rich in cultural meaning like Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Ibrahima Ndome or Shahzia Sikander’s Uprooted were some of the show’s knockout pieces. Coincidentally, Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama was recently shown at nearby LACMA.
Also prominent were cultural mash-ups, seen in Minjung Kim’s use of traditional mulberry Hanji paper, yet remaining distinctly modern in form. Xu Zhen was one of several artists to reference classical antiquity, and here he combines east and west in a jarring yet playful juxtaposition.
Gallery booths varied from displaying various contemporary artists to old standbys like Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Judd. Others still chose to show works from a single artist, as did Nino Mier with the mixed-media on linen pieces by Los Angeles-based Mindy Shapero. Her hypnotizing, prismatic mandala-esque creations powerfully reflect the vibrancy of the local art scene.
And that leads to this reflection’s conclusion: the thematic threads of Frieze LA were not about a clean break with the past. Rather, clear references to prior art and cultures were retained in artworks that charted new paths forward. This is reflected in the museums that have recently opened (Grammy Museum, Academy Museum, The Broad) and those about to take center stage (Lucas Museum, Armenian American Museum). As a longtime Angeleno, it’s heartening to see institutions take uniquely L.A. qualities and present them to a worldwide audience. Local and National/Global art galleries are popping up like dandelions, each one still representing artists while at the same time competing with museum exhibitions in ambition and quality.
There’s no doubt that art fairs have roared back to life after the pandemic’s artificial constraints, with all their excesses and contradictions. Diversity and inclusion a stone’s throw away from Rodeo Drive? I’ll let the reader decide.