How a CAA Agent Is Leading the Charge in Hollywood's Art Boom

Jessica Sample
Joel Lubin was photographed Jan. 11 in his office at CAA with a Michael Williams painting. “This is one of the only pieces [my wife] Marija and I have acquired without seeing the work in person,” says Lubin.

Joel Lubin, a member of the host committee for this weekend's Art Los Angeles Contemporary, is adding artists to his roster of megastars (including Tom Cruise and David Oyelowo) as the industry increasingly values the clout and creative cred of collecting.

In 2011, Joel Lubin, co-head of CAA's motion picture talent department, bought his first painting. He hadn't intended to start collecting art but was introduced to artist Alex Israel by a mutual friend — former actress-model China Chow — around the time she was hosting Bravo's art-world reality competition Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. Israel, who has since become one of the L.A. art world's most in-demand figures, was looking for help booking talent on his own show, the web interview series As It Lays, a sly satire of Hollywood and celebrity. Lubin, who ended up helping to identify some talent for the show, got to know Israel and found his artistic process intriguing. "The art world felt really opaque to me, and I had no idea how to approach it," recalls Lubin, 46, sitting in his office at CAA. He soon approached Israel about buying one of his Flats, works that call to mind California sunsets seen through a retro-'80s pop-art lens. Recalls Lubin, "That was the very beginning of getting involved in collecting."

Now, just six years later, Lubin — who grew up in Chicago not even liking museums ("I definitely remember being very young and not having any patience or interest, so it took about 40 years") — is one of a cadre of entertainment-industry collectors running deep with L.A.'s scorching-hot art world. As this issue of THR went to press, he and his wife, Serbian actress Marija Karan (The Rite, Assassination Games), were set to host the Jan. 25 welcome party for Art Los Angeles Contemporary, welcoming the ascendant fair's dealers, collectors and gallerists — as well as founder Tim Fleming and such host committee members as art consultant Veronica Fernandez and MOCA board vice chair Eugenio Lopez — at their midcentury modern home in the Hollywood Hills. "Now is the moment to help amplify their message, which is to continue to make Los Angeles a real destination for people that want to learn more about art,” says Lubin of ALAC. "It’s a great way to congregate a lot of people at a very low expense to see really great art and see galleries that they might not walk into — it’s a less intimidating atmosphere.”

Lubin and Karan's works veer from the established to the emerging and from sculpture and painting to video and photography: Their collection reveals an interest in artists with a strong message, an appreciation of humor and a refreshing lack of obvious choices. "Marija and I are drawn to storytelling, which is the world that I live in. That's a common thread," says Lubin. In their living room are Jonathan Gardner's painting The Model and Luis Flores' sculpture Breaking Down, Polishing Rocks, purchased two years ago at ALAC. Nearby is a Suit sculpture (acquired in 2015 at Art Basel Miami Beach) by Erwin Wurm, who'll represent Austria at this year's Venice Biennale. "For us, it's less about collecting and more about learning. Getting to know the artist and going to their studio and finding out what makes them want to create art is a big factor in whether I want to continue collecting somebody," says Lubin, a regular on the art circuit, from the annual Hammer Gala locally to the FIAC fair in Paris. Recently, at a 50th anniversary benefit for LACMA, Lubin bought his second work by Israel, a re-creation of the crystal egg from Risky Business. "It's great that he has it because he also represents Tom Cruise," says Israel (Lubin's other clients include Andrew Garfield, Jeremy Renner, James Corden, David Oyelowo and Zac Efron). "He's really interested in getting directly to the source, which is talking to artists, and that's not the case for every collector. He comes to events, he comes to talks, he comes to walk-throughs and screenings and openings — he's a real member of the art community."

Lubin's growing involvement comes at a time when the top agencies all are delving further into fine art — from UTA launching its own division to WME-IMG forming a partnership with the organization that puts on the Frieze Art Fairs — and when works increasingly are being featured in TV and film, from Nocturnal Animals to Empire and American Horror Story. CAA represents artists Julian Schnabel and Daniel Arsham for film work, and the agency, which says its intent is not to compete with galleries, recently signed up-and-coming artist Rachel Rose for movie projects as well. Lubin in December signed Israel for film projects and is working on a distribution plan for the artist's recently completed teen surf feature SPF 18, an homage to '80s cinema. "It's coming full circle," says Lubin. "When I started collecting, it felt that L.A. was more on the periphery of the art world. In the last six or seven years, it has become a real magnet for artists, for galleries, for ALAC to become more prominent. The fair is another natural advertisement for Los Angeles."

***

HIGH-LOW ART HUNTING NOW 

Art Los Angeles Contemporary 
Jan. 26-29, Barker Hangar, Santa Monica; tickets ($25-$65) at artlosangelesfair.com

ALAC, featuring 60 local and international galleries, offers a multidisciplinary mix that will include performance artist Todd Gray recalling a near-death experience with rock icon Iggy Pop when they were living in Laurel Canyon in the '70s. Producer Roger Corman and his sometime star Mary Woronov will discuss their work and its impact on countercultural esthetics. Last year's fair drew 83 exhibitors and more than 15,000 visitors (including Emily Ratajkowski, Lisa Edelstein and producer David Hoberman).

stARTup Art Fair
Jan. 27-29, Highland Gardens Hotel, 7047 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; tickets ($15-$40) at startupartfair.com

Founded in 2015 by San Francisco artists Ray Beldner and Steve Zavattero, the outsider fair this yeamarks its second L.A. edition. Only indie artists qualify, giving creators 100 percent of sales.

L.A. Art Book Fair
Feb. 24-26, Geffen Contemporary MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., tickets ($10) at laartbookfair.net

Printed Matter's fifth annual event (some 35,000 attended in 2016) features books, monographs and zines from more than 300 publishers, booksellers, antiquarians and artists from 22 countries.

***

THE ULTIMATE L.A. CULTURE COLLAB

The Getty-led "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA" — an exploration of Latin American and Latino art and culture in and around L.A. — announced its concert and performance highlights at a Jan. 18 event attended by city culture chiefs from LACMA director Michael Govan to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, who took in a show by Latin Grammy-nominated artist Ceci Bastida. The four-month event, more than three years in the making, opens in Sept. 15 at museums, venues and parks across SoCal. pacificstandardtime.org

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

comments powered by Disqus