How a Powerhouse Hollywood Agency Is Turning Artists Into Stars


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It used to be that even the biggest, brawniest Hollywood talent agencies restricted their clientele to... well, Hollywood. That meant actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, and not much else. But Tinseltown's 10-percentaries have been playing by a new set of rules for years now. Nowhere is this truer than at United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the entertainment industry's "big three" representation houses, where the daily schedule of client meetings has expanded to include pop stars and hip-hop legends, professional athletes and prominent anchormen, and yes, even major contemporary artists including Ai Weiwei, Rashid Johnson, and Shirin Neshat.

In 2015, the late Josh Roth founded UTA's Fine Arts division to help visual artists of all stripes extend their reach into feature filmmaking, collaborations with fashion designers, and other unorthodox opportunities beyond the gallery walls. The range of possibilities widened further when the agency later opened UTA Artist Space, a permanent exhibition venue where it would work in partnership with artists' existing dealers to present groundbreaking physical shows.

The year after Roth's untimely passing, UTA Fine Arts found its next leader in Arthur Lewis, a tastemaker and avid collector (particularly of works by women of color) who had built a distinguished career in the retail industry. In the just-published Fall 2020 issue of the Artnet Intelligence Report, the inaugural New Innovators list featured Lewis as one of 51 individuals blazing a trail to the art world of the future. On this week's episode, Lewis joins the podcast to discuss his unexpected path to his "dream" job, how artists are taking greater control of their destinies, and why contemporary art is suddenly the space everyone wants to be a part of.

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