It pays to be early.
“Sometimes things just happen in a serendipitous kind of way,” says Joshua Roth, head of United Talent Agency’s fine arts division, who spearheaded the recent opening of the agency’s new Artist Space, a collaborative gallery that recently relocated from its original downtown Los Angeles location to Beverly Hills where UTA’s main offices are located.
“I was driving home one evening, and I was passing by this building. I had always seen it — it was a bit nondescript, but had this kind of vibe to it, like there’s gotta be something going on in there,” he recalls. “The guy who represents the property owner was standing out in front of the building one evening, and he was literally putting up a ‘for lease’ sign on the side of building as I was going past. And so I pulled over and I kind of ran up to the guy — I think I frightened him — and I said, ‘I drive by this building every day, I love this building, I’ve always wanted to go inside it. I see you’re putting up a for lease sign, can I come in?'”
Despite its unkempt warehouse state — dusty, low ceilings — Roth saw the potential of the space to serve as a cultural center, and the next day he brought UTA’s chief executive officer, Jeremy Zimmer, over to check it out.
“We both just started going crazy over this building,” Roth says. They weren’t the only ones. During a day out and about with Ai Weiwei, who was in town doing press for his documentary “Human Flow,” Roth brought the artist to see the space.
“Again, it was this idea of serendipity,” Roth says. “The last [major architectural] project he did was the Bird’s Nest, which was constructed for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing. He really hadn’t done anything. Our building was the first time he said, ‘Look, I really want to wade back into doing this.'”
That was December, and in early July, the Weiwei-designed space officially opened with its inaugural show, “One Shot,” an exhibition of Color Field painters spanning from 1958 to 1971, with the emphasis being on works made in the early Sixties. An exhibition of Weiwei’s work is already on the books, scheduled to open Oct. 4.
The concept of the space is rooted in connecting UTA’s various sectors, and going forward, Roth — who launched the Fine Arts division when he joined the agency three years ago — hopes that the space can serve as an incubator for collaboration across fine art, film, writersand music. (Roth was behind the recent pairing of contemporary artist Rashid Johnson with screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks for an adaptation of “Native Son” that Johnson is set to direct; he also facilitated the LACMA video premiere of Kanye West and Steve McQueen’s collaboration in 2015.)
“I think we can really do something that is unique to UTA and be able to bring a lot of our other clients in all of these different disciplines here to see these shows, and to have all of this art and creators touching each other and being influenced by each other,” says Roth of his intentions for the space. “We are working on a sort of UTA showcase series where we would try to pair together art and music and even some chefs that we represent,” he continues. “We really want to be a place of collaboration and creative inspiration. I think the possibilities are really limitless.”