UTA Fine Arts has a new gallery home — in a Beverly Hills building "that's 200 yards from the main steps of UTA," says Joshua Roth, a former art lawyer (and son of CAA founding partner Steven) who heads up the five-person division. "I'd always driven by it and thought, 'I bet the inside of that building is cool.' Then one day I was leaving the office and I saw a guy putting up a for-lease sign."
Roth immediately pulled over and convinced the realtor to let him inside the 1940 building on Foothill Road, once home to the West Coast Diamond Tool Co. UTA Artist Space Beverly Hills opens there July 12.
UTA Fine Arts, launched in 2015, doesn't replace the work of galleries in representing artists; it focuses on helping them land projects in other media as well as creating one-off shows. Its former space, which opened in L.A.'s Boyle Heights in 2016, saw shows from such creatives as director-photographer Larry Clark, video artist Petra Cortright, Puerto Rican painter and sculptor Enoc Perez and designers the Haas brothers (it was the first L.A. survey show for the brothers of actor Lukas) — but soon found itself caught up in the area's anti-gentrification protests.
"We've learned that our clients and colleagues want access to and connectivity with a gallery," says agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer (he and chairman Jim Berkus are both prominent collectors, and UTA boasts its own extensive collection). "Now the Artist Space is truly an extension of our campus. More than ever the worlds are collaborating and collapsing around each other — art, music, sports, publishing, fashion, movies, TV, games, etc. — all driven by the fact that tech has put the world at our fingertips. We feel we occupy a central role in this convergence."
One of the things that sold UTA on the new space is its elegant bow-truss ceiling, which Roth discovered on his first visit (it had been covered by a drop ceiling). “The building] was very rundown and threadbare,” says Roth, who collaborated with dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a UTA client since 2016, to conceive a gut renovation of the 4,000-square-foot space (overseen by architect of record Daveed Kapoor).
"Ai was in town to do some press for the film [his 2017 refugee documentary Human Flow] and I picked him up one day and said, ‘I want to get your opinion on this building,'" recalls Roth of Ai's surprising offer to help. "I took him there and he was just really inspired by the space. He casually asked, 'Do you think I could help you with some ideas for it?' And I kind of laughed. I said, 'If you have time in your busy schedule that would be quite an honor.' He said, 'I’m very serious. I could give you some good concepts of how to turn this into a cultural space. Architecture has been something very important to my artistic practice.'"
Ai’s input helped turn the unusual building (it has a diagonal north side due to an alley) into usable art space by carving out a mostly cube-shaped main gallery with two smaller side rooms and adding a more welcoming entrance. "He encouraged us to make a wide and generous opening landing at a level on par with the entry. The walkway before was pretty narrow and once you got to the top you had to take an extra step up — he said that’s not really conducive of a cultural space," Roth explains. Other renovations included sand-blasting the exterior down to the original poured concrete and installing a custom pivot door that’s more than 11 feet wide.
Following the inaugural group show of works from the 20th century Color Field movement (organized by Roth in conjunction with private dealer Jared Najjar), an Ai exhibit opens Oct. 4. The show will feature some of his monumental marble sculptures (including "a big patch of grass made out of marble — it’s about rebirth," says Roth), a surveillance camera made out of marble (a comment on "this idea of constant monitoring when we traverse public space"), one of his well-known iron trees and some porcelain ceramics of refugees that evoke "Ming Dynasty objects." (Ai also has a large solo show opening Sept. 28 at Marciano Art Foundation.)
UTA Fine Arts has previously debuted a selection of Kurt Cobain’s never-before-seen art at the Seattle Art Fair and worked with artist Rashid Johnson to bring the Richard Wright book Native Sonto the big screen (connecting Johnson with screenwriter client Suzan-Lori Parks), and Roth is currently developing a TV project for the Haas Brothers. "It's not quantity, it's quality," says Roth of his division's scope. "I'd be fine with eight clients or 10 clients if we were really doing a lot for them."
"Artists like us have lots of ambition to make all kinds of work that live outside of the normal model of a white cube gallery setting," says Nikolai Haas. "Josh has access to worlds that aren’t quite so easy to slip into coming from where we’re coming from." Adds his twin, Simon, "There’s a Wild West excitement in L.A.'s art scene — and UTA is no exception."
While Beverly Hills may not be the kind of West you'd call wild, Roth notes the area’s "light industrial" past; the space sits across from the former Wonder Bread factory, now a Mercedes-Benz service center. "Beverly Hills has been more associated with glamour, but there’s this other interesting legacy," he says, adding that the space — which already has exhibitions booked through December 2019 — also will host events. "We did do that downtown. We had a great musical performance. We worked with the UTA Foundation on several events where we worked with other nonprofits. We worked with a client on a book release and hosted a dinner with an incredible chef."
"The focus is on presenting really high-caliber, museum-quality art and figuring out how to curate other experiences where it feels like it all makes sense together," Roth continues. "I think we’ll have some more updates for that soon. But suffice it to say we want to keep it very high-end."