Jay Ezra Nayssan’s Top 5 Picks from Frieze Los Angeles Viewing Room 2024

The curator and founder of Del Vaz Projects chooses a remarkable Lee Bontecou, a mystical piece by Eugenia P. Butler and a work he says is “yearning and desirous to be encountered”

BY Jay Ezra Nayssan in Frieze Los Angeles | 27 FEB 24

Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 2001

Welded steel, wire mesh, porcelain and wire, 
114.3 × 119.4 × 53.3 cm. Presented by Marc Selwyn Fine Art$1m or above

Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1986–2001. Welded steel, wire mesh, porcelain, and wire,114.3 × 119.4 × 53.3 cm ©️ Lee Bontecou, 2024. Presented by Marc Selwyn Fine Art with Bill Maynes
Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1986–2001. Welded steel, wire mesh, porcelain and wire, 114.3 × 119.4 × 53.3 cm © Lee Bontecou, 2024 All Rights Reserved. Presented by Marc Selwyn Fine Art with Bill Maynes

“My first stop at any fair is always Marc Selwyn, where I am sure to find works by some of my favorite female artists such as Cameron, Hannah Wilke and Lee Bontecou. Marc, and other gallerists such as Craig Starr, Michael Rosenfeld and Andrew Edlin, always have some of the most incredible historical works that one can find in any fair and are my favorite US galleries. I never saw a Bontecou piece I didn’t absolutely fall in love with, but this one is truly one of the most remarkable I have ever seen. What I love about Bontecou’s work is that it resists any kind of definition or interpretation, and leaves one truly speechless, in a quiet and terrifying moment of contemplation.” 

Eugenia P. Butler, Untitled

Ink and pastel on paper, 70.5 x 89 cm. Presented by The Box. $20,000

Eugenia P. Butler, Untitled Ink and pastel on paper, 70.5 x 89 cm. Presented by The Box
Eugenia P. Butler, Untitled. Ink and pastel on paper, 70.5 x 89 cm. Courtesy of The Estate of Eugenia P. Butler and The Box LA; photo by Fredrik Nilsen Studio

After the groundbreaking solo exhibition at The Box in 2018, I became very interested in Butler’s life and work. What actually struck me the most from the exhibition was the video titled The Kitchen Table, which documented her conversations with 26 artists from around the world over a series of meals in a hidden booth at Art/LA ’93. I couldn’t help but think about the gatherings at Del Vaz Projects over the past decade, principally composed of artists, writers and curators exchanging thoughts and ideas over food. Beyond the exhibitions, programming and publications, I find that these conversations are probably our greatest input to the Los Angeles art community. Throughout her visual art practice, Butler explored the unconscious, the human condition and other immaterial realms in four main bodies of work: ‘My pieces are bridges to the Other—the unknown, the psyche, the world of dreams, the unconscious—a huge reservoir of tappable, deep human and planetary information and energy.’ This drawing, which depicts a spiral and the faint suggestion of a nose, belongs to her series of ‘Portal Maps’ or ‘Mind Maps’, in which she charts her life-long practice of traversing the landscape of ideas, her own and others, towards a universe of poetics. Upon closer inspection, one can read several inscribed meditative phrases like ‘the double infinite’ and ‘the more complex the being, The sharper The awareness + its hunger for greater awareness’ and ‘all created reality has a within as well as a without.’”  

Norman Zammitt, KK 39A, 1987

Acrylic on canvas board, 25.4 x 20.3 cm. Presented by Karma$20k–$50k

Norman Zammitt, KK39A, 1987
Norman Zammitt, KK 39A, 1987, Acrylic on canvas board, 25.4 x 20.3 cm © Estate of Norman Zammitt. Courtesy the artist and Karma

“I recently learned about Norman Zammitt’s work through colleagues Alexis Kerin and Emma Wheeler at Karma and just saw the exhibition curated by Sharrissa Iqbal at the Palm Springs Museum of Art, which included a large range of works including his ‘Band’ and ‘Fractal’ paintings as well as resin sculptures. Each of Zammitt’s ‘Band’ paintings were composed using complex calculations developed by the artist, exact details of which still remain a mystery. I’m fascinated by Zammitt’s practice, which evolved concurrently to the Light & Space Movement but resists any allegiance to a kind of ‘Finish Fetish’ that those artists painstakingly aimed to achieve. Upon closer inspection of the smaller ‘Band’ paintings, one can view quite a lot of texture in each bar, especially in the lighter bands, most probably because Zammitt painted on pre-gessoed canvas board, perhaps in irreverence to the smooth and flat surfaces that dominated the cultural ether at the time, or perhaps because that was the only thing he could afford. Either way, this only makes these works even more human and more relatable to the human experience of the sublime. There is a highly spiritual quality to Zammitt’s work, one that is quintessentially Los Angeles and which also recalls the transcendental works of Agnes Pelton and Paulina Peavy from earlier in the 20th century.”   

