Occupying a room on the 11th floor of Los Angeles’s Roosevelt Hotel, as part of the second edition of the Felix L.A. art fair, is a gallery based in Athens, Greece, called Fomo Haber. The two young men who work there are L.A. locals. One is a musician, the other works for Hauser & Wirth. The proprietors of Fomo Haber had “Visa problems,” these two will tell you, and couldn’t make it, so they were hired at the last minute.
Scanning a QR code on a piece of paper sitting on the gallery’s desk turns up biographies for the artists whose works are on view in the room, but any fairgoer who bothers to query Google about an artist called Finley James/James Finley—who makes artworks called “Ours” out of celebrity memorabilia like a goblet that once belonged to Ringo Starr and who has an upcoming exhibition at Institute of Contemporary Art Miami—would turn up nothing.
Gordon Waldman supposedly was once an editor of the Paris Review, and currently lives in the Bronx, and is “the co-editor of the award-winning omnibus ‘Wittgenstein’s Talisman.’” There is no such omnibus, however according to Wikipedia, Wittgenstein used to carry around with him “constantly, like a talisman,” (Wittgenstein’s words) Leo Tolstoy’s 1902 “The Gospel in Brief,” a synthesis of the four gospels.
Lydia Turicchi, born in 1983, “is too young to have been considered part of the ‘Pictures Generation,’ but she sometimes likes to imagine herself being older.” To her is attributed the quote: “Consumerism is a form in and of itself, yet I have fingers and eyes, and so…” There is no such artist.
Ben Sommers does not live in Brooklyn with a spider, nor is he an “eminence gris” in recording studios in the borough. He is supposedly “a good friend of the gallery.” He does not exist.
Anca Munteanu Rimnic, born in 1974, has not had a career that has “spanned nine decades and thirteen continents” because—well, figure it out for yourself.
Brianne Benson did not begin her photography practice at age 5. She was not featured in Vice at age 14. She has never contributed to the New York Times magazine. She did not study at the Städeschule in Frankfurt with Mark Leckey and Daniel Birnbaum. There does happen to exist a Breanne Benson, according to Google. She is an Albanian-American pornographic film actor.
Alfie French, “one of the most vital minds in the Boston art world” until he passed away in his mid-60s in 2009, similarly does not seem to exist, but interestingly, a Google search for him turns up an entry that contains the line, “A silhouette I made of Alfie. French bulldog art, Boston art, Silhouette,” causing one to wonder if some of these names were reverse-engineered from digital garbage. “His last show was with Mario Diacono in 1993.” That Boston gallery was real. It closed in December 2007, and its namesake went to work for the Maramottis, a family of Italian collectors that also really does exist. The Boston Globe lamented the gallery’s closing, saying that most of the enterprise’s shows “confront the viewer with riddles, addressed in smart, savvy, and often daunting ways. This dealer has never offered easy answers, but he has served up a generation of provocative exhibitions.”
There is neither an artist nor a “touring bassist” born in 1985 named Dennis Greenberger, never mind one who studied art with conceptual photographer Christopher Williams at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where Williams, who does actually exist, does actually teach.
There is no artist named Tamara Littleton who, since 2012, has been making art “exclusively for art fair booths,” including Fomo Haber’s booth at the ARCO Lisbon fair in 2017, because Fomo Haber does not exist. There does, however, happen to be a Tamara Littleton who is CEO of both the Social Element, which according to its Twitter account is “a global social media agency providing social media solutions to the world’s biggest brands,” and Polpeo, which according to its Twitter is a “social media simulator …training brands on how to manage a crisis that plays out online.”
Jesse Willenbring, a 40-year-old painter who lives in Los Angeles, does exist, however it seems unlikely that he holds the “current state record holder for longest continuous outdoor mural (2,346 feet).”
In fact, the entire booth and the artists and “art” in it are the brainchildren of artist Darren Bader, who once injected a burrito with heroin and called it art. The works are, however, for sale, and they are being sold.
There are some clues to all of this, besides the absurdity of the artists’ bios. The gallery does not have a website, and when you look up the name, you discover that in Turkish “Fomo Haber” appears to mean “Fomo News.” The underlying idea would seem to be that, at an art fair, people are so eager not to miss out—on a hot artist that might rise on the market, for instance—that due diligence of any kind gets thrown out the window. As for “news,” we’ve lately been told that a lot of it is fake.
Darren Bader was at Felix. He answered a few questions, albeit somewhat cryptically. “All of the literature—that is as forthcoming as I will be,” he said of the artist bios. The whole thing is a project given the green light by the L.A. gallery Blum & Poe. “I suggested this to Jeff Poe: Hey, Jeff, what about this crazy idea? But my business is running this,” Bader said, adding that he is interested in projects “dealing with truth and fiction.” One sale has been made by the end of the day, he said, and an invoice was issued.
