Pleasure Dome

Andrew Berardini around Frieze LA

The Chateau Marmont pool at the Frieze Los Angeles party. Photo: Billy Farrell.

SMASHED BETWEEN adult-film star Sasha Grey, filmmaker-artist Miranda July, and underground legend Ian Svenonius in the space of Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago on the Sunset Strip, a weird claustrophobia set in. So I skipped outside to watch magickian-artist Brian Butler, sword in hand, hollering Luciferean incantations in a bloodred glow as the moon rose above him. I half expected a demon to leap out from the Hollywood sign and eat us all in a single, wet gulp. The second edition of Frieze Los Angeles launched last week, along with cluster of ride-along art fairs, from the long-standing Art Los Angeles Contemporary to the hipper alternative Felix to the artist-centered transplant SPRING/BREAK, as well as countless performances, screenings, dinners, and parties. The week began for me with Jeffrey Deitch, Autre Magazine, and Ben Lee Ritchie Handler of Nicodim Gallery coproducing “Hollywood Babylon: Re-Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” an homage to LA’s favorite nonagenarian occult filmmaker, Kenneth Anger. Two twin dancers, dressed in black and white and choreographed by artist Valerj Pobega, swirled past the thick crowd, pressing against works by Katherina Olschbaur, Simphiwe Ndzube, and Gus Van Sant. All a little sexy, a little flashy, and a little evil; I remembered it was only Monday and it was going to be a long, weird week.

The following night I stopped by Michael Krebber’s opening at Gaga & Reena Spaulings Los Angeles in MacArthur Park on my way to Cyprien Gaillard’s exhibition at Sprüth Magers on Miracle Mile. Shaking the traffic from my soul, I found myself watching transit cars dumped one by one off a garbage scow into the sea: a local showing of Gaillard’s movie Ocean II Ocean, 2019, which launched at the last Venice Biennale. On the first floor at Sprüth Magers, the slick veneers of stone inlaid with the New Jersey Transit logo were like merchandise attached to the main attraction upstairs. The film connects the fossils in the stones that line stations in the New York City subway system and the subway cars that pass them, the latter finding a second life as man-made reefs dumped into the sea. A dramatic long shot of a flushing toilet swirls, mysteriously, somewhere in the middle of it all. The afterparty was held at the thematically appropriate restaurant Traxx at Union Station, LA’s central train depot, on the other side of the city (no one, I assure you, took the subway). Artists Melanie Schiff and Sterling Ruby stood near the perpetually black-bloused curator Beatrix Ruf, laughing at a sly joke by Jordan Wolfson. I slipped out early to catch the final moments of curator Aaron Moulton’s “Pineal Eye Infection”—a show about “occult systems, divine intuitions and spiritual cosmologies”—around the corner in Chinatown. A perfume made to smell like DMT permeated the room. Passing a painting by master of American kitsch Thomas Kinkade, someone offered me actual DMT, and I fell one level deeper into the fun house or haunted house or whatever psychedelic rabbit-hole orgasmatron Los Angeles is in the permanent process of becoming.

Dancers choreographed by artist Valerj Pobega. All photos unless noted: Andrew Berardini.

The following morning, I passed through the press preview of two equally elaborate installations: Nicolas Party’s set piece of high, curved doors and poisonous colors, and the ambient environments of Lucio Fontana (“billionaire sex dungeons,” one critic opined). Later, I floated through a quiet night at a VIP opening and dinner for François Ghebaly Gallery, with shows by Miami’s Victoria Gitman and New York’s Kathleen Ryan. Ghebaly walked fellow dealer Emmanuel Perrotin through the exhibition, before being handed off to Anita Zabludowicz to repeat the tour. They passed exquisite, lavishly detailed paintings of fur-lined purses by Gitman hanging a room away from Ryan’s enormous rotten fruits with rinds carved from Airstream trailers and its molding flesh glittering from thousands upon thousands of semiprecious stones and glass beads. An almost sinister opulence clung to both, as an almost sinister opulence seemed to cling to everything.

