My inbox is overloaded with art fair mail that I wistfully looked at this week while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that I’m safely in North Carolina while the frenzy, appropriately dubbed #artmageddon by Carolina Miranda of the L.A. Times, kicks off in full swing. Alas, this morning, the FOMO is officially in full effect (kinda), as I face the onslaught of images and posts from the L.A. art fairs on Instagram and Twitter.
Last year I went to the inaugural L.A. edition of Frieze and liked it. It’s L.A. art at its best: a scene. The venue, conveniently placed on the Paramount Studios lot, took full advantage of its location to draw connections between L.A. and N.Y. through large scale installations that activated the studio’s New York City backlot. Part of this was tinged with posturing as L.A. continues to assert its place as a global hub for creating, buying, and experiencing art.
At the time, I remember stopping by Vielmetter’s booth; they had just signed Genevieve Gaignard to their roster, and I congratulated them on how lucky they were to represent the artist. I’ve been a fan of Gaignard’s work since CAAM presented the artist’s first solo exhibition, Smell the Roses in 2016. Her work blends photography and immersive installations to make very wry, incisive, and layered commentaries on race, identity, and perception. The chameleonic personas that she assumes in her portraits are part biographical and part sociological as she shifts perspective between self-reflection to societal indictment. In her latest work, she boldly directs her gaze squarely toward the heart of the commercial art world to examine the relationship between the collector and the dealer.
For the second iteration of Frieze Los Angeles, Vielmetter’s booth places Gaignard center-stage in an installation that forces conversations between galleries and collectors about access and representation. During the VIP preview festivities last night, Gaignard donned a cream-colored shirt dress with the phrase, “SELL TO BLACK COLLECTORS” emblazoned on the back in black paint. The refrain is repeated in a pink floral and lace collage on a triangular shaped panel within the artist’s gallery booth. Other works include stacked vintage Samsonite luggage in robin’s egg blue; symbolically unpacking the baggage through an examination of its contents requires the viewer to contend with ethnic notions of beauty, stereotypes, and caricatures among hidden relics of the past that somehow, in one form or another, always remain in view.
The title of the show, Look at Them Look at Us, asks important questions about how Black artists and Black art are perceived and valued among the representational systems that curate, critique, and collect the work. These issues are further complicated by the fact that these same systems actively limit access to people of color.
These challenging conversations rarely occur within a VIP reception, and I wish I could be proven wrong. To that end, Gaignard appears to be calling for some transparency here, because many of these conversations are indeed taking place, albeit in smaller, more selective settings.
If I was at Frieze this week, THIS would be the booth I would be posted up in, waiting to see that message land. I’d also love to see more profiles of Black collectors beyond the usual suspects of celebrities and influencers. As I type this, the New York Times recently ran a piece written by Jori Finkel about UTA’s Arthur Lewis, who is also an ardent supporter of Gaignard’s work. Lewis’ commitment to Black artists is the kind of stewardship that’s needed to sustain contemporary Black art beyond speculative investment, but many more collectors with the willingness and drive to nurture and support Black artists are desperately needed. Gaignard’s message needs to travel far beyond the the gates of Paramount’s backlot to make this happen.
Genevieve Gaignard’s “Look at Them Look at Us” is on view in booth D10 at Frieze Los Angeles today, 2/14-2/17
For more on Gaignard’s work, click here.