Frieze Los Angeles cancels public sculpture exhibition because of COVID-related delays

Frieze Los Angeles’ plans for a free public art exhibition, to open at a Beverly Hills park in tandem with the art fair’s opening next month, are permanently frozen.

COVID-related shipping delays and labor shortages have made Frieze Sculpture Beverly Hills too difficult to execute, organizers say.

“We have determined that we do not have sufficient artworks to realize a full-scale public-sculpture installation,” fair representative Belinda Bowring tells The Times via email.

Frieze Los Angeles, which will be held inside a tented enclosure next to the Beverly Hilton, is still set to take place Feb. 17-20.

The sculpture exhibition was to feature 12 works by as many international galleries at Beverly Gardens Park. It replaced the art fair’s popular Frieze Projects, site-specific artist installations and performances that were staged on the Paramount Studios backlot, many of them outdoors. During the art fair’s 2019 and 2020 iterations (there was no in-person fair last year), members of the public were able to buy a dedicated ticket to Frieze Projects that was cheaper than entry to the exhibition tent.

Frieze Sculpture Beverly Hills was to include a work by the late L.A. artist Chris Burden, a 40-foot-tall stainless steel tower called “40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper,” presented by Gagosian gallery. It also included L.A. artist Glenn Kaino’s “Revolutions,” a circular enclosure comprised of metal bars that, when tapped, plays the melody from U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” It was to be presented by Pace Gallery.

The exhibition also included works by Larry Bell, Beatriz Cortez, Pedro Reyes, Woody De Othello, Takis (born Panayiotis Vassilakis), Spencer Lewis, Alma Allen, Hannah Greely, Ugo Rondinone and Olivia Erlanger.

A key problem, Bowring said in a follow-up phone interview, is that some of the sculptures, traveling internationally to the fair in L.A., are stuck at ports and therefore would not arrive on time. Burden’s work, coming from Geneva, is not at a port but experiencing “transport delays,” a Gagosian representative says.

Setting up the works on-site — a process involving trained art installers and engineers who advise on weight loads and other technical specs — was complicated by labor shortages, Bowring says.

“Across the board there were labor and installing issues,” Bowring says.” “There were labor shortages because people were either sick or isolating, things like that.”

The sculpture exhibition, walking distance from the fair, was to be accessible to the public 24-7 as the site is a city park. The plan was for the exhibition to stay up for three months after the fair ended on Feb. 20.

Frieze is now considering alternative programming options, including putting some of the sculptures, or different works by participating artists, on view inside the exhibition tent, outside the fair or in or around the Beverly Hilton. Adult general admission to the fair tent is $75-$95, with other ticketing options available.

“We’re working out what that programming will be with the galleries and artists, we’ll confirm next week,” Bowring says, adding that “the whole fair will be available in the Frieze online viewing room, which is free to everyone.”

Beverly Hills Community Services Director Jenny Rogers would not address the canceled sculpture exhibition directly, except to say the city is “really focused on trying to help support Frieze to have a successful fair.”

“While COVID has presented a lot of difficulties,” she says, “we’re looking forward to hosting a fabulous Frieze fair in the City of Beverly Hills.”

“It’s a wonderful thing we finally get to highlight our sculptures that people drive by all the time,” adds Deborah Frank, chair of the Beverly Hills Arts and Culture Commission.

The city is moving forward with arts programming for Frieze Week. Beverly Hills has its own public art collection, nearly 100 pieces strong. The works — paintings, photography and sculptures — appear outdoors and in other public spaces such as City Hall and the Beverly Hills Public Library.

Beverly Gardens Park features a work by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, “Iron Root,” an abstract piece made of copper-cast tree roots turned upside down. There’s also a sculpture by American artist Tom Friedman, “Takeaway,” an 8-foot-tall steel figure, a delivery person, balancing food cartons on its head. Both were commissioned through the Beverly Hills Arts and Culture Commission’s fine art fund and they were installed in 2020 and 2018, respectively.

During Frieze Week, Beverly Hills will hold free walking tours of its public art collection — the canceled sculpture exhibition had been a stop on the tour — visiting eight outdoor artworks. Tours will start at Beverly Gardens Park at 2 p.m., Feb. 17-20.

Even without a pandemic, art fairs are logistically complex events to stage, with many moving parts. Bowring says that Frieze Los Angeles is not experiencing any other COVID-related delays at the moment and that no participants have canceled yet.

“We’re doing everything we can to make this fair happen,” Bowring says. “There’s a real groundswell of support. People seem happy that it’s happening and we’re doing everything we can to realize it safely.”

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