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The L.A. Art Scene Is Expanding in Time for the Frieze Art Fair Amidst a Billionaire Scion’s Bold Investment in an Up-And-Coming Area

While reporting my doom-and-gloom column last week, I spotted a glimmer of hope: Los Angeles.

So I decided to follow up on it.

Indeed, the art scene in the City of Angels has been undergoing a major expansion, and anticipation is now building around the Frieze L.A. art fair in mid-February—an event that is poised not only to be a celebration of the West Coast art capital but also the year’s first stress test for U.S. galleries writ large. The fair is going through its own leveling-up, with a larger new venue in Santa Monica and 120 exhibitors, 20 percent more than at last year’s edition. Coinciding with Frieze are at least four other art fairs, as well as openings and other festivities by newcomers, including a cluster of New York galleries, led by David Zwirner, which is flocking to East Hollywood. (Although that opening is being delayed, more on that later.)

The locals, meanwhile are doubling down. L.A. mainstay Hauser & Wirth, for instance, is opening a new 5,000-square-foot location in West Hollywood with new paintings by George Condo priced at $2.6 million to $2.8 million. Nearby, homegrown François Ghebaly Gallery will launch a 3,000-square-foot branch, its second in the city. Entrepreneur Stefan Simcowitz’s recent opening of a gallery in Pasadena is followed this week by a new space on the ground floor of the Mohilef Studios downtown.

George Condo, Psycho (2022). Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Thomas Barrat

“There’s a lot of momentum,” said Mills Moran, co-founder of the local Morán Morán gallery and the Felix Art Fair. “L.A. is growing.”

Some of the excitement can be traced to a new art hub sprouting in East Hollywood. Dubbed Melrose Hill, the area was first populated by vendors servicing Paramount Studios and later furniture showrooms, whose column-free, high-ceiling layouts seem readymade for contemporary art galleries. These days, streets appear desolate, with empty lots and trash on the sidewalks.

Turning the area into a walkable, artsy, and cool destination is the passion project of Zach Lasry, the 32-year-old son of Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge fund manager and co-owner of NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks team.

“He was just very motivated to make the neighborhood something organically interesting,” said Allegra LaViola, owner of Sargent’s Daughters gallery, which signed a five-year lease with the younger Lasry. “He liked the idea of a neighborhood that had a little bit of a New York vibe. You get out of your car, you can go to this restaurant, go to this coffee shop, go to this gallery, to a cool boutique—instead of getting in a car, driving to one thing, getting out of the car, getting back in the car, going to another thing.”

Morán Morán was first to sign on, opening a gallery near a gas station on N. Western Avenue in August 2021, with a 10-year lease. The 5,000-square-foot space with skylights was an upgrade from its former 3,000-square-foot quarters in West Hollywood.

“We were really early,” Moran said. “We saw Zach’s vision. It wasn’t hard to visualize. They’ve been acquiring property there for a long time. Our conversations started before the pandemic.”

Others followed. Clearing opened a temporary space in September. Sargent’s Daughters and Shrine, who share a space east of Dimes Square in New York, are moving in next month to coincide with Frieze L.A. James Fuentes will follow in March, across from Morán Morán.

James Fuentes, Los Angeles.

New York gallerist James Fuentes’s new Los Angeles outpost. Courtesy of the Gallery.

The biggest kahuna in the area, of course, is David Zwirner, whose limited liability company paid $6 million in 2021 for a building at 606 N. Western Avenue and another $1 million for a two-bedroom house with bars on the windows around the corner last year, according to property records.

The gallery had planned to launch its first West Coast flagship in time for Frieze L.A. with a long-awaited show of Njideka Akunyili Crosby. But the chatter mill is abuzz that the 15,000-square-food project by Selldorf Architects got mired in construction delays, and won’t open till later this spring. A spokeswoman for the gallery confirmed that it’s not debuting during the week of Frieze but declined to elaborate.

Moran said that his new neighbors are discussing coordinated openings to draw people to the up-and-coming area. Safety may be a concern, at least initially.

“There’s so much homelessness, it’s actually dangerous,” said Simchowitz, the art establishment’s perennial gadfly. A homeless man threw an iron bar at his car when he was in the area this week, he said.  

I raised the issue of safety with some New York transplants.

“It reminds me of Delancey Street, where the gallery is in New York,” said Fuentes, who signed a 10-year lease in Melrose Hill. “I never felt like I needed to be extra-concerned.”


Jemima Kirke, Bride in a Dark Room (2017) will be in Sargent’s Daughter’s first L.A. show, “Death of Beauty.” Courtesy: Sargent’s Daughters

LaViola said that she always takes safety into consideration, leading her to install a buzzer at her New York gallery, but that she wasn’t too worried about Melrose Hill.

