Lay down on some pillows and gaze up at a glowing ceiling cutout from James Turrell, watch your reflection get sucked into one of Anish Kapoor’s concave mirror, and shop outposts of Sqirl and Echo Park’s Cactus Store camouflaged into a movie-ready recreation of New York City: Frieze is back in L.A. for a second year, and it’s almost as surreal of an experience as the art fair’s first outing.
Over 70 galleries have set up shop inside of an awards gala-sized tent that’s landed at Paramount Studios, while more than a dozen artists have created site-specific pieces that’ve been blended into the Hollywood studio’s New York backlot. After a pair of preview days stocked with potential buyers and the more business-focused appreciators of the art world, the sold-out event opens to the public on Saturday and Sunday. So if you’re attending—or just curious—what can you expect once inside?
The indoor gallery once again buzzes with a well-curated albeit overwhelming assortment of international galleries and pieces from both up-and-comers and contemporary icons. You’ll find works you’d expect to see in a museum: photographs from Shirin Neshat and Cindy Sherman, ultrarealistic charcoal drawings by Robert Longo, chromatic mirrors and pendants by Olafur Eliasson and Jeff Koons inflatables.
As a visitor who’s just looking and not buying, though, the gallery portion of the show is most eye-catching when galleries completely give over their booth to a single artist, like Alvaro Barrington’s floral-wallpaper–like backdrop at Sadie Coles HQ and Derrick Adams’s party takeover of Salon 94.
Last year’s show made a big fuss about all eyes being on L.A.—that because Frieze was already well-established in New York and London, it was bestowing some credibility upon L.A.’s art scene. Because the art world seemed to collectively decide there was worth here, now L.A. mattered. That condescension will probably never escape the fair’s frenzied week of events and pile-on competitors, but thankfully this year’s show makes room for L.A. to speak for itself: The entire back row of the gallery tent has been given over to 13 small booths from local galleries and artists. And sure, we’re biased as L.A. boosters, but this spotlight on L.A. is easily the most energetic block of the tent thanks to standout displays like Calida Rawles’s beautiful paintings of black bodies swimming in turquoise waters at Various Small Fires or Greg Ito’s fiery living room makeover at Anat Ebgi.
Outside, the novelty of commissioning works for a New York-inspired city block in the center of Los Angeles already seemed to have worn off this year. The backlot-filling Frieze Projects was a fun standout at last year’s fair, but the 2020 edition lacked that same sense that there was something to discover around every corner. Part of that is due to a positive change: the creation of the street fair, which has assembled art and advocacy organizations under one roof, in a pink-carpeted tent filled with T-shirts, posters and publications.
But outside of that, there felt like an uptick in branded takeovers and a dip in installations that truly took advantage of their bizarre surroundings. There were some exceptions, though: Barbara Kasten’s colorful and chaotic Intervention erected within the bones of an empty facade, a chess set plopped inside of Channing Hansen’s fibrous Interphase: for M and Y and Tavares Strachan’s pink neon sign proclaiming Sometimes Lies Are Prettier. Strachan premiered a similar work in a previous exhibition about confronting climate change, but here, on a fake city set full of people posing, we can’t help but read it as a biting commentary on L.A.’s finest export: image.
Frieze Los Angeles is open at Paramount Studios on Saturday and Sunday, with programming scattered throughout the day, along with some off-site collaborations.