Behrang Karimi, Abschaffung des Dunkels (Abolition of Darkness), 2022

Oil on linen, 1.3 × 1.5 m. Presented by Maureen Paley€28,000

Behrang Karimi, Abschaffung des Dunkels (Abolition of Darkness), 2022. Oil on linen, 1.3 × 1.5 m © Behrang Karimi. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London
Behrang Karimi, Abschaffung des Dunkels (Abolition of Darkness), 2022. Oil on linen, 1.3 × 1.5 m © Behrang Karimi. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London

“I came across Behrang Karimi’s painting in New York last year through Maureen Paley and Oliver Evans. Oliver was kind enough to send me quite a bit of information on Behrang so I could research his work further and I came across an interview he did with my brilliant colleague Attillia Fattori Franchini where she says, quite succinctly, that Behrang’s work is a quest for representation that leaves space to the viewer for personal interpretation. Indeed, Karimi’s work is extremely varied in style and differs formally from abstraction to figuration. Similarly, the work draws from multiple influences, not necessarily stylistically, but more philosophically, combining Eastern and Western myth, history, symbolism and spirituality. As an Iranian-American, I am constantly searching for other artists who share my same cultural heritage, especially those living in exile outside of Iran and I often feel that Karimi’s paintings evoke my own feelings of placelessness. But I don’t mean that Karimi does this literally, like much of the figurative or representational painting we see by other artists at this time, but rather through texture and color. Karimi’s shadowed scenes composed with delicate brushstrokes in earthly tones on natural linen only serve to resist any singular classification or interpretation.” 

Sterling Ruby, Drifting Altar, 2024

Wire, textile, glass drop, metal, bone and wood, 335.3 x 61 x 41.9 cm. Presented by Sprüth Magers$75,000

Sterling Ruby, Drifting Altar, 2024
Sterling Ruby, Drifting Altar, 2024. Wire, textile, glass drop, metal, bone, wood 335.3 × 61 × 41.9 cm © Sterling Ruby Studio. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers; photo by Matthew Grover 

“I haven’t followed Sterling Ruby’s work much in recent years, but I’m really captivated by this piece. I remember visiting Sterling Ruby’s studio in 2016 when several of his mobiles were suspended from the ceiling. It was quite impressive, and the assortment of objects like used and discarded paint buckets, oil cans, beer boxes, painted geometric shapes and various metal bric-à-brac really portrayed for me the feeling of navigating Los Angeles, with its mish-mash of industrial, commercial and residential space and whack-a-mole urban planning. This mobile, however, is nothing of that sort and I am intrigued to learn more about this body of work which debuted in Japan late last year. In reading the exhibition text, I learned that Ruby reimagined Noguchi’s Heaven, which is permanently installed in the lobby of the Sogetsu Foundation headquarters: ‘[The] installation draws influence from kaidan, a genre of Japanese ghost stories. The artist dives straight into stories of yōkai, a class of spirits and supernatural entities, transforming Noguchi’s stage-like indoor garden into a spectral netherworld inhabited by faceless spirits.’ This piece is fragile, elegant, and for me, absolutely yearning and desirous to be encountered. It exudes a sensuality that borders on the treacherous, melancholic and transcendental... La petite mort.”  

Jay Ezra. Photo by Harry Eelman
Jay Ezra Nayssan. Photo by Harry Eelman

About Jay Ezra Nayssan 

Jay Ezra Nayssan is an Iranian-American curator, writer, and the founder of Del Vaz Projects, an arts nonprofit based in Santa Monica, California. Beginning in 2014 as an alternative exhibition space located in Nayssan’s home, Del Vaz Projects has expanded over the last decade into a curatorial platform, independent press,and artist production fund. In addition to the programming at Del Vaz Projects, Nayssan has organized exhibitions and programming for galleries and institutions, including Hauser & Wirth, Marc Selwyn and last year’s inaugural series of off-site projects at Frieze Los Angeles. Del Vaz Projects recently initiated the Los Angeles Coastal Gallery Collective (LACGC), a collective eight galleries along the coastal Westside of Los Angeles. Currently on view at Del Vaz Projects is the Los Angeles solo exhibition debut of LA-based poet, painter, and graffiti artist John Garcia. More information can be found here. 

About Frieze Viewing Room

Open to all from February 22–March 8, Frieze Viewing Room is the online catalog for Frieze Los Angeles 2024, offering visitors a preview of the wealth of gallery presentations at the fair, as well as the chance for audiences around the world to connect with galleries and acquire artworks.

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Main image: Jay Ezra Nayssan. Photo: Harry Eelman   

Jay Ezra Nayssan is the founder and director of Del Vaz Projects, Los Angeles. He is currently organizing the exhibition ‘Technologies of the Self’ with artists Max Hooper Schneider, Tetsumi Kudo, Lucas Samaras and Paul Thek, which will open at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles, in February. He lives in Los Angeles.