Bader’s masterstroke may just be those two fellows manning Fomo Haber’s room. This is Hollywood, baby, and they are acting.
Not to be outdone by the star power at Frieze, Felix, a fair also in its second year and spread out among the rooms and cabanas of the Roosevelt Hotel, had some of its own spectacle. One of the special projects throughout the hotel—a brand new section this year, overseen by critic William J. Simmons—is the ground-floor one by Judy Chicago—works picked by none other than Jill Soloway, writer of the TV show Transparent.
The by-invite fair got bigger this year—going from 41 international exhibitors last year to 60—but it is still manageable, not least because the organizers have solved their crowded elevator problem by adding the freight elevator.
Hollywood history is as rich at the Roosevelt as it is at Paramount Studios, and galleries in the fair are playing on it. Portland-based gallery Adams and Ollman is debuting three new abstract portraits by Vaginal Davis that are part of her ongoing “make-up” paintings series of obscure Hollywood actresses. There’s Della Reese at the Cine Grill (Reese was an R&B star who performed at the Cinegrill, once a hot club in the Roosevelt, and ended up in a fantasy TV Show called Touched by an Angel where she played an angel’s supervisor), Carole Lombard (the three-level penthouse in the hotel is named for Lombard and Clark Gable, who once lived there), and Frances Farmer (plagued by mental illness and alcoholism, she was honored there in 1958 before she moved back to Indianapolis), all of them made with materials including hydrogen peroxide, glycerine, food coloring, coconut oil, nail polish, enamel, and hairspray.
These pieces were in the bathroom of Adams and Ollman’s room, and hours into the preview, they’d sold for $1,200 apiece. Davis has lived in Berlin since 2005, but her own life is deeply intertwined with Los Angeles, where she she got her start in the queer and punk club scene during the 1970s.
Roberts Projects, an LA gallery, has a 2019 painting by Amoako Boafo that sold for $40,000 before the fair opened. The gallery did Boafo’s first ever solo exhibition in the US, back in January 2019, well before his residence with the Rubell Museum in Miami. A painting by Boafo meanwhile sold earlier today at Phillips in London for £675,000 ($881,000).
The room housing the website A Hug From the Art World sold 123 of 126 of their Eric Doeringer small “bootlegs,” of artworks in Eli Broad’s collection—each priced at $1,000 apiece.
In Miami, the satellite fair to be at is the one put on by the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). At Felix, NADA, a membership organization that has year-round programming, teamed up with Pace Prints to produce a limited-edition print by Tomoo Gokita. It’s an edition of just 40—NADA has the odd-numbered prints and is selling 20 as a fundraiser edition, and Pace has the even-numbered prints. Gokita’s work has been hot on the auction market recently, with his painting hitting the million-dollar mark last year ($1.1 million last May at Phillips New York). The record for a print by him, a 2008 one in an edition of 25, is $35,980, achieved last July at SBI Art Auction Co., Ltd in Japan. NADA had nearly sold out by 5 p.m. on opening day of Felix—only one remained, which meant NADA made $235,000. (The first ten prints went for $10,000 each, the next five for $12,000, and the five after that for $15,000.) A nice haul for a nonprofit.
Felix isn’t just for young talent. London gallery Alison Jacques had a new woven piece by Sheila Hicks who, in her mid-80s, is still going strong. A regular on the major fair circuit who last year was promoted to the first floor of Art Basel, Jacques said when she found out she was not accepted into Frieze Los Angeles, she came out to the city this past summer to look at the rooms at the Roosevelt to do a presentation there. She wanted a suite, and found this one on the 11th floor. The walls in one of the rooms were painted in a somewhat unusual manner, the bottom half of them a pale blue. She sent photographs of the room to Hicks, who lives in Paris, and Hicks thought it would work well with her pieces. Doing Felix, Jacques paid $10,000 for her space in Felix (a fraction of what a booth costs at Frieze L.A.) and had sold $1 million worth of art, by Hicks and the deceased artist Hannah Wilke, by 4:30 p.m. on the fair’s first day.
The fair, Jacques said, is extremely accommodating in terms of adjusting the rooms. “They bend over backward,” she said. “You can remove huge ceiling lamps if you want.” She also liked seeing the “caliber” of the many museum representatives at the fair.
She said the experience of the Felix fair takes her back to the Gramercy Park Hotel fair in New York in the 1990s, which she visited before she opened her own gallery. What’s old is new again.