Lasry’s plan to create denser foot traffic is part of what drew her to the area, she said. Affordable rent, a feature of a fringe locale, was another. “I would pay the same price for 500 square feet on the Upper East Side, where I would be on the third floor, as for the ground floor in Los Angeles, where we could renovate to our own specifications,” she said.


“Knowing that there was this built-in association was really key,” LaViola said.

Alison Knowles, The House of Dust Edition (1967). Courtesy of the artist, James Fuentes, and LACMA.

Alison Knowles, The House of Dust Edition (1967) will be part of “Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982” at LACMA. Courtesy of the artist, James Fuentes, and LACMA.

Los Angeles has been increasing in significance for Fuentes, who has been cautious not to overextend during his 15-year gallery career. But a generation of budding collectors has made L.A. their home since the pandemic, taking advantage of remote work policies, resulting in a new pool of clients. The area is famously home to many artists, useful for the expanding gallery, and proximate to Asia. Fuentes’s artists show in the city’s world-class institutions. One, Alison Knowles, will be included in a group show about the rise of computer technology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next month.

“I am so careful with these types of decisions, and I spent a lot of time analyzing it and considering it,” Fuentes said about his move. “I am going into it with optimism.”

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What Is the World’s Top Mega-Gallery? We Crunched the Numbers—and No, It’s Not the One You Think

The Art Detective is a weekly column by Katya Kazakina for Midnight Publishing Group News Pro that lifts the curtain on what’s really going on in the art market.

A Patti Smith performance. A boutique hotel in a Scottish village. A Miami warehouse featuring jaw-dropping immersive installations with an admission price steeper than most U.S. museums. Book and magazine publishing. Restaurants and bars. C-suites and financial departments. 

These are just some things Gagosian, Zwirner, Pace, and Hauser & Wirth galleries do as they compete for art-world domination. Combined, the Big Four represent almost 400 artists and occupy more than 330,000 square feet (that’s almost six football fields), according to an analysis by the Art Detective. 

No longer mom-and-pop operations, art galleries are evolving into global brands, with new initiatives and branches announced weekly, it seems. As the world emerges from the pandemic, these conglomerates are forging full steam ahead to make up for a year of lost revenue—and grab market share.

Global gallery sales fell 20 percent to $29.3 billion in 2020, with the largest ones (turnover of $10 million or more) reporting the steepest decline, of 31 percent, according to the latest UBS Art Basel art market report.

But who occupies the top spot after a year of reckoning?

Larry Gagosian and Leo Castelli in 1996 in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Larry Gagosian and Leo Castelli in 1996 in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Conversations with experts and a close examination of the galleries’ growth reveal that while Gagosian, considered by many to be the industry leader, may be slowing down, there is no clear successor to take its place—yet.

“At this moment, the concept of the top gallery is almost obsolete,” said Barbara Bertozzi Castelli, art historian and widow of Leo Castelli, the top dealer of the previous era.  

Instead of a pyramid, the top of the market may become a field dominated by several powerful players, said art adviser Megan Fox Kelly. “And the metrics for measuring the top become not only about sales volume and gallery space but more about influence—who is making the greatest impact? Who is innovating effectively? Where do prominent artists most want to be?  And who is building the most effective team to support their artists and collectors?”


Larry Gagosian, 76, has been the undisputed leader of the past two decades, with sales topping $1 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, and a gallery empire upon which the sun never sets. His mega-gallery model has become the template—to emulate and disrupt—for the younger generation of rivals: David Zwirner, Marc Glimcher, and Iwan and Manuela Wirth, who are all in their 50s and hungry. 

“Gagosian has been the top gallery for so long, and now it’s a little unclear,” said Natasha Degen, chair of art market studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It seems optically, that these other galleries looking to grow are vying for the top spot more aggressively.”

Table by Midnight Publishing Group News.

In 2014, the gap between Gagosian and the rest was vast. The gallery had 15 outposts and represented 128 artists, according to Selling Contemporary Art: How to Navigate the Evolving Market, a book by art dealer Edward Winkleman. Its closest competitor, Pace Gallery, had 8 galleries and 84 artists.

But the gap has been closing. While Gagosian still has the most exhibition space, branches, and staff, its growth has slowed down, and even reversed. The gallery currently lists 90 artists on its website, down 29 percent from seven years ago.   

Meanwhile, Gagosian’s three rivals have been in full-on expansion mode, adding artists and opening new galleries. (All four galleries declined to comment on sales and revenues.) 

Today, Pace and Hauser & Wirth both represent more artists than Gagosian, a key metric of a gallery’s success and influence. Pace leads the pack with 137 artists and estates. It recently signed Jeff Koons, the world’s most expensive living artist at auction, who had been working with Gagosian and Zwirner. 

