Do international art fairs benefit LA -- or bring gentrification?

It’s a big week for art in Los Angeles. The city will be hosting six art fairs. There are local fairs, such as Art Los Angeles Contemporary, which will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and the stARTup Art Fair.

The big one is Frieze, which started in London, spread to New York, and is now debuting in LA. It will feature more than 70 galleries from LA and around the world.

Frances Anderton, host of KCRW’s Design and Architecture, explains that artists and galleries must be invited to Frieze, so there’s been a lot of infighting among LA galleries to earn a spot.

“What Frieze represents is, on the one hand, I guess a level of excellence -- coupled with a level of aren’t-you-lucky-enough-to-be-invited in?” Anderton says.

Carolina A. Miranda, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, says what sets Frieze apart is their commitment to engaging the local art scene. LA galleries comprise half the lineup this year, so collectors are going to see a strong LA representation.

Does it benefit LA to have these fairs here?

It brings an international spotlight on LA, says Anderton. Visitors will go to other parts of LA, other studios, learning more about the art schools here.

“There is something going on in LA right now, where it does seem to be sort of shifting gears from a very interesting art/architecture/design region that was somewhat regional and somewhat local. And LA, it seems to be sort of ratcheting up into the kind of, I suppose, global leagues. These global capitals -- New York, Paris, London -- whose art people often slightly look down on LA, now are saying LA’s arrived,” says Anderton.

Miranda adds that LA is a creative hotbed, a place to make art, and not necessary sell it. These fairs attract a lot of people -- tens of thousands, in some cases.

“What it could do is that -- L.A. not being known as a market town -- it is going to bring a lot of collectors here, and perhaps get people thinking of this as a place not just to visit an artist's studio, but maybe to buy some art. And that is not necessarily a bad thing,” says Miranda. “I think there are a lot of local mid-range galleries here that could use the financial support. Like this is not a big collecting town, and having collectors come from outside to buy art here could support some of these institutions that support artists locally.”

Both women are concerned about the potential of LA losing its unique character.

“Do we lose our character, do we just become another stop on the art jetset itinerary? … And then how much are the smaller places really going to benefit? That is hard to put a finger on,” Miranda says.

Do art fairs bring gentrification?

“It is absolutely part of a wave of gentrification,” says Anderton. “You've got an influx of very affluent people who are cash buyers of houses… LA was the place that you came, you were able to get a warehouse or a little cottage with a yard and a garage at the back, where you could make art. And that has become really prohibitive.”

It’s all tied together -- the money, art, and housing.

“What we're seeing in the art world is something you're seeing in society at large, which is this polarization. So a small group of very wealthy, very powerful galleries. Maybe a clutch of artist-run spaces. And then the mid-range galleries are disappearing,” says Miranda. “And so, if a fair such as this helps some of these mid-range places find a market beyond Los Angeles… that might not be a bad thing. That said, it's going to come with a whole lot of other attendant things.”

Anderton adds that if we’re going to have a fully developed art ecosystem, we’ll need excellent arts education that extends into the public school districts.

She says everybody in the cultural field needs to think about how money will trickle down from the one percent who can buy art -- to the 80 percent who don’t can’t even access an art class at school.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Milton Guevara and Christian Bordal