Like many Angelenos, Frieze Los Angeles has — so far — been itinerant. After iterations at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios and in Beverly Hills, this year’s fair is continuing its westward progress across the city to the beach enclave of Santa Monica.

The Santa Monica Airport may not seem the most glamorous spot after Hollywood’s glitz, but the historic complex has the advantage of size and variety: it includes not only the airport but a public park, football pitch, aviation museum and the 35,000 sq ft Barker Hangar, which has played host to fairs including Photo LA and The Other Art Fair.

Christine Messineo, Frieze’s fair director, Americas, explains that she’s enthusiastic about “the interactive, expansive way we can think about the site”, citing Frieze’s plans to take over each area of the airport through its exhibits and the installations and performances curated by Art Production Fund. The latter includes Basil Kincaid’s “Dancing the Wind Walk”, which nods to the site and to broader themes by wrapping an aeroplane in a patchwork quilt made from recycled material sourced in Ghana and St Louis.

Photo of a proudly posed woman draped in a red, yellow, green and black patchwork textile which descends from her to the ground and swathes everything
‘The Visionary’, featuring filmmaker Sabaah Foloyan (2017) by Basil Kincaid © Photo courtesy Basil Kincaid

Beyond the fair, too, the city’s contemporary art sprawls: galleries are clustered across Los Angeles in Hollywood, Culver City and Downtown’s Arts District. “What really characterises LA’s art scene is that it’s very scattered,” says Tarrah von Lintel, founder of Von Lintel Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station gallery complex. “Each of the neighbourhoods has such a different feel.”

As a tourist town that sprouted up around its appealing beaches, Santa Monica became a haven for artists in the 20th century, including John Baldessari and Luchita Hurtado. Today, it is home to a handful of contemporary galleries alongside Bergamot Station, while the Hammer Museum and both Getty locations are not far away. “It has such a history in the contemporary art world and the architecture world,” Messineo says of the city.

Imagine a circle falling forward, then bouncing up again, where each stage of the fall and the bounce is a progression through the rainbow from red to purple
‘The colour-current dilemma’ (2022) by Olfar Eliasson © Courtesy the artist/Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo: Jens Ziehe

LA’s wealthy Westside, the region closer to the coast that includes areas such as Brentwood, Santa Monica, Venice and Pacific Palisades, has become home to more collectors than creatives in recent years. “The Westside is a compilation of working-class folks, the middle class and also a significant number of more privileged folks,” says Rose Shoshana, founder of Santa Monica’s Rosegallery. “I don’t think it is by coincidence that Frieze chose the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica as its venue for 2023. It’s a sublime location and a very astute and clever decision on the part of Frieze enterprise.”

Not everyone is convinced. “I was a little surprised the Frieze fair chose to go there,” says Susanne Vielmetter, founder of Vielmetter gallery, which is exhibiting at Frieze LA. “I can see the advantage of having a much larger space . . . really good parking, and of course, being accessible to the collectors on the Westside . . . but as a destination for collectors to see galleries, Santa Monica is not the hippest place to be.” The energy today, she says, is in “Hollywood and Downtown”.

Tall sculpture with yellow and pink elements on a wooden stump
Two pieces by Arlene Shechet at Vielmetter: ‘Romance Language’ (2021 . . . 
Also a tall sculpture but this time in white and blocky
 . . . and ‘Pulse and Powder’ (2021) © Courtesy the artist/Vielmetter. Photos: Phoebe d’Heurle/David Schulze

Ease of transport cannot be underrated in Los Angeles, whose geographic spread makes it challenging for anyone to explore its range of arts without careful planning, or at least some awareness of its traffic patterns. “Accessibility and parking will be great for the fair in Santa Monica. Everything else, it’s like going a bit back in time,” Vielmetter says with a laugh.

Going back in time is, in fact, a key aspect of this year’s Frieze Projects, which will delve into some of the historical and geographic tensions of the Westside in Against the Edge. The multi-site show is curated by Jay Ezra Nayssan, founder of Santa Monica-based Del Vaz Projects, with works at five Westside locations that speak to Los Angeles’ socio-economic inequalities, housing crisis and precarity as a built environment.  

A rectangular yellow projection on a wall with the words in blue ‘to be seen, to be visible’
‘Evil.13.5 (4 OE)’ (2022) by Tony Cokes © Courtesy the artist/Greene Naftali/Hannah Hoffman/Felix Gaudlitz/Electronic Arts Intermix

“The general message of Against the Edge is to upset these values of Los Angeles as a paradise and as a refuge,” Nayssan said at a press event. He later elaborated that the goal was “to examine the evolution of Los Angeles at large” by excavating the Westside’s history: “We see a lot of these stories that I’m trying to unearth compacted very well within the coastal Westside.” They include those of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, the legacy of Japanese internment and the destruction of communities of colour in Santa Monica to construct the 10 freeway.

Frieze’s presence has a ripple effect on the arts beyond the Westside, too, inspiring the convenient timing of numerous gallery openings and the intimate hotel fair Felix to capitalise on its international audience. Frieze “brings a lot of energy to the city”, says Vielmetter. “The arts scene, and the quality of the galleries, and the number of galleries here in LA now . . . It’s not even remotely comparable to the art landscape here in the Nineties. It’s an enormous development.”

Other Frieze fairs tend to put down roots: Frieze London is firmly ensconced in Regent’s Park; Frieze New York colonised Randall’s Island for a decade until moving to The Shed in 2021. While “excited by the opportunities of what we can do” at the airport, Messineo declined to speculate on whether Frieze Los Angeles will find a permanent home in Santa Monica — or if, like the rest of the city, it will keep restlessly evolving.

February 16-19,

Lucky old Felix

A woman sips a coffee by a tree. Some people are interviewed by a video crew. A woman in a bikini lounged by a pool
Felix art fair in 2022 © Zack Whitford

Art fairs in hotels are nothing new, but few combine historic flair and sun-drenched conviviality quite like Felix. Since emerging on the fringes of Frieze Los Angeles in 2019, the fair has grown from eclectic upstart to beloved starlet of the city’s fair scene. Taking place in the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, contemporary art unfolds across a setting with a lofty cinematic past: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable once checked in here and the site hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929.

Despite this Golden Age glamour, a laid-back vibe persists — former Disney executive Dean Valentine and gallerists Al and Mills Morán founded Felix in a bid to offer collectors, dealers and artists the chance to convene in a fun, intimate setting. The fair’s fifth edition brings 60 international exhibitors — a mix of young and established galleries — to cabanas dotted next to a pool adorned with a mural by David Hockney. This year, 14 new galleries join the roster, including Beijing’s Spurs Gallery and Rele Gallery (Lagos and LA). Kristina Foster

February 15-19,

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