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LOS ANGELES — After a morning of uncharacteristically torrential rains, Felix, the debut art fair of mega-collector Dean Valentine, opened in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to much fanfare and generous attendance. The fair consists of two main sections with special projects interspersed throughout the building. The first, and far more accessible section, the Cabanas, hosts everything from a brightly colored interactive musical booth by Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd at Susanne Vielmetter to a more serene selection of Roger White paintings laid out lovingly on a hotel bed at Grice Bench. Fair-goers can weave in and out of the ground-floor poolside rooms with relative ease, though expect the usual hustle-and-bustle feel of art commerce in action.
Valentine has said he wanted to eliminate this general commercial feel of art fairs, and, to a certain extent, he did. The hotel rooms do give the possibility of finding something genuinely unexpected in a way temporary white walls never again will, including one moment of sheer delight I had spotting a beautifully strange sculpture of stacked human feet by Mella Jaarsma, placed in front of a floor-length bathroom mirror at Baik + Khneysser. However, there is no way to make concerned or disappointed-looking gallerists (on their cell phones or staring curmudgeonly off into space, respectively) look like anything other than evidence of “transactions” or lack thereof.
A major hiccup in fair operations had to do with the one segment of government that seems to run with astounding efficiency: the Fire Marshal had the entire second section of the fair, located on the 11th floor, on a veritable lockdown. What this meant, practically speaking, was that the line for the elevator was almost out the door and the rewards were mixed for those who chose to brave it. Once upstairs, the hotel rooms were sparsely attended by design and despite a humorously striking tangerine dog by Ilona Rich tucked away in a shower stall in the Kenny Schachter booth (it was a great day for bathroom art), most galleries chose not to utilize the hotel rooms in any particularly novel way, instead settling on safe, sellable artworks and presentations — a missed opportunity. That being said, The 13th Floor, an exhibition curated by Andrew Berardini and presented by the French Committee of Art Galleries, is a must-see. Between the view, the takeaway newspaper essay that doubles up as an exhibition checklist, and the French film noir vibes of the work, the grand finale of the Felix fair makes it worth the trip up.