‘The Alligator Rider’ (2020) by Simphiwe Ndzube Bhekizwe © Courtesy of the Artist and Nicodim, Los Angeles Collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Returning to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel for its third consecutive year, LA’s quirky, convivial Felix Art Fair, which originated on the fringes of Frieze, is poised to be the Los Angeles art world’s largest public gathering since the pandemic shutdowns. The organisers say their aim is for the event to invigorate the social reawakening of the local art scene.

In contrast to previous years, this edition is limited to local galleries and will take place exclusively in and around the hotel’s well-ventilated poolside cabanas. “With the combination of the safe environment, the improving pandemic situation and LA’s lifting of restrictions, we felt like it was a time to celebrate the survival of the LA arts community over the past year and a half,” says co-founder Dean Valentine.

A pool over which loom palm trees
The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel is where the first Academy Award ceremony was held in 1929

Handpicked by him and his co-founders, brothers Al and Mills Morán, the 29 exhibitors, down from 60 last year, range from blue-chip establishments with international presence such as Gagosian, to galleries little-known outside the area. Most of those involved “have known each other for 10, 15, 20 years”, says Valentine. “Los Angeles has been one of the great global centres of artistic creation over the last few decades, and these galleries represent a lot of those artists.”

Valentine’s optimism is echoed by participating gallerists, who view the fair as an opportunity to reconnect with collectors and colleagues in real life. “It’s been such a traumatic and difficult year and we’ve all been seeing one another, here in LA especially, via Zoom, so I’m looking forward to being under the same roof, or outdoors, with my peers,” says François Ghebaly, whose presentation will centre around two young LA-based artists, Sharif Farrag and Emmanuel Louisnord Desir.

Bennett Roberts, whose gallery Roberts Projects has participated in Felix since its inception, describes this edition as a “very positivistic move” from the organisers. During the shutdowns, selling art was disembodied from physical experience: “It was really more about how you functioned as a business, as a gallery, online,” he says.

Despite reaching new clients digitally, the 35-year veteran of the LA scene insists that long-term success as a dealer ultimately lies in building real-life relationships. “I think the social aspect of this particular fair is its most important ingredient,” he says. Roberts sees Felix as a critical step towards “reintegration of what makes the art world so interesting, which is partly a social function”.

‘Oko & Akwete’ (2021) by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe © Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles, California; Photo Mario Gallucci
‘Untitled (Gabriel Study)’ (2021) by Dominic Chambers © Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects Los Angeles, California; Photo Robert Wedemeyer

Contrary to the high-pressure bustle typically associated with art fairs, Felix is festive and laid-back, facilitating interaction. This fair is “as much about community as it is commerce”, says gallery owner Mihai Nicodim, summarising its ambience as “a big party”. “I can sell art while smoking a cigarette in my bikini,” jokes Nicodim, whose cabana will feature pieces by seven artists, including a painting by Mosie Romney and a site-specific sculpture by Jorge Peris. “The idea is to mix in a few museum-scale works with more affordable and home-sized pieces in a cohesive manner, so everyone remembers our installation,” he adds.

‘Kiddy Pool’ (2021) by Mosie Romney
‘Take care of yours, I’ll take care of’ (2021) by Mosie Romney © Courtesy of the Artist and Nicodim, Los Angeles (2)

Steeped in Golden Age cachet, the Hollywood Roosevelt is an icon in its own right, offering exhibitors plenty of conceptual and thematic fodder to integrate with their shows. The hotel was the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929, and on the bottom of the pool is an abstraction by David Hockney.

“We try to reflect the context,” says gallerist Marc Selwyn, who is particularly enthusiastic about displaying a clay piece by LA artist Kristen Morgin, “Still Life with Woodpecker and Janet Leigh” (2017). “The sculpture relates to cinema” — it references the shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho — “and the history of the hotel is an interesting backdrop,” he says.

A person wades into the pool, which has blue painted curves on the bottom
The pool has an abstract floor designed by David Hockney © Courtesy of Felix LA.. Photo:Adam Davis/BFA.com
‘Still Life with Woodpecker and Janet Leigh’ (2017) by Kristen Morgin © Courtesy of the Artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

One of Felix’s selling points is witnessing how galleries respond to the singular setting. Safety measures have rendered unfeasible previous years’ popular “Special Projects” series of installations and performances, but galleries are devising creative ways to play on the context of their poolside rooms and outdoor areas.

Roberts is planning a group show around the concept of the hotel room as a temporary destination and a locus where people can change their personas. Mounting an exhibition inside one of the diminutive cabanas can be tricky, requiring resourceful use of space; many of the curatorial logistics must be addressed on-site. “Whatever looks best and is most interesting for this room is what we’ll do,” he explains. “Everything has to be geared toward where we are and what the room is, not towards only the artists we want people to see.”

Organisers anticipate attendance will be less than last year’s 15,000, with fewer visitors expected from out of the area. Notwithstanding that, gallerists believe the event will foster fresh opportunities and, in Selwyn’s words, “get some activity going again”.

‘Silence para instruments innombrable’ (2018) by Jorge Peris © New_Folder_studio.www.newfolder. New_Folder_studio.www.newfolder.ro
‘Barbarous Nomenclature’ (2020) by Devendra Banhart

The word “community” is on everyone’s lips, so how has the pandemic affected the relationships among galleries in LA? “I think it’s brought people closer together, for sure,” Selwyn says. “We’ve been comparing notes and trying to work more as a community, and I think the pandemic has accelerated that.”

Nicodim and others noted that the lockdowns led to the formation of a new coalition, Gallery Platform LA, a project of Gallery Association Los Angeles, whose inaugural Gallery Weekend Los Angeles will coincide with Felix. Many Felix participants are members of the association, and the hope is for the two events to act as a mutual draw, helping to bring the LA art community out of the pandemic in a constructive and enjoyable manner. 

“The general theme of Felix has always been to create intimacy and a sense of fun, and to let people talk to each other . . . not [to] make an art fair feel so much like a purely transactional shopping event,” Valentine says. After all, at what other art fair can one relax on a chaise longue, sipping drinks beside a pool graced with a Hockney mural?

“It privileges conversation,” says Valentine, “and we think that is really the core of what we do: our job is to make that possible for the dealers and the collectors. That hasn’t changed.”

July 29-August 1, felixfair.com

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