When I woke up the following morning, it took about all my will to peel out of bed and drive to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for the VIP opening of the Felix Art Fair. The poolside vibe felt appropriately chill as jetlagged New Yorkers shed their clothes and dipped into the Hockney-painted pool. I passed artist Hayden Dunham and the Icelandic musician and artist Jónsi, who pointed me to their spooky collaborative installation of near-blackness, scattered constellations of lights, and ambient sound down a long hallway off the courtyard. I got lost in the artist-activist Tourmaline’s video of her bathing in milk at Chapter NY, eyeballed the mushrooms by Hamish Pearch and the Pre-Raphaelite androgynes in the paintings of Ryan Driscoll at London’s Soft Opening, and lit a cigarette from a candle coming out of the vagina of Isabelle Albuquerque’s beheaded torso sculpture at Nicodim. Later, I traded in the cool blue waters and chaise lounges of the Roosevelt for the tents and sets of Paramount Studios at the second of overlapping VIP openings for Frieze. Glad I hadn’t smoked that DMT, I got wildly discombobulated in the white tent and found something akin to a safe harbor in Karma International’s booth with Ida Ekblad, where the Norwegian artist held her dealer Karolina Dankow’s baby surrounded by the lush impasto of her paintings and beside the stone chaises in front of them.

Artists Isabelle Albuquerque and Miranda July.

Heading to the back lot, I dipped into Pentti Monkkonen’s secret-ish bar, where the artist was serving free drinks to anyone who could figure out where the entrance was. Frieze LA special section curators Pilar Tompkins Rivas (of the Vincent Price Art Museum) and Rita Gonzalez (head of contemporary art at LACMA) were belly to the bar, enjoying a reprieve from a day of touring works on the back lot, from Jibade Khalil-Huffman’s street-level billboard of Grace Jones watching over us like a guardian angel, to Naama Tsabar’s double-mirrored guitar, to the woven spiderweb installation by Channing Hansen. I ducked into a champagne lounge where artist David Horvitz, upon the utterance of a password from Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva (“We make it together with our breath”), would give anyone during the course of the fair a glass ornament filled with ashy Los Angeles air culled from the time of the Malibu fires. I pocketed the amulet, knowing no matter how polluted its contents, I would assuredly need it. Later that night at White Cube’s party at Chateau Marmont, I narrowly avoided falling into the pool while dancing in front of a Sarah Morris movie on a giant LED screen as the Compton High School Marching Band beat drums, spun batons, and blew their brass horns.

After taking a night off to convalesce, I finished the week with Peter Berlin at the Tom House in Echo Park for the launch of a monograph on the iconic gay photographer and model. Leather daddies and international art folk including ICA London’s Stefan Kalmár and the writer Evan Moffitt, a contributor to the book, mixed in the labyrinthine pleasure garden of the craftsman home. Peter shyly held up a cardboard cutout of his younger self as fans lined up for signatures and pictures. Sneaking out of the party early, I hopped onto one of the motorcycles installed out front. I imagined the bikes carefully drawn by Tom of Finland, with muscular men pressed against them and each other, and smelled the musk of a hundred sex parties mix with the night air and felt the frantic carnival energy finally fall away as the weird myths that animate LA swirled around me. Despite all the intense attention it’s been getting, Los Angeles still sparkles and sweats with a strange and inimitable beauty.

Photographer and model Peter Berlin.

Artist David Horvitz. Photo: LaFORCE.

Compton High School Marching Band. Photo: Billy Farrell.

Artists Jon Beasley, Isabelle Albuquerque, and Jasmine Albuquerque.

Sterling Ruby Studio's Tyler Britt and artist Jordan Wolfson.

Artist Ida Ekblad with Karma International's Karolina Dankow and baby Gaspar.

Artist Hayden Dunham.


Nicodim Gallery's Ben Lee Ritchie Handler and musician Ian Svenonius.

LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez and Vincent Price Art Museum director Pilar Tompkins Rivas.

Dealer Brian Butler by a work by Pae White