Whitehot Magazine

Interview with The Pit's Adam Miller

Allison Miller, Lovely Thing, 2019. Acrylic, fabric, and collage on canvas. 73 x 73 inches. Courtesy of The Pit, Los Angeles, CA

By KATE MILLS April, 2019

Looking Forward to Frieze NY, Whitehot glances back on a chat with The Pit's Adam Miller about Frieze LA

Kate Mills: I personally went to 4 out of the 6 fairs happening over the weekend. My 3rd fair in, I started thinking about Frieze Week in terms of a family reunion. Everyone met in LA because that’s where grandpa (Frieze) wanted to go. Mom and Dad (ALAC) changed plans to accommodate him, the cool auntie with an alternative lifestyle (Felix) decided to show up and make a statement.  The kids (Spring Break) came, but not without a few complaints (#notfrieze), and even a couple of the kids best friends (stARTup and Super Fine!) tagged along too. Would you say that’s an appropriate way to describe recent festivities?  

Adam Miller: That’s a funny analogy, it seems appropriate.  The only difference I would say, is that with this analogy it kind of implies that the other fairs were dragged into this, but to me it felt like Frieze’s arrival really inspired people to do something big and energetic.  I thought Frieze’s ripple effects felt so positive like the creation of Felix and Spring Break.  Everyone I spoke with during the week was so excited about the creation of them and I heard both had really positive energy.  

K: Totally. The zeitgeist was beaming with good energy. I only meant that with any large endeavor there’s a sort of anxiety that comes along with it - even if that endeavor is seeing the people you love or looking at incredible works of art. As a matter of fact: there was soooo much good shit to see that I had a bit of anxiety because I knew that choosing to go to one show meant missing out on others. 

K: Describe Frieze Week 2019 in 5-15 words

A: A lot of fun, and a lot of work. 

Allison Miller, Shield, 2019. Acrylic and oil stick on canvas. 73 x 73 inches. Courtesy of The Pit, Los Angeles, CA

K: You’ve participated in a variety of fairs in NYC and LA alike. Is there anything you can say about them comparatively? What stood out to you about as far as this experience goes?  

A: Well, Frieze LA was the first time we’ve participated in a larger branded art fair.  In the past we’ve mainly participated in smaller fairs such as NADA Miami and NYC, Material Mexico City, and Art Los Angeles Contemporary.  Participating in a fair where blue chip galleries are the majority of participants is a different experience.  We certainly felt more pressure to make sure the presentation was the best that it could be, and we also felt a real sense of pride  for being included amongst these large galleries.  We met a much larger group of collectors and arts professionals that traveled from outside of Los Angeles and it was really great for us in that regard.  Also, since this was a local fair there’s always a nice sense of comradery that takes place with the other local galleries.  We were in a section that consisted of ten younger galleries, and it was really great to be there with our peers that inspire us and that we admire.  It was also really refreshing that three of the galleries in our section are artists ran galleries (ourselves, Night Gallery, and Commonwealth & Council).

Also, it’s always nice to participate in a hometown fair.  I’ve always wondered why LA hasn’t been able to do a proper art week like Berlin and other cities, and I think the general distance between galleries and sometimes a lack of comradery between spaces has played a part.  I felt like this week with Frieze’s arrival there was just so much excitement and everyone really wanted to participate; not just in the fairs but there were so many events, talks, performances, parties, etc. To us it felt like a unifying moment in the LA art scene, and it was really great to be a part of. 

Hilary Pecis, Fish Bowl, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 30 x 1.5 inches. Courtesy of The Pit, Los Angeles, CA

K: What have been some of the challenges and rewarding aspects? What do you get out of the different levels of exchanges with the public and insiders?  

A: Well there are a number of things positive and rewarding that came out of participating in Frieze.  It was extremely rewarding to be able to present work by artists that we love, and have them receive such great feedback and exposure to such a huge audience, many of whom weren’t aware of their work or our gallery before.  Obviously, sales were a big reward from the fair.  The Pit has a small operation with very little overhead, and we operate outside of the normal neighborhoods where galleries are found, so we have to be extremely cautious and aware of the costs of participating in fairs, and making sound calculated risks.  For us, a fair like Frieze costs about as much as 3 months of our normal operating costs so if we take a big hit at a fair it really hurts us over the year.  That said, when we do well at a fair it also has really long term positive financial effects for the business over the year.  We were extremely happy that this booth was very successful from that standpoint.  

Networking is an extremely important aspect for us when doing fairs, and being able to participate in the first Frieze LA was definitely huge for that.  Since we are operating outside of where other galleries exist, it’s really important for us to meet collectors and curators who haven’t visited the gallery in person yet.  It’s also a great time to strengthen existing relationships.

K: That’s really exciting! How do you go about choosing which artists you’ll show at a fair?

A: There are a number of factors that go into what we decide to show.  As previously mentioned, the stakes are really high for a small gallery like ours with a low operating overhead so we have to take into account what we think will sell.  Beyond sales, there are a number of other considerations that go into what we show.  The timing in relationship to an artists upcoming or most recent solo show is usually a large factor.  One of the biggest considerations that I don’t think many artists realize is if they have a lot of new work in their studio.  Also, knowing how work was received in a fair context in the past is really important.  For some art showing it in a fair setting doesn’t do it any favors.  Some artists really need the work to presented in a more focused setting like a solo exhibition.  I think for a fair we’re always thinking about what’s really eye catching and will stop someone in their tracks if they’re walking by, but the majority art doesn’t operate like that.  So, often times work that’s more conceptually nuanced, or has a slower reveal we don’t take to fairs because we’ve found that it isn’t received in a manner that’s most beneficial to the work or the artist.  There are moments of great discovery at art fairs for finding new artists, but often times I think it’s specific type of work.  So, if we work with artists whose work doesn’t benefit from the context, we’re often times trying to find other interesting projects and ways to present their work outside of just the gallery or an art fair.  

K: Thanks for all the insights! That makes a lot of sense considering the artists you chose. What I really loved about the selection, beyond the works being punchy enough to grab my attention in such a busy context, was how much I truly resonated with the works as a native SoCal artist -- it really felt like winning one for the home team.  WM


Katelynn Mills

Katelynn Mills is a painter and educator based in Southern California. She holds an MFA in Painting from The New York Studio School. Mills has been the recipient of a variety of awards, such as: The Mercedes Matter Award, the Peter Rippon/ Royal Academy Travel Grant, the Irwin Project Grant, and was an honoree for the President's Award for Excellence in Leadership at the LCU Fund for Women's Education.

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