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Though Los Angeles may not be the most convenient art marketplace for the old-school collectors of New York and Europe, it has nonetheless entered the saturated global art fair game. Now firmly established as a major artist enclave, L.A. has done so (at its best moments) with the city’s own brand of sprawl and aesthetic twists.
Three simultaneous fairs sprouted across town the last weekend of January, the largest of which was Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC), now in its seventh year at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar. Not only did ALAC’s participating galleries hail from more diverse locales than ever (Spain, Argentina, New Zealand, and Korea, among others), this year the fair inaugurated a new section, subtitled “Freeways,” for galleries under four years of age. Did this inject a different vibe into ALAC’s somewhat predictable offerings of mainly large paintings and manageably sized sculptures? Not really.
None of the Freeways booths—though smaller in scale—would have looked out-of-place in the main space, which begs the question of why they were set apart in the first place, and highlights a missed opportunity to shake up tradition, perhaps with a wider variety of mediums and political angles.
Across ALAC were an abundance of vibrantly colored objects, punctuated by works such as Loie Hollowell’s modest canvases (Feuer/Mesler), whose muted palettes and sinuous lines were intriguing in their intimate eroticism. Laure Prouvost’s evocative phrases invoking sweat and the sea (MOT International) were painted in stark white on black. They inspired uneasy daydreams of the hangar, submerged.
Certain galleries tinkered with their allotted real estate. New York’s The Hole papered its walls with a reproduction of Photoshop’s moiré background pattern, treating the art objects hung atop it like so many interchangeable JPEGs. L.A.’s own Various Small Fires adopted a beach theme, with works in pastel and neon hues, and surfing-related text by Andrea Longacre-White strewn across the walls graffiti-style.
Of course the hot spot for unconventional fair presentations for the last three years has been Paramount Ranch. Named for its site—a former Old West set—it was founded by galleries Freedman Fitzpatrick and Paradise Garage, the latter run by artists Liz Craft and Pentti Monkkonen. Equally ambitious as ALAC in the internationalism of its participating venues, Paramount Ranch’s venue forces galleries to adapt to awkward spaces (the jail, the engulfing barn), and in doing so, gives off an anything-goes aura amidst wooden cabins and dusty walkways. One feels something like a trespasser; a sensation promoted by the park rangers warily patrolling their transformed stomping ground.
The most memorable installations here usually fall into two opposing categories. In the first, unconventional objects occupy the ranch’s more conventional-looking spaces—as was the case with Paulo Monteiro’s quirky painting-sculptures (Mendes Wood DM), which transformed a plain, four-walled room into a poetic minefield of color and form. On the other end of this spectrum are typical-seeming objects placed in unexpected settings, such as Eirik Senje’s gouache paintings (1857 gallery), hung outdoors on a cluster of makeshift plaster walls that recalled portals or large tombstones. Paul McCarthy’s imposing inflatable buttplug (Tree, 2014) belonged to this latter group on a grandiose scale; its green inflated tip rose above the tree line, a beacon to approaching visitors.
Despite its popularity—or in fact because of it—this was the final year of Paramount Ranch, as its organizers want to end on a high note. This lends bittersweet irony to the fact that strong rains nearly shut down the event on its last day. The same storm canceled completely the final day of ArtBandini, a third concurrent (and one-time-only) fair organized by artists Isaac Resnikoff and Michael Dopp. The fair was the logical progression of their coltish enterprise, Arturo Bandini, a gallery-in-a-shack-in-a-parking-lot in Cypress Park. Over two-dozen entities—some real galleries, and others invented for the occasion—shared only a handful of walls, but brought carloads of supporters. Participants reveled in the common knowledge that Los Angeles is the ideal city for such shenanigans: it (still) has enough affordable spaces for larger experimental efforts, but enough cred as an art center for such diversions to be taken seriously.
Most enjoyable as a mini-installation was that by newly minted Animals With Human Rights Humans With Animal Rights (Nick Kramer), in which an intimate assortment of works by fellow L.A. artists was propped unceremoniously atop aluminum grids and a folding table; the work ready to be hawked as salable wares. Nearby a collaborative enterprise called L.A. Ashtrays (Edgar Bryan and Scott Reeder) presented malformed but useable ceramic receptacles upon a lilac-colored coffin. Their crisp, attractive posters provided only hazy hints as to the trademark’s raison d’être.
The relationship between the larger, traditional fair and its more provisional offshoots has been symbiotic: ALAC offered the preliminary impetus for art-viewers to spend a weekend perusing aesthetic wares (whether traveling crosstown or cross-country to do so); which Paramount Ranch took advantage of in organizing its first iteration; whose success in turn generated more enthusiasm for ALAC’s subsequent annual presentations. ArtBandini fed upon this cycle as well, drawing fair-goers Eastward for further, and more affordable, artistic encounters.
Since Paramount and ArtBandini will not be returning, however, it remains to be seen whether ALAC drew its largest crowds and collectors this year on the strength of its own offerings, or whether the light-hearted irreverence of the satellite presentations provided a crucial attractive balance. Signs such as ALAC’s inclusion of a lively performance by Compton’s Centennial High School marching band—orchestrated by artist Alison O’Daniel with the non-profit, JOAN—as well as a marvelously convoluted “three way” rotating installation organized by Dave Muller (Blum & Poe), Brian Sharp (ROGERS), and Jon Pylypchuk (Grice Bench), imply that the now-disappeared sideshows have indeed left their mark.
Originally published in Carla Issue 4.