On a brilliant sunny day in Hollywood last month, Brad Pitt, casually dressed in beige chinos and sweatshirt, was wandering around the Paramount studio lot. He wasn’t there to make a movie, but to look at the offerings at Paris Photo, the offshoot of the French photography fair, holding its second edition in the legendary location.

Pitt was not alone. Orlando Bloom, Jodie Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow – were soon spotted browsing the booths, admiring works that ranged from erotic selfies by Pierre Molinier to never-before-exhibited crime images taken by the LAPD.

Los Angeles, with its 13 million inhabitants, its immense wealth, its huge blue skies and high celebrity count, should be a natural for an international art fair such as Paris Photo. And while the city has always had a number of local fairs, larger exhibitions – such as Platform LA – had been set up with high hopes, only to crash out within a couple of editions

Why? One major problem is the sheer vastness of the city, really a series of towns, which sprawls over 12,500sq-km and can be gridlocked with traffic at peak hours. So finding the right location for a fair is crucial: the big money lives among the lush lawns and towering palm trees of Beverly Hills, but many fairs were set up elsewhere, sometimes an hour away by car. Also, a successful fair can’t only count on local buyers, however deep-pocketed. It must attract major collectors, and leading dealers, from elsewhere – around the country and abroad. No fair had been able to do this convincingly, until now.

But things have changed dramatically in the last few years, and the City of Angels is finally being recognised as the next major art market destination. The leading French fair Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) will set up an LA offshoot; it plans to bring in the same museum groups and collectors it already hosts for its massive Parisian event.

A-list art

Art dealers are eager to establish galleries in the city, with Gagosian already settled in Beverly Hills, while the heavy-hitter Hauser & Wirth is establishing a joint venture with Paul Schimmel, former chief curator of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. The London- and Berlin-based gallery Sprueth Magers is hunting for a perch. They are joining internationally recognised dealers such as Blum & Poe, Marc Foxx, Matthew Marks and ACE who are already in Los Angeles.

“What really triggered the transformation was Pacific Standard Time, a series of events in 2011 organised by 60 museums around the state,” explains Jill Silverman, director of Fiac LA. “This ramped up interest in the whole Californian scene, and the impetus has just carried on from then. And the collector base here has expanded radically and is now into its third generation,” she says.

Also adding heft to the cultural offerings in the city is the coming arrival of the Broad, a new museum displaying the famed collections of developer Eli Broad. And the Californian art scene already features a whole swathe of well-known artists, such as Thomas Houseago, Ed Ruscha, Paul McCarthy or Sterling Ruby, whose distinctive, often raucous styles are recognised internationally – with prices to match.

Also driving this new Gold Rush is the heightened interest in art coming from celebrities. Art has become hugely fashionable among stars, and some are even making it: actor James Franco currently has two shows of his work (both critically panned, by the way) in New York. Lady Gaga collaborated with Jeff Koons for her Artpop album cover and launch, while Jay-Z has rapped Picasso Baby with performance artist Marina Abramović, and is also an avid collector with his wife Beyoncé. Sylvester Stallone paints vividly coloured, expressionist works and managed to get them exhibited at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, even though, again, the critics were devastating.

Red carpet, white cube

Celebrity collecting of art is as hot: Madonna has holdings worth a rumoured $100m and which include works by Mexican icon Frida Kahlo, Warhol, Haring, Basquiat (with whom she had an affair in her youth) and Art Deco portraitist Tamara de Lempicka. Leonardo DiCaprio is a collector and a regular visitor to art fairs and auctions, arriving with a baseball cap pulled hard down over his eyes so as not to be recognised. Filmmaker Sofia Coppola has bought works by Tracey Emin, Elizabeth Peyton and William Eggleston. Jennifer Aniston, Christina Aguilera and Tobey Maguire are also collecting art.

These stars are following in the footsteps of an older generation of Hollywood collectors, including Steve Martin whose taste runs to blue-chip names such as Picasso, de Kooning, O’ Keefe, Twombly and Lichtenstein; Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who love the realist American painter Norman Rockwell; and Jack Nicholson, a pushover for the popular, but critically ignored, Scottish painter Jack Vettriano.

But today’s celebrity collectors often turn toward their own generation of artists: Banksy is big with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and the Beckhams, while Hirst figures in a number of collections, including Madonna’s.

Competition plays a role, with stars vying to bag works by the trendiest artists. And the art scene is attractive, always featuring the best parties and coolest openings. The entertainment business is highly visual, but transient. As it’s been said: “Movies are celebrities’ commerce, but art is their religion.”

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