FOUNDED BY ARTIST Keith Rocka Knittel, the inaugural Other Places Art Fair is, according to its press release, “a one-day showcase of alternative, hard to define, and experimental contemporary art venues, project spaces, and organizations.” I read this as an attempt to facilitate some cash flow for the myriad exhibition projects popping up in studios, backyards, automobiles, and living rooms across the city; DIY enterprises that receive gushing coverage in the kind of glossies that cheerily spotlight the idiosyncrasies of a vibrant and blossoming art scene over the precarity and commitment of the art workers who cultivate all that excess cultural cache.
With the sixth annual LA Art Book Fair canceled, due to scheduling tussles with LA MoCA and the the tragic death of fair curator Shannon Michael Cane—and Paramount Ranch only a fond memory—what had been shaping up to become a party-fueled, fair-driven, full-on LA Art Week has left us with only the steadfast Art Los Angeles Contemporary, which this year skewed increasingly local even as it felt increasingly glam (“I don’t want to be a part of this crowd. I’m on the outside, baby. I’m chillin’” Bobby Jesus said, leading a gaggle of ALAC attendees he wrangled from the opening party out into the darkened parking lot. He popped the trunk of his Cadillac to reveal works by Jason Meadows, Frances Stark, and Micah William Grasse, installed like a treasure chest. Checklists were in the seat back pockets. Best booth, I said. “Best boot” he corrected).
Other Places is the following Saturday in San Pedro, a former navy town and fishing port. It’s about thirty miles south of downtown LA, past the Staples Center, Long Beach Airport, and the many cloverleaf knots of overpass favored by stock aerial photography. San Pedro is a literal palimpsest, alternately razed and rebuilt by civics and punk, sandwiched between the Port of Los Angeles, the largest cargo gateway in North America (mainly exporting scrap) and Sunken City, site of a catastrophic 1929 mudslide that deposited most of the hillside’s exquisite bungalows into the Pacific to make room for tagging, trespassing, secret outdoor fucking, illicit performance, and late-night whispering over warm beers. It’s the best all-ages club in the county. In the 1970s, a group of artists turned a suite of former army barracks into the studios and exhibition spaces that became Angels Gate Cultural Center.
Here, twenty four exhibitors situate themselves in and around Battery Leary-Merriam, a former military base separated from Angels Gate’s studios and galleries by a dirt bank and few parking spots. It began with a flagpole outside Knittel’s San Pedro home, dubbed Harborview and Pole, which commissions artist-made flags—hardy, low-cost, high visibility artwork for the modern precariat—now taking up the decommissioned military pole near the entrance to the Battery with flags by Fleurette West, Kelly Akashi, the duo 1992 Toyota Corolla (BLACK) (comprised of Knittel and Steve Kado), Kevin Reinhardt, Lindsay August-Salazar, Jeremy Ehling, and Chris Hanke. “I thought it would be funny to see if I could get the military to lend the pole.” Knittel said. It is funny, as are the tongue-in-cheek art fair gestures like a requisite “VIP Preview,” during which most exhibitors were still setting up their projects. Is VIP attendance even the goal? “The goal is whatever the exhibitor wants” Knittel explained, “some people are here to sell work, some people are just hanging out,” he points to a guy smoking weed in a truck “and that guy is smoking weed in a truck.”
“It was an impulse buy” says Katie Bode of the tent, complete with trompe l’oeil arched windows, that serves as a camp simulacra of Abode, the gallery she programs out of her Hollywood apartment. I run into Michael Ned Holte in the, er . . . living room. “[Other Places] seems like a good follow up to Paramount Ranch,” he says “though definitely more rough and tumble.” It is hot. The wind from the Pacific is whipping up dust into the concrete cul-de-sac carved into the hillside, once home to not