The Return of L.A.'s Frieze Art Fair to the Paramount Lot: "It's Like Being in Miami"

9:00 AM 2/13/2020

by Degen Pener and Jordan Riefe

With Frieze Los Angeles (plus two other art fairs) descending on Hollywood from Feb. 13-16, the industry's art collector crowd will be out in force.

ONE TIME USE ONLY - Jibade Khalil-Huffman’s May Day billboard featuring Grace Jones, - Publicity - Embed -2020
Courtesy of Jibade-Khalil Huffman/Anat Ebgi

Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s May Day billboard with Grace Jones will be shown on the backlot this year.

"I'm just happy we've got this in L.A now. I hope we can keep it here," Brad Pitt told The Hollywood Reporter last year at the VIP preview of Frieze Los Angeles' inaugural edition, held at Paramount Studios. Pitt was referring to the fact that art fairs with a world-class presence have struggled in Los Angeles. Case in point: Paris Photo, the French fair that also set up shop at Paramount in 2013, only to pull the plug after three years.

But Frieze L.A. got off to a rousing start last year, with every public day sold out, 30,000 visitors over its four days and some galleries selling out entire booths.

Now, with the sophomore outing set to run Feb. 14 to 16 (with a VIP preview on Feb. 13), the affair feels like it's gaining momentum. "There are so many more events — I feel like the city has really embraced it," says art adviser Maya McLaughlin, West Coast director at SFA Advisory (clients of the firm have included Leonardo DiCaprio). "It's like being in Miami [for Art Basel] in terms of every single dealer having a big dinner."

More than 70 galleries from around the world will show inside an enormous tent. Site-specific art installations will take over Paramount's backlot. And a Film & Talks series will roll out mostly in the Paramount Theatre (screenings include the 1988 animated cyberpunk movie Akira; among the featured panels is a discussion on art patronage with Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath).

At the same time, two other art fairs will welcome art lovers in Hollywood — Felix (co-founded by former TV exec Dean Valentine) and Art Los Angeles Contemporary — while many galleries and museums across L.A. have aligned their openings. "It's a testament to the continued growth and deserved recognition of the L.A. art scene," says art collector and OWN president Tina Perry.

Hovering over the fanfare, though, are questions about the fair's leadership going forward. Frieze L.A.'s director Bettina Korek is departing to become CEO of London's Serpentine Galleries (no replacement has been named). Frieze also recently hired its first CEO, media veteran Simon Fox, with fair founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover stepping back from executive management duties. (In 2016, the pair sold a 70 percent stake in Frieze to Endeavor and have a put option to sell remaining shares this year.)

Here's what to expect at Frieze 2020:

  • The Main Floor

    While the fair is on for four days, the coveted ticket is the invitation-only 10 a.m. VIP preview on Feb. 13. (Last year's opening day drew Jim Gianopulos, Jane Fonda, DiCaprio, Norman Lear, Gersh's Leslie Siebert and Jodie Foster.) Early birds potentially get first dibs on hot artworks, though some pieces are presold before the fair even opens.

    "You have many blue-chip contemporary artists being presented who don't have representation in L.A., including artists like Lisa Yuskavage, Gerhard Richter and Yayoi Kusama," says art adviser Veronica Fernandez.

    Among the highlights: Pace Gallery and L.A.'s Kayne Griffin Corcoran present a joint show at their adjacent booths of light works by James Turrell, including an immersive LED ceiling installation.

    Perry's pro tip for making the most of the experience: "Take your time and ask questions — don't be shy about speaking with gallery staff about the work." (Tickets run $125 to $500.)

  • The Backlot

    Curated by LACMA head of contemporary art Rita Gonzalez and Vincent Price Art Museum director Pilar Tompkins Rivas, 16 performances, sculptures and installations — collectively called Frieze Projects — will populate Paramount's streetscape with an emphasis on Latino and black artists.

    "The film industry is also dealing with things beyond the hermetic world in which they produce content, things like #MeToo, #TimesUp and #OscarsSoWhite," says Gonzalez. "The push for equity and to diversity the ranks in the media world is something we wanted to refer to in the selection of artists."

    Of the 16 chosen to create installations on the backlot, some, like artists Vincent Ramos, Gabriella Sanchez, Channing Hansen and Jibade-Khalil Huffman reference Hollywood. Ramos' installation, Wolf Songs for the Dead, scrutinizes the film industry, and the absence and presence of Mexican and Chicano representation in their libraries. The artist combines his findings with personal family documents and photographs.

    "There's a definite lack of representation. To be honest, the art world and Hollywood are one and the same for that. What I’m doing here is kind of a perfect place to talk about these ideas," Ramos says of his work that draws its title from the 1929 Paramount film Wolf Song, starring Gary Cooper and Lupe Vélez, who's featured in the piece with Mexican actress  Katy Jurado.

    Elsewhere on the lot is Huffman’s billboard, May Day, honoring Grace Jones in the role of May Day, the villainous enforcer in the 1985 James Bond film, A View to a Kill. Hoisting a white man overhead, she is emblematic of a powerful black woman canceling a symbol of the patriarchy. “She has this intense strength. For me, it’s specifically black female power and expanding that to this poetic degree. It’s allegorical,” says Huffman, who currently has a solo show across town at Anat Ebgi.

    Sanchez has a solo show at Charlie James Gallery’s booth inside the tent where she appropriates images from the 1993 movie Mi Vida Loca, as well as outside on the backlot where her tryptic of vinyl banners, Hommes, Homes, Homes hangs. Episodes of Star Trek inspired Hansen's installation. Other artists taking over the lot include Will Boone, Tania Candiani, Sayre Gomez, Gary Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Tavares Strachan, Mungo Thomson, Patrisse Cullors and Mario García Torres. 

    “You may encounter sculptures or you may encounter installations, but you may also encounter performance and things that are participatory,” sums up Tompkins Rivas. “We’re just hopeful people will enjoy it and it will provoke conversations.”

    Amid the Frieze Projects will be pop-up restaurants from the likes of Sqirl, Craig's Vegan and Roberta's. (Backlot tickets — not including main floor access— for Feb. 15 or 16 are $25.)

    A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.