Morgan Long’s Frieze LA Diary

2019 has many art fairs to look forward to but the launch of Frieze LA has perhaps been the most hotly anticipated, and we asked our specialist Morgan Long to send some highlights from her trip to LA.

Day 1: Thomas Houseago’s studio

Thomas Houseago’s studio, LA

Having started my Frieze tour at LACMA on Monday, where a major wood ‘monster’ sculpture by the sculptor Thomas Houseago dominates the main lobby, a small group of us had the pleasure this morning of listening to the artist in conversation with curator Hamza Walker. Friends, colleagues and neighbors (an important thing in LA where distance can prove a challenge), the two covered topics such as Thomas’ upcoming exhibition at the Musee de l’art Moderne in Paris in March, cultural differences between typical British artists working with ‘craft’ and the modern day sculptor such as Thomas, and how Thomas recently found himself influenced not only by American political rhetoric but also by the city of LA itself. Originally from Leeds in the North of England, Houseago was adamant that he doesn’t connect with the South of England, nor with most of America; however he stated, ‘I love Los Angeles and Los Angeles has loved me back’. Trump’s campagin slogan back in 2015 to create a ‘beautiful wall’ to separate the US border from Mexico, inspired the artist to commence the creation of a clay baked monumental wall, which today stretches across the parking lot of his studio. Morphing from small sketches, to larger floor based sketches, to clay moulds cast flat from those drawings, the impressive structure is still growing and evolving, and Houseago likens it to the facades that cover LA, such as the Hollywood sign itself. Houseago also discussed how ‘sculpture is a doomed art’, with architecture taking the place of sculpture, and ended his talk showing the group his new body of paintings, inspired by the same motifs that have driven his work forward, namely those of the skull, the monster and the owl, many examples of which in monumental sculptural form were also present in the cavernous main hangar of Thomas’ studio.

Both: Thomas Houseago’s studio, LA

Day 2: Norm’s

Jogging down La Cienega Boulevard, I noticed a classic American diner across the street, with distinctive 1950s styling and a bright orange sign. Norm’s. It looked strangely familiar to me, but the chain of diner was not something that we had on the East Coast growing up. It wasn’t until I was visiting the Broad Collection, with its stellar collection of 20th century art, did I understand why. In 1964, Ed Ruscha was just starting to explore certain motifs depicting the signs and structures of the West Coast, and he turned the Southern Californian iconic eatery into his first painting to depict a building on fire. Hence, Norm’s ablaze on the canvas in front of me. Seeing one of the most iconic paintings by one of my favourite artists, and then linking it to the diner where I had been eyeing up a stack of pancakes for a post run treat, is simply a quintessential LA moment.

Left: Norm’s Diner, La Cienega Boulevard, LA. Right: ‘Norm’s La Cienega on Fire’, Ed Ruscha, 1964

Day 3: Frieze LA

At Frieze LA, I was very happy to see a strong focus on female sculptors, represented by multiple galleries, of women of a wide variety of ages and nationalities. Painting has always been the first and foremost sales medium at global art fairs, and the ease of portability and display is certainly a strong factor to account for this. However, from the multiple pieces by senior artist Lynda Benglis at Thomas Dane Gallery and Pace Gallery, to a wise and witty sentiment carved by Jenny Holzer into a marble bench at Sprueth Magers, to Sarah Lucas’ stuffed ‘Tit Chair’ at Sadie Coles, women artists were playing with irony, function and formality, which worked well with the intimate nature of this fair. With only 70 gallery booths of a smaller size than some other fairs, galleries were strategic with their installations, bring less material than your average fair, which gave these sculptures more space to shine. Other stand outs were the two Shirazeh Houshiary pieces of very different dynamics and materials at London’s Lisson Gallery and a primary market Rebecca Warren piece at Maureen Paley. A strong contender right now in the market, Sotheby’s evening sale auction next week in London has an exemplary early piece of Warren’s coming for sale at a very reasonable estimate (£250,000 – 350,000), and we expect this to do well.

Left: ‘The Oracle’, Shirazeh Houshiary, 2018. Right: ‘Tit Chair’, Sarah Lucas, 2012.

Just to round out the week of sculpture, one of my favourite gallery shows in LA was that of 96-year-old Beverly Pepper, who was working with Cor-ten steel long before Richard Serra, at Kayne Griffin Corcoran. Stunning, mostly smaller scale swooping works of steel and aluminum from different decades of her career, the artist also has a show of larger monumental works opening at Marlborough Gallery in New York this week. It’s great to see Pepper getting the recognition she deserves.

Beverly Pepper, Frieze LA

Cover image © Frieze LA 2019

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