Frieze LA heats up LA art scene

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Frieze LA is back for a second outing, bringing a bonanza of art fairs. But not all artists are excited about it. Aaron Axelrod says Frieze contributes to rising housing costs and is making the LA art scene "a little more snooty and less fun." Art critic Jonathan Griffin says the entire art community benefits from the blue chip fair.

Aaron Axelrod mixes up paint and performance in “Melting Rainbows,” an art event that he hopes will put the fun into Frieze week. Photo coutresy of FRIEZE LA 

From the moment Frieze first opened its doors in London in 2003, with a layout designed by David Adjaye, the art fair had “a certain star appeal.” That’s according to Jonathan Griffin, independent art critic and contributing editor to Frieze magazine, who worked for the fair in those early days.

Now Frieze brings all its firepower to Los Angeles for a second year, this time with an installation by LA-based architect Kulapat Yantrasast, and around 70 leading galleries from across the city and the world. 

Griffin says that even for those not in the market to buy art, the fair is “a fun day out” because of the curated installations and activities happening outside the tent, including pop-up shops selling books, bowls, flowers, cacti; pop-up restaurants; films and talk programs.

Jonathan Griffin talks to attendees at Frieze LA 2019, and explains why Frieze 2020 will be a boon to the LA art scene. Photo courtesy of FRIEZE LA

Several art fairs have moved their dates to coincide with Frieze, meaning there’s an art fair for every budget. 

They include Felix, ALAC, stARTup and Spring/Break . Griffin says, “Every other side benefits from the presence of the others. And although there is an element of competition, of course, I think that no one fair can cover all the galleries in the world.” 

Felix, for example, is held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood this year, where the art is displayed in hotel rooms rather than typical bright white booths.  

That all sounds like it should please the art community, but not everyone feels happy.

Aaron Axelrod is an LA-raised, CalArts-educated, self-described “shaman bunny” who combines painting, performance and lots of chutzpah in art happenings around town. He believes that Frieze represents a dulling down of the spirit of Los Angeles, helping transform it from a place that was “free and experimental” to one where people seek “the gold.” 

In addition, he argues that global powerhouses like Frieze and the blue chip galleries that have set up shop here are contributing to gentrification, which is causing artists to lose access to affordable housing.

For Griffin, a rising tide lifts all boats. He says, “Everyone benefits from a healthier, more robust art market, even when the blue chip galleries are selling work that are unaffordable to 99.9% of the city's population. … The entire city’s ecosystem becomes richer as a consequence.”




Frances Anderton