Mills Morán: redefining the modern art fair


By Daisy Lin

July 26, 2021

(Left): Mills Morán (standing) and Al Morán (seated). Photo by Stefan Simchowitz. Courtesy of Morán Morán. (Right): The poolside cabanas at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where Felix LA will take place.

Entrepreneur and gallery owner Mills Morán talks about his vision for Felix LA, an innovative art fair that features artists and galleries from Los Angeles to the Hollywood Roosevelt.

Contemporary art exhibitions usually take place in large convention centers, but Mills Morán and his brother Al have decided to break the mold and bring great art to a more intimate setting. They founded Felix LA, an art fair that brings together top artists, galleries, dealers and collectors at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The brothers, who emigrated from El Salvador, have been making waves in the art world since the opening of the Morán Morán Gallery in West Hollywood. The idea for the fair came during a dinner conversation with collector Dean Valentine, and together they kicked off the event.

This year’s show will be an all-local special edition that runs July 29-August 1 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Artists like Calvin Marcus and director David Lynch will have solo booths in outdoor cabanas by the pool. Twenty-nine top local galleries, as well as international galleries present in Los Angeles, will exhibit works of art, including Michael Benevento, Shatto Castle, CLEARING, Grice Bench, Tanya Leighton, Nicodim Gallery, Blum and Poe, Gagosian, François Ghebaly and David Kordansky Galerie. Felix LA 2021 coincides with LA Art Week, which will celebrate the local art community with a series of events and presentations.

“We decided to focus on LA galleries because we wanted to highlight the incredible concentration of galleries here and the incredible creativity of the artists who live in Los Angeles,” said Mills Moran.

Many of these galleries had to close their doors to the public last year, and it will be an opportunity for the arts community to safely come together for a celebration. East West Bank will host an exhibitors dinner to kick off the show, which will be joined by Agnes Lew, senior vice president of East West Bank and head of private banking.

We spoke with Mills Morán about the inspiration for the fair.

How did you manage to succeed and make a splash in the art world without having completed formal arts training or education?

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My brother and I are entrepreneurial. We knew artists and wanted to help them showcase their work. There never was a “let’s get into the art world” conversation because we were pretty naive, and if we had broken it up that way, I think it would have been a lot more intimidating.

An artist is the epitome of an entrepreneur – you are literally betting on yourself and your creative talents. We are looking for artists who express themselves and define our contemporary era. I have always considered this to be a very entrepreneurial business and going into the art fair was the same. We teamed up with someone we trusted, Dean Valentine. He brought certain strengths, and we brought certain strengths. He’s looking at how a collector can experience an event in a more positive way, and we were looking at how galleries can benefit from something that is traditionally a chore. So we decided to look for an environment that could make it more interesting for everyone, and that’s how Felix LA started.

As entrepreneurs, you could have gotten into a number of industries. Why art?

I love working with artists and helping them complete a project. It gives me so much joy.

There are definitely times when it feels like work. When you run a gallery, your income is not linear; it’s very offbeat. There’s no seasonality, it’s not like you know you’re going to have a better third trimester than your second. It all really depends on your exhibitions.

The rest of the time, however, it doesn’t seem to work. It’s a very natural way to spend my day. I would never give up on any of the sacrifices you make by not knowing how much money you are going to make in a certain year, because I love what I do.

And then, we have this passion to be part of this community. Sometimes it is difficult, some people are not easy to work with. But you surround yourself with good performers and they become friends, and you get another family, and vice versa. It is a very rewarding job. So I’m not really complaining about budgeting, it’s just more of a reality, you know. It’s a passion for us, and I don’t think I really have a choice, just like an artist doesn’t really have a choice to be an artist.

How is Felix Art Fair different and what will we see there this year?

Art fairs are traditionally trade shows, and they are often held in convention centers alongside auto and boat shows. For us, the more we grew in this industry, the more we watched history. We were mesmerized by a series of art fairs that started in the early 90s and were held at the Gramercy Hotel in New York City. We did a lot of reading about it and tried to figure out what the charm was and why it worked. We wanted to pay homage to that time; it was the post-market crash, and it was about keeping it simple, going back to your roots, slowing the scale of spending and the overproduction of art.

Then there was a change in the market, as everything got bigger and more expensive, and people were shipping great works to Switzerland, Miami, and New York. We thought it was time for an alternative option for these galleries. And it became very appealing, with the relationship we have with the owners of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, who are great art lovers, and were ready to take our chances and our vision to support a project that initially might not have completely made financial sense for everyone.

We have some of the best galleries on board, and they represent the best artists. We maintain high quality in a very relaxed environment, and this is how we differentiate ourselves. This year, we wanted to reduce the carbon footprint during the pandemic, so we invited only local galleries. The fair is about half the size we usually do at the Roosevelt, but it’s a new level of privacy and around a pool you can relax, have a drink and swim if you want.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

You have to take a risk, whatever your dreams are. You’re going to have to risk something. Whether it’s a secure job, alienating your family, whatever it is, at some point you have to make sacrifices and get rid of your safety net. You can’t just focus on finances because that’s the worst way to start something. You’ve got to believe it so hard, and you’ve got to have faith that it’s going to pay off. Surrounding yourself with the right people who you trust is as important as anything else because you will just need all the help you can get.


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