For Frieze Los Angeles 2024, curator Essence Harden offers a cultural guide to the city. | Video by Frieze


LOS ANGELES IS A CITY of diverse cultures, creative communities, and dedicated local figures who help to knit it all together. Essence Harden is drawn to these unique characteristics of the city and is bringing them to the attention of the art world during Frieze Los Angeles 2024 (Feb. 29-March 3) later this week.

For nearly a decade, Harden has been a fixture in Los Angeles. The visual arts curator and program manager at the California African American Museum is also co-curator of Made in L.A. 2025. At Frieze, Harden is curating the Focus section, which features up-and-coming galleries established in the past 12 years. She is bringing together a dozen galleries with rosters centered around emerging artists. Most are based in Los Angeles. They are Black-owned (Dominique Gallery, Hannah Traore Gallery), family-owned (Sow & Tailor), woman-owned, and run by young dealers.

Harden envisioned this year’s Focus section around the theme of “ecologies,” which considers the relationships between organisms and their environments. The galleries are featuring artists whose work explores the theme in terms of community, labor systems, and the urban landscape, among other aspects.

“I was really interested in the relationship between material, between artists, this kind of psychology and theorization of how art comes to happen and the ways in which art is produced,” Harden said in the video above.

The Focus section of Frieze LA is curated around the theme of ecologies: “I was really interested in the relationship between material, between artists, this kind of psychology and theorization of how art comes to happen and the ways in which art is produced.” — Essence Harden

Harden takes viewers on a tour of Los Angeles in the video, exploring its artistic ecosystem, sharing some of her favorite local spots and creative spaces, and visiting with the people who keep the culture alive.

She notes that there is a long history of alternative art spaces in Los Angeles. The itinerary includes Parker Gallery, which Sam Parker opened in his home in Los Feliz. In addition to local galleries, she spends time at art-adjacent businesses. She highlights Maurice Harris, a florist who transitioned to running a coffee shop. Black-owned Bloom & Plume Coffee is located in Historic Filipinotown.

“I found that flowers was a very esoteric, expensive, hard-to-approach practice and I wanted to find a way to make it more accessible to more people, at a price point that made sense, and have a space where people still want to leave their house and go to, as opposed to like ordering it online,” Harris said. “We were finding that coffee shops are always a white box, dominated by white men and it’s literally a Black thing. It (coffee) originates in Africa. Ethiopia specifically.”

Harden also visits with Jazzi McGilbert, owner and founder of Reparations Club in West Adams. The Black-owned and woman-owned concept bookshop is participating in Frieze Los Angeles for a second time this year. “I really didn’t know necessarily when I opened it that it would be a bookstore. But I knew I wanted a space that centered and reflected myself and people like me…” McGilbert said.

Focused on serving the community, Reparations Club operates with what Harden suggests is a call-and-response approach. The space is programmed based on what people need and want—from first-time home-buying seminars and karaoke nights to Saturday morning cartoon marathons and poetry readings. McGilbert added: “Books are a very natural entryway to a lot of conversations.”

Frieze LA is hosting several nonprofits, including Reparations Club. “It’s an honor to be at something so big. There’s so much energy in the space and we just want to bring Black art and Black artists just into the spotlight in that space,” McGilbert said. “And the people are really nice and we get to meet so many amazing artists and curators and just art lovers.” CT


FIND MORE about Essence Harden on her website


To support Reparations Club, a concept bookshop, stop by the pop-up at Frieze Los Angeles, visit the storefront in West Adams, or explore the website, where you can find Must Reads, a 2024 Gift Guide, and information about upcoming events.


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