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Joshua Roth, Who Brought Agents to Visual Artists, Dies at 40

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Joshua Roth, who founded the first fine arts division of a major talent agency, where he experimented with a largely untapped market and tried to help artists make deals worthy of Hollywood stars, died on Sept. 14 in Manhattan. He was 40.

The New York City medical examiner’s office confirmed the death but said the cause had not yet been determined. No other details were provided. Mr. Roth lived in Los Angeles and worked out of United Talent’s offices in Beverly Hills.

Visual artists are typically represented by art dealers, but a few who sometimes operate outside the traditional art world, like Julian Schnabel (painter and filmmaker) and Steve McQueen (video artist and filmmaker), have had talent agents.

Mr. Roth established United Talent Agency’s fine arts division because, he said, he saw a growing number of artists working across multiple fields and presenting a potentially lucrative opportunity that had been mostly overlooked by talent agencies. He joined United Talent in 2015 to create the division.

“I’m interested in artists who are re-envisioning the way to make art and re-envisioning how people experience it,” Mr. Roth told The New York Times in 2015. “And I think our agency can be really helpful in that way. We want to help find opportunities for artists outside of the gallery.”

Mr. Roth was well positioned to engineer such opportunities. His father, Steven F. Roth, was a founder of the powerful Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, and Josh grew up immersed in the upper echelons of the West Coast art scene. Before he moved to United Talent, he was a lawyer at the Los Angeles firm Glaser, Weil, Fink, Howard, Avchen & Shapiro, where he specialized in the burgeoning field of art law.

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Mr. Roth in 2015, the year he joined United Talent to establish its fine arts division.CreditAlex Berliner/AB Images

Some members of the art establishment worried that agents could encroach on their business. Marc Glimcher, who runs the Pace Gallery in New York, told The Wall Street Journal in 2015 that he feared that too many commercial deals could lead art buyers see an artist as a sellout.

“Do too much,” he said, “and you’re just not cool anymore.”

At United Talent, Mr. Roth helped arrange deals for artists like Judy Chicago and Ai Weiwei. He worked to secure financing and distribution for “Human Flow,” Mr. Ai’s 2017 documentary about the global refugee crisis. That year he also arranged to have United Talent set up a booth at the Seattle Art Fair — its first at any art fair — which featured visual art works by Kurt Cobain of the rock group Nirvana and others.

He also opened UTA Artist Space, a Los Angeles gallery that has held exhibitions of work by Larry Clark, Derrick Adams, and Nikolai and Simon Haas, twin designers known as the Haas Brothers.

“Artists like us have lots of ambition to make all kinds of work that live outside of the normal model of a white-cube gallery setting,” Nikolai Haas told The Hollywood Reporter in July. “Josh has access to worlds that aren’t quite so easy to slip into, coming from where we’re coming from.”

This summer, UTA Artist Space moved to a new location near United Talent’s offices in Beverly Hills. Mr. Ai, who has a background in architecture, helped redesign the building’s interior. A show of his marble sculpture will open next month.

Joshua John Roth was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 1977, to Steven and Polo (Bovie) Roth. His grandfather Bernard Roth founded World Oil Corporation and was a major Los Angeles philanthropist.

Mr. Roth received a bachelor’s degree in 2002 and a law degree in 2006 from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he met Sonya Won. They married in 2007.

She survives him, as do two daughters, Anabel and Colette; a son, Henry; two sisters, Isabel Roth Stein and Elizabeth Roth; and his parents.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

Follow Daniel E. Slotnik on Twitter: @dslotnik


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