Photos: Courtesy of Frieze


Bettina Korek

Saul Taylor / September 26, 2019

Frieze is currently one of the world’s most important art fairs. L.A. native and arts advocate, Bettina Korek was appointed as Executive Director for Frieze Los Angeles in 2019. She tell us what Brad Pitt thought of Frieze L.A. this year and what makes a great event for someone like herself.

Can you tell us a little bit about the L.A. art scene at the moment?

L.A. loves to tell stories about itself. It has always had a vibrant art scene but what’s happened, especially in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, is that it now really serves to canonize and raise the consciousness of Los Angeles and what an important global art city they’re living in. Another characteristic about L.A. that comes up all the time is that it’s a flat city with a hierarchy. We’ve always talked about how artists come to L.A. for freedom and experimentation and that energy is very real here. One of the things that I love most about the e-guide to art in L.A. that I publish, is that almost every week there’s a new initiative popping up. Whether it’s an artist hosting screenings in the elevator of his apartment building, or a roving artist flea market, there’s not a lot of barriers to produce new endeavours and that’s part of what makes it really exciting.

Out of all the art fairs, Frieze seems to be the perfect fit for you and L.A. How did it come about and what was your involvement?

I’ve known Amanda Sharpe for almost 10 years and she was always very interested in Los Angeles. Frieze was looking at sites in L.A. in mid-2018 and I started working with them. We were putting our teams together and I’d never been involved with the art market before. My organisation is focused on public and civic projects and creating this ongoing index. Because of Frieze’s unique ethos and the incredible history that Amanda and Matthew had started in London and in New York, I was really excited about the opportunity. They mentioned the potential for this to evolve into an annual moment that not only invites Angelinos to participate in the art scene, but brings people from all over the world. Because L.A. is a relatively young city compared to New York or London, and our culture of philanthropy and patronage is in a different place in its trajectory, Frieze can become a really important access point. Not only for new collectors, but for people to discover art organisations and galleries that they can support all year round.

Tell us about the build-up to Frieze.

We announced it in March 2019 and one of the first things that I did was form a host committee that set up the leading collectors and art patrons in the city. We really wanted to make sure that collectors here felt invested in the success of the fair and the long term growth of it, because it’s also good for the city. So that started building this community around the fair.

How about the launch event, from the big day to the big evening?

The fair launch is in the morning, because back when the big collectors came to the first previews we actually had a breakfast event. We were honoured by the participation of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who’s the Head of the County Board of Supervisors. So, from the get-go we had this level of support that really reflected our long-term goal of establishing this moment for the city. One of my favourite moments at that breakfast was when Brad Pitt met Eli Broad and he said, “I really love your museum”. That was just so cool to get to be a part of creating that contact where people like that were meeting and bonding over the incredible art ecosystem that’s grown in L.A.

Why did you choose that location?

The thing about being at Paramount Studios, where we’ll also be in 2020, is that we had all of the galleries and the tents so it really reflected the standard of Frieze and these incredible contacts with the galleries. We also have to use the historic Paramount backlot which is a set for a real city. What’s interesting about Paramount is it was one of the only sites left in L.A. that is a completely vertical production. It’s kind of a city within a city. They have their set builders and the sign makers and all of these incredible makers are on site. Then within the Paramount backlot, which is where they film city scenes, we created this imaginary city where we brought in artists’ projects curated by Ali Subotnick.

We brought organisations like the Women’s Center for Creative Work, Acid Free which is a coalition of art book publishers from all over Los Angeles, Artists for Democracy who made a Democracy Shop and Andreas Zittel which is based in Joshua Tree and did a mineral and gem sale. We really wanted to give a kind of snapshot into these artists and to those all over the city and even state, so that people could experience a taste of these very uniquely Los Angeles organisations.

How about the food?

We layered them with food. We had Rita Gonzalez, Pilar Tompkins Rivas, Venus Lau and Ray Anthony Barrett from Cinque who doesn’t even have a restaurant. We have an artist who became a chef and has this incredible perspective on Southern California soul food. We had Jessica Koslow from Sqirl who’s a kind of stalwart from the East Side farm-to-table scene. It was really this kind of mini-city within this city.

Can you tell us about artist Mark Bradford’s response?

We thought a lot about what it looks like. We had a series of conversations on patronage and explored topics like, What is a civic artist? Mark Bradford actually produced an artwork on the occasion of Frieze Los Angeles, that also really speaks to the potential for an art fair to bridge the conversation between art, patronage and civic engagement. He created an artwork in three parts. It’s a police body camera, isolated. When you walked on to the backlot, this body camera was blown up and it said, Frieze LA. That image was also wildly posted around the city and he made an edition of that work that is almost sold out and the proceeds will benefit the Art for Justice Fund and really specifically supporting people who are transitioning home from incarceration. We were really honoured by Mark’s gesture on the occasion of the fair and it was really reflective of the spirit that we want to create.

How did local galleries participate?

We wanted to explore how an art fair is a form of urbanism and how can the energy that emanates from Paramount spread throughout the city. It was so interesting for me afterwards to talk to people who really participated in the week and didn’t even come to the fair, but felt like they were a part of this bigger moment. Three quarters of the galleries that we surveyed actually reported increased attendance during Frieze week, which is something that we’re also very proud of.

What can we expect for next year’s edition? How are you managing to evolve naturally and make sure that it’s long lasting?

We’re trying to build on the things that were successful, so we’re going to be expanding our focus on to Frieze Week. The campaign that people will see around the city will actually be for Frieze Week. Barbara Kruger did one of the projects in the backlog that was treated by Ali Subrotnik. We had her 10 questions on stickers all over the street and installed the questions in organisations around the city like the 18th Street Art Center and the ICA.

Many of these events and projects are one offs and I think, especially in our fast paced social media culture, it’s important to continue these important stories. We’re also going to be continuing our relationship with the Art for Justice Fund inspired by what Mark Bradford has done for them and honouring his generosity and his role as a great patron and civic leader.

The conversations on patronage will continue. In the tent there are 10 booths focused on emerging Los Angeles galleries. So we’ve invited Rita Gonzalez, who’s the Head of Contemporary Art for LACMA to curate that section. It will continue to be a kind of discovery zone for lesser known galleries, because we really want the platform to achieve that. It’s asking how can we — under this relatively intimate tent — have both of those really important experiences that Frieze is? Discovery and exciting new artists and galleries, but also a place for established collectors.

What’s L.A. like to throw a party or an event? What makes it different or unique?

(Laughs) You know, L.A. is very spread out and depending on the time of day and where you’re going to and from, it can be challenging to get people to go across town. I grew up in L.A. and I’ve lived here so long, I always think how can we set up an event that will be successful? We were so lucky that it rained on the fair and everyone still came and were excited, despite the rain! It was OMG the rain.

What makes a great event?

If we’re saying event instead of a personal party, it is about celebrating something meaningful — coming together for a reason that people feel passionate and inspired about. Then I would say it’s about being with friends and meeting new people from different creative disciplines.