Few of the visual artists are household names like Warhol, Basquiat, or Picasso. But if Hollywood’s top talent agencies have any say, contemporary artists can get more of that kind of crowd appeal by tapping into the full scope of their creative endeavours.
Earlier this year, United Talent Agency, one of the three major talent agencies, announced that it would open a three-story exhibition space in Atlanta in early 2023. This is not a first for UTA in the industry. In 2015, the mega agency established a fine arts department and built an exhibition space in Los Angeles the following year. In addition to groundbreaking entertainment deals for artists looking to branch out, the agency now organizes shows for top contemporary artists, a mix of shows they represent and those they don’t. Artists who have exhibited include Derek Adams, Ai Weiwei, Petra Courtwright, Ferrari Sheppard, Konrad Egger, Enrique Martinez Celaya and Mandy Sayegh.
After a solo exhibition at the UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles earlier this year, Martínez Celaya has officially joined the agency. Initially, he plans to pursue publishing his novel, then adapt that novel into a film. The agency was also offering him other opportunities running the gamut from acting gigs to fashion collaborations.
Although Martínez Celaya’s relationship with UTA is relatively new, he feels the opportunities that will result from it will be extensive, particularly with projects moving into industries outside of the art world. He said, “I have some great exhibitions, but I know that some of the projects I want to do are somewhat outside the realm of what a gallery can do.”
UTA’s Atlanta Project is a continuation of that kind of effort, but on a larger scale. As said by Arthur Lewis, Partner and Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts ARTnews, the general strategy is “much more than just artist space”. UTA wants to replicate what it’s already doing with its Los Angeles artists, namely bringing Hollywood art and art to Hollywood, while also managing deals between visual artists and Atlanta’s broad field of television, film, music and sports. By investing in the visual arts, Lewis believes UTA can help Atlanta become a “cultural barometer for the world,” he said.
“There are a lot of our customers already,” Lewis added. “There are a lot of different industries out there, [so] We saw it as an opportunity to expand our entire organization. “
While UTA may have the most amazing current project, the other two top talent agencies – Creative Artists Agency and Endeavor – have also turned their attention to visual artists. In 2016, Endeavor, led by Ari Emmanuel, a self-taught collector who has been on the board of directors of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, announced a partnership with Frieze, taking a majority stake in the London magazine Contemporary Art. and World Art Gallery operations, which expanded from London and New York to Los Angeles and Seoul in the years since the acquisition. CAA has been brokering deals with visual artists who have been looking to make the transition to film and television for more than a decade. They represented Julian Schnabel when he was made Diving bell and butterfly (2007). The agency also manages artist brand partnerships and has started development on the NFT platform.
The archetype of the cross between the artist and Hollywood may be Arthur Jaff, winner of the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. He rose to the top of the art world after his 2016 debut at Love is the message, the message is deathA seven-minute video montage about the beauty and anguish of black life, captured the New York audience with stripes around the building. The video was shown four days after the US presidential election, and it struck a chord with those trying to address what Trump’s victory means for America – black America in particular. Not long after, CAA offered to help Jafa pursue, direct and write his future films.
However, UTA’s Atlanta project may indicate an evolution in the complexity of such partnerships. In addition to being a major center for film television due to its generous tax incentives, Atlanta is also home to the main offices of Microsoft and Google and the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of HBCUs including Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, which have long supported, studied and collected black art.
Technical advisor Jeremiah Ojo said the city was “preparing to host something like this”. Not only because there are “millions of people passing through [city’s] The airport connects to every corner of the world, “but there’s also ‘a critical mass of other infrastructure that’s been built to receive a group of people coming into Atlanta’.”
While UTA’s overall investment in Atlanta is still in the works, Lewis said the company will begin sponsoring art events in the city later this year. In order for its investments to have a real impact on Atlanta culture, said Jonathan T.D. Neal, co-founder of Inversion Art, an art and investment services agency, “it has to be done as a coordinated effort over a decade.” Part of that includes “knowing How to gather people there from other art centers” in a “paying” way [cultural] conversation.”
“Acknowledging that Atlanta is the epicenter of black culture and talent, [UTA] They can get on the ground to get the latest and greatest things going on,” added Ojo.
So far, UTA and CAA have focused on deals for artists who are already stars, such as Takashi Murakami or Ai Weiwei. Historically, these deals are the most profitable for them. But a new kind of artist, both emerging and established, is also beginning to emerge. Who wants to be a “360 brand,” Ojo said. Agencies can manage projects for more people eager to break into other markets, from traditional markets to markets for NFTs, and everything in between.
One hurdle in this strategy, Ojo said, is that the art world typically operates under a “scarcity model,” with a limited amount of work going to institutions or a select group of top collectors.
For agencies, this idea of access can be difficult to manage. In Hollywood’s eyes, Nguyen said the art world “still feels very constrained,” noting that agencies like him “want to democratize art. We’re interested in getting to the 99 percent.”
From a business standpoint, UTA’s artist space in Atlanta could function in much the same way as it does in Los Angeles, serving as a meeting ground for industries. When painter Arkmanoru showcased Niles there two years ago, a UTA dinner organized to celebrate the show brought together “great art collectors and people in Hollywood who are interested in art,” Lewis said. For local artists, Ojo predicted that this means that UTA offers the possibility to raise the level of “what technical support can look like”.
This is in the traditional sense and so on. While agencies have been in the art world for years now, UTA’s recent efforts show a deeper commitment to the field. In this way, the question remains open as to how the agency’s involvement in the art world will crystallize.
Ultimately, Martínez Celaya predicts that “there will be other models that will emerge in the world, because this shows the potential for what agency-type relationships can do.”
A full-service artist representation company, in particular, has already entered the field. MTArt was founded by Marine Tanguy seven years ago with the goal of disrupting the traditional model of artist management. A boutique company offers services such as retail activation, curation, or public relations. With offices already in Paris, London and Monaco, Tanguy plans to open in Los Angeles next year. One of the agency’s latest projects involves bringing a sculpture by artist Lorenzo McQueen into the public art component of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. The goal is “to be a complete 360-degree where this home is; that’s what they’re all about,” Tangwe said.
In the end, talent agents insist they pose no threat to art dealers. They see themselves as wanting to support different forms of storytelling. “There are a lot of these young artists who are really into all these different mediums,” Lewis said. “They are great storytellers. We are looking for a variety of wonderful stories to be told.”