Pret-a-Reporter

UTA Fine Arts Brings Larry Bell to Art Basel Hong Kong

Courtesy of Swire Properties

One year in, the fledgling division of the UTA signs new clients as it seeks to calm gallery owners.

It’s been one year since United Talent Agency launched UTA Fine Arts under the tutelage of Joshua Roth. And in that time it's given the art world the Steve McQueen-Kanye West collaboration All Day/I Feel Like That, which appeared at LACMA last July, and Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, a documentary about the satirical Italian artist that premieres in April at the Tribeca Film Festival. This month UTA Fine Arts celebrated the achievements of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang as part of Art Basel Hong Kong running through Mar. 26. The event — which was celebrated by the likes of Artsy co-founder Wendi Murdoch and Karolina Kurkova at a March 21 cocktail soiree — served as warm-up for UTA Fine Arts' next big event at the fair, the unveiling of light-and-space sculptor Larry Bell’s Pacific Red.

Linda Bradley, Vito Schnabel, Artsy co-founder Wendi Murdoch, Swire’s Guy Bradley and UTA Fine Arts’ Joshua Roth

Three eight-foot red glass boxes with smaller four-foot boxes inside make up the new work, which sits in the atrium of Pacific Place, not far from the metro station. “Within the format of my earlier work it is more of a continuum than a new direction,” the 77-year-old artist wrote in an e-mail interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “What is totally new in the sculpture is the color thing. I do not know why or where that comes from, but I am in China. My last show here, at White Cube Gallery, was red works on paper. It could signify a new direction, but the structures are from the past, the color may be for the future.”

While some sneered at the idea of mixing fine art and pop culture when UTA Fine Arts was announced last February (even Catellan told The New York Times, “Like a fish, maybe the whole thing will start to smell bad after a few days”), by summer the agency had received a healthy cash infusion from hedge fund operator Jeffrey Ubben.

And while doubters persist, Roth insists his division operates on the same guiding principles as the rest of the agency. “There exists a tension between corporate interests and the artist. That’s what we’ve done for 25 years with other clients is serve as a bridge between them and create meaningful relationships where the interests of all parties are respected.”

Roth stems from a long line of art collectors, including his father, CAA co-founder Steve Roth. He purchased his first piece of artwork (by Raymond Pettibon) fresh out of college and has since expanded his collection to include works by Paul McCarthy, Alex Israel and Sterling Ruby — whose collaboration with choreographer Benjamin Millepied to create scenery for L.A. Dance Project’s Murder Ballads was facilitated by RothHe sees the agency’s role as helping extend their clients’ practice into media and entertainment as well as fashion. So if artists like the recently signed Judy Chicago or Billy Al Bengston want to direct a movie, UTA will help make it happen.

From the outset, gallery owners were leery the agency would broker deals between buyers and artists, cutting them out of the process. But when Roth suggested bringing Bell’s work to Hong Kong, Graham Steele, of downtown L.A.'s recently opened Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, was happy to make it so, which only suggests that skepticism about the UTA venture may be wearing off.                           

“What happens is people see what we do with Larry Bell, people see the type of stuff we do over an extended period of time and they’ll understand who we are,” said Roth. “That was very important to us to have a gallery’s wishes and interests protected, and I think we achieved that.”

Going back almost as far as his early days in L.A.’s seminal Ferus Gallery, Bell has made the glass cube a constant motif in his work. But while he showed a cube the size of Pacific Red at Hauser & Wirth in New York, public settings for the large cubes are a rarity. “UTA and Mr. Roth were very gracious hosts giving me the chance to do this installation,” Bell wrote of his new work. “Yesterday I was watching parents and children interact [with it]. It was thrilling.”

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