Installation view of Kavi Gupta’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Photo by James Jackman. Courtesy of Felix Art Fair.
If the success of an art fair could be determined by the number of people willing to queue up to get inside, Felix Art Fair’s 2023 edition was a triumph, pretty much from the minute it opened. As the VIP preview kicked off at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in Los Angeles’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, fairgoers were stymied by a line that snaked through the hotel lobby, up a flight of stairs, around an ornate indoor courtyard, and into a large auditorium—just to get a wristband.
Another queue was the price to get into an elevator to the booths being held in hotel rooms on the 11th and 12th floors. While the fair booths hosted in charming cabanas surrounding the hotel pool were easily accessible, however, more of them than not were jammed with elbow-to-elbow traffic.
Installation view of Morán Morán’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Photo by James Jackman. Courtesy of Felix Art Fair.
Why the massive influx of guests all at once? Clearly, Felix has been doing something right for the past five years. The fair also chose to open a day before Frieze Los Angeles this year, meaning the art world need not choose between the two VIP days, and in theory, could easily enjoy both. And while the crowds were something of a frustration for fairgoers, Felix redeemed itself through other measures of success: sales and the art itself.
“Everybody’s here,” said Mills Morán, who co-founded the fair in 2018 with his brother Al Morán alongside Dean Valentine. “We always knew it’d be better to open the day before [Frieze].…But literally, everyone showed up at 11 a.m. And the hotel and our staff managed as best as we could. I’m sure people are gonna complain, but I thought it went really well.” He noted that most people waited at most for 20 or so minutes.
Installation view of Kadel Willborn’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Photo by James Jackman. Courtesy of Felix Art Fair.
Now in its fifth edition, Felix has become “somewhat iconic” in L.A., said Morán. “On top of really high-quality art, I think it’s a really fun environment that gets people mingling in a very casual way, but talking about serious topics, whether it’s world politics or identity politics, really everything that art brings out.…I think in this more casual environment we can not take it so seriously, but take it seriously enough.” And yet while some fairs’ efforts to create a social atmosphere can detract from the point of art fairs—to sell art—that’s not the case here. Morán noted that his gallery, Morán Morán, was having a very good day.
“I also called in every favor I could to get the sun out today,” Morán quipped, gesturing to the sunny warm weather that made for an enviable, buzzing scene at the iconic David Hockney–painted pool nearby.
Felix’s reputation is largely fueled by its curation—only invited galleries can participate. “My brother and I own our own gallery [Morán Morán], so we do fairs all over the world all year, and that’s actually our recruiting ground,” Morán explained. “We walk around Basel and various different fairs, looking at galleries and taking note of what they’re doing.”
Installation view of Reyes | Finn’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Photo by James Jackman. Courtesy of Felix Art Fair.
Among Morán’s highlights this year is Detroit-based gallery Reyes | Finn, which is exhibiting for the first time; Dublin-based gallery mother’s tankstation; and New York’s 56 Henry, a longtime exhibitor. “Ellie Rines from 56 Henry has been here since day one in the same booth, and I’m super proud of that; I’ve seen her gallery grow over the years,” Morán added. “This has been one of the best days we’ve ever had in the five years of Felix, it just feels so fun and interesting and very additive to the L.A. art scene,” he explained.
Invited galleries don’t seem to have a reason not to participate: gallerists at this year’s fair resoundingly praised the communal feel; the intimate, unusual setting (namely, the pool); and many out-of-towners who were keen to have an excuse to come to L.A. and get some sun.
Fridman Gallery director Carolina Wheat noted that the gallery is showing at Felix for the first time this year, though she’d admired it as a visitor for the past few years. “I always really appreciated the invite-only curation; there are a lot of things I saw in this fair that I really valued and was inspired by—it’s not so much being part of the cool-kid club per se, but it feels very intentional,” Wheat said. “Having a fair at a hotel is always a risk,” she added, noting that the fair has become known for “unique and creative presentations, especially in the cabana rooms.”
Indeed, the poolside cabana rooms are relatively small spaces. Many are outfitted with mirrored or wood-paneled walls, plush leather furniture, distracting light fixtures, and outdoor courtyards—which actually make for great spaces to show sculpture. One outdoor highlight is a pair of anthropomorphic vessels by Clementine Keith Roach at P.P.O.W’s booth.