Those who sought out representation over the past two years and didn’t end up with Gagosian include Barbara Kruger and the estate of Robert Ryman, which went to Zwirner. George Condo and Cindy Sherman chose Hauser & Wirth. 

The latter has gobbled up the most artists in the past two years—23, to be precise—including hot young painters like Avery Singer and Christina Quarles. The art world is aflutter with speculation about its heady signing bonuses ($1 million for Singer! $50 million for Condo! $100 million for Sherman!). The gallery didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

Table by Midnight Publishing Group News.

To be sure, Gagosian remains a force to be reckoned with. “He’s still probably No. 1 until there’s evidence that he isn’t,” said Don Thompson, an economist and author of two popular books about the art market.

The gallery has taken steps to address succession concerns by naming art dealer Andrew Fabricant as its chief operating officer in 2019, a role that makes him second-in-command at the gallery. But for Thompson, the question still remains: “What happens when [Gagosian] ceases his role?”


A similar generational shift was at play in the late 1980s when the influence of Castelli, the top dealer of the previous 25 years, was waning. Many of his artists departed and ascendant galleries such as Pace, Gagosian, and Mary Boone were vying for primacy.

Since opening his gallery in 1957, Castelli focused on discovering and nurturing American artists—Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg—and bringing them to an international audience.

“The gallery was there at the specific time when the center of the art scene moved from Paris to New York City,” said Bertozzi Castelli. “And all the artists were shown at Leo’s gallery.”

People often forget that Castelli was an artist-centered, primary market gallery, she noted. The dealer hated resales and was willing to forgo profit while partnering with other galleries to promote his artists. “He used to say that in the secondary market, any type of unethical thing could happen, and he was happy he didn’t need to do it,” Bertozzi Castelli said. 

Larry Gagosian in 1988. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Gagosian, who learned from Castelli, realized that there was another way. His innovation was to open his own galleries around the world and divide his focus between primary and secondary market deals. This way, he didn’t have to share the profit and benefited completely from the upside.

The model took hold in an increasingly globalized art world, but its sustainability has been the subject of fierce debate. As the pandemic struck, even Gagosian started to question the approach. He closed his San Francisco space last year (but also added programming at the former Marciano Foundation in Los Angeles).

“When things go down like this you say, ‘Jesus, Larry, do you really need all these galleries?”’ Gagosian said last year.


It remains unclear what the next model will be. 

One place to look for answers is the luxury sector, where a handful of companies, including Francois Pinault’s Kering and Bernard Arnault’s LVMH, have outsize influence, power, and brand recognition.

“The top three-four conglomerates take up a larger share of the market every year,” Thompson said. A similar trend is happening in the art world, where the top four galleries (as well as Sotheby’s and Christie’s) are increasing their total sales annually, he added.

Hauser & Wirth presidents Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Marc Payot. Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Hauser & Wirth presidents Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Marc Payot. Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Companies like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton have transformed from their original niches (in leather goods and luggage) to global brands that are larger than any of the product lines they offer. 

“In the art world, there’s recognition that more can be done on the brand building side,” Degen said.  


Indeed, each gallery seems to be working to carve out its own brand identity to attract new audiences and expand the global collector base. Gagosian—who, it has been said, was the first to perfect the art of selling art to billionaires—established itself as elite, maximalist, and unabashedly luxe. For the latest installment of its livestreamed “Premieres” series, it got Patti Smith to perform in front of Gerhard Richter’s paintings.

“People know Gagosian like they know Art Basel,” Degen said. “They may not have been to the gallery, but they know the brand.”

President Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller and David Zwirner attend the Artists for Haiti dinner. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Zwirner, which has poured abundant resources into its publishing arm and robust online infrastructure, distinguished itself as perhaps the most high-minded of the bunch, while Hauser & Wirth has deep pockets, no single aesthetic, and a European sensibility. With destination locations like its art-filled hotel, The Fife Arms, in Scotland, it is the closest the gallery scene has to a lifestyle brand. Finally, the populist-leaning Pace is the most open to experimentation, having been early to court the tech community and invest in crowd-pleasing immersive art projects.

The stakes are higher for these dealers than for predecessors like Castelli because the business is global and the internet has expanded the audience for art dramatically. Exhibitions by teamLab draw millions of visitors, while artists like KAWS and Jean-Michel Basquiat are global brands themselves, more recognized than the galleries who represent them.  

teamLab’s Infinite Crystal Universe, 2015-2018. Image courtesy of Pace Gallery.

“That’s going to be the next big question in terms of the next model,” Degen said. “How do you monetize the growing interest among the wider public? And who will be the one to figure out how to do that in a way that doesn’t degrade the brand or alienate artists?”

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