Meanwhile, the galleries in the 11th- and 12th-floor guest rooms must contend with beige and gray two-toned walls, narrow hallways and alcoves, and limited lighting. The most inspired use of the hotel room setting was undoubtedly achieved by the Maspeth, Queens–based gallery Mrs., which opted to keep the bed in its room and bedecked the space with art and design objects, including paper pulp chairs and a lounger by Thomas Barger; an emerald green, snake-like headboard by Chris Bogia; sconces by Rose Nestler shaped like hands punctured by candles emerging from the walls; and a humorous SpongeBob medicine cabinet in the bathroom by Mark Mulroney that could be opened to reveal a surprise.
Most galleries made use of the bathrooms, hanging works above sinks and toilets, or in the glassed-in shower. Fridman placed five small, endearing Alina Grasmann paintings above the commode (all of which had sold to different collectors in the first hour—steals at $850 apiece). Though slightly jarring, it’s a refreshing touch, making good on the fair’s not-taking-itself-too-seriously aims.
Fridman was showing works by several of its most esteemed artists, including Nate Lewis and Dindga McCannon. Wheat, the gallery’s director, was particularly enthused to be showing McCannon’s work, including a 1977 piece featuring a pregnant woman smoking, which is the last of its kind. “We’ve been working with her for the past five years and she’s 75 years young,” Wheat said, pointing to a textile piece in the booth that was made last year.
It is no coincidence that some of the most striking booths that had completely sold out were those featuring artists who will be new discoveries for many.
Hend Samir, installation view in Harkawik’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Courtesy of Harkawik.
Harkawik’s selection of swirling paintings by Egyptian artist Hend Samir are perhaps the most exciting figurative works at the fair, drawing comparison from fairgoers with the works of Cecily Brown. Several works had been placed with institutions. Harkawik’s project coordinator Lauren Gagnon noted that while Samir’s works vibrate with tantalizing energy, their origins are in fact rather dark, reflecting the artist’s experience as a child growing up in Cairo and contending with death from a young age.
Charles Moffett Gallery sold out its presentation of plein air paintings by Canadian artist Keiran Brennan Hinton, priced between $4,000 and $15,000. One wall is filled with small-scale gems, including a row of very “L.A.” paintings that the artist made in the past few days while staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Felix marks the gallery’s first solo showing of the artist, who will have a show at the New York gallery this September.
Liza Lacroix, sits up in bed and opens mouth., 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Magenta Plains.
Canadian artist Liza Lacroix’s sold-out solo booth with first-time exhibitor Magenta Plains includes three large abstract paintings (priced between $30,000 and $40,000 each) and two sound pieces. Lacroix’s works, showing in L.A. for the first time, were created specifically for Felix and reference the artist’s own experiences at the Roosevelt Hotel, as well as its history as the site of the Academy Awards.
One sound piece by Lacroix features excerpts from the acceptance speeches of Best Actress winners at Oscars ceremonies from 1927 to the present, focusing on the moments when the women thank their husbands. “It speaks to the power dynamics that [Lacroix] usually is concerned with, between men and women; ideas of love, ideas of violence,” said Magenta Plains director Olivia Smith.
Love and violence are more than visible in Lacroix’s hulking paintings, which writhe with bold swathes of red and quite literally consume the small hotel room where they are hung. The gallery and artist are donating 10% of their profits to SWOP USA, a charity chosen by Lacroix that works to support and destigmatize sex workers. A whirlwind of interest has surrounded Lacroix’s work over the past year and a half, and Smith noted that she now has a very long waiting list. Clearly, Magenta Plains’s first Felix outing was a success, to say the least.
Leif Ritchey, Sun Runner, 2021–22. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.
New this year, too, is Reyes | Finn, which brought a selection of works by its artists. “We haven’t done an L.A. fair in five years,” said gallery director Bridget Finn, who was having a very busy day fielding collectors’ interest. “We really wanted to bring a healthy cross section of different people that we work with, just to sort of remind everyone what we’re doing.” The presentation notably includes a new abstract work by American artist Leif Ritchey, who is new to the gallery’s program.
The Paris-based Sultana, a known tastemaker, does not disappoint with its knockout presentation of works by three young French artists: Jean Claracq, Matthias Garcia, and Sophie Varin. Garcia’s soft, blue-hued figurative works hang across one side of the poolside cabana, as well as on the mirrors and walls of the bathroom. Yet the true stars of the booth are tiny, dreamy paintings by Varin featuring gauzy landscapes and minuscule figures, some as small as two inches tall, selling for price points ranging from $1,300 for one to $5,500 for a set of three—and they were selling.
Sophie Varin, I stand uncorrected, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Sultana.
Liv Aanrud, Flowers for a Wedding, Flowers for a Funeral, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and M+B.
In a cabana nearby, the local Los Angeles gallery M+B chose this year’s fair as an opportunity to exhibit artists who are all new to the gallery: Liv Aanrud, Karla Ekatherine Canseco, Devin Farrand, Tal Regev, and Ben Walker. Particularly compelling are the works of Aanrud, colorful tufted textile works featuring figures rendered through mesmerizing, technicolored yarns; as well as the pastel-colored paintings of Regev.
As is common to any art fair, many galleries have chosen to put on group presentations featuring the full breadth of their program, though there were several fresh takes on the approach.
Kasmin is one of the more heavyweight names at the fair, but head of communications Molly Taylor noted that its presence reflects the gallery’s idiosyncratic nature as a whole, which is more than evident in the range of artists it shows. The gallery has taken full advantage of its large hotel suite to show off its flair for nimbly jumping between 20th-century masters and leading contemporary artists. One room features a Jane Freilicher nude that could have passed for a piece painted yesterday, across from a showstopping Alexis Ralaivao painting—a close-up of a person’s torso in the artist’s typically soft, seductive style. The work sold for $45,000 and marks the first time Kasmin is showing the rising French artist, who was featured in The Artsy Vanguard 2022.
Reclining Nude, 1970s
Other artists who are relatively new to the Kasmin program are given pride of place, too, including Sara Anstis, whose trio of works had sold out; and Cynthia Daignault, whose new series recreates spreads from art books she’s returned to since her art school days. Nearby, one wall of works on paper delightfully commingles Henri Matisse, Leonor Fini, and Max Ernst with contemporary counterparts like Alexander Harrison (whose solo show at the gallery in New York closes on March 4).
Düsseldorf-based Kadel Willborn is showing at Felix for the second time with a presentation of three artists: Vivan Greven, Natalie Czech, and Ayan Farah. Greven’s soothing, pastel-colored figurative paintings—depicting cropped-in renderings of an Antonio Canova sculpture—are a compelling blend of neoclassical sculpture with the contemporary aesthetic of screens. Both works had sold for $38,000 and $34,000. The works were placed with U.S. collectors, gallery founder Moritz Willborn explained, noting that while Greven has been shown widely in German museums, she is still relatively new to U.S. audiences. He added that the artist has a big U.S. exhibition we can look forward to next year.
Nana Wolke, installation view of 00:10:04,091, 2023, in Gallery Vacancy’s booth at Felix Art Fair, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy.
The Shanghai-based Gallery Vacancy also mounted a compelling group presentation, featuring an international mix of highly sought-after artists including Yoora Lee and Stephanie Temma Hier. Yet gallery founder Lucien Y. Tso was particularly excited about something more experimental: three works by Nana Wolke, priced at $28,000. The conceptual works include a sound installation that had taken over the bathroom, as well as two paintings responding to the site of the Roosevelt Hotel. At the time of publication, the work had interest. (Editor’s note: By the conclusion of the fair, all three works had sold to a New York institution and private collectors.)
“People are really responding,” Tso said of his impression of the fair so far. “People here believe that they will like something, that they will discover something, and they’re willing to engage in conversation. That, as a gallery, is what we’re looking for.”
The atmosphere of Felix undoubtedly appeals to the artists themselves, too. Many gallerists happily hosted the exhibiting artists at their booths, which is not always the case at art fairs. At Residency Art Gallery’s booth, the Los Angeles–based artist Devon Tsuno was present alongside his vibrant body of work, a series of paintings and sculptures that reflect on the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the imprisonment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II.
Wang Jiajia, Neon sunset and Hollywood. Courtesy of the artist and SPURS Gallery.
The Beijing-based artist Wang Jiajia had made the trip to L.A. to experience the fair as his works—energetic paintings filled with large gleaming eyes—are being shown in SPURS Gallery’s poolside cabana. Wang was originally slated to show his work at Felix in 2020, but wasn’t able to attend due to COVID-19.
Emerging and mid-career artists from across the U.S. in particular could be seen throughout the fair, including Theodora Allen, Bony Ramirez, Nate Lewis, Nick Doyle, Cynthia Daignault, and Jessica Taylor Bellamy, to name a few.
“I think people are catching on that this might be the fair to come and see, rather than go to Frieze L.A. now,” Morán offered. “Come to L.A. and hang out by the pool for five days—not a bad gig.”
Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Director of Content.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Hend Samir’s birthplace.
Clarification: This article has been updated to more accurately describe artwork by Nana Wolke and include new information about Gallery Vacancy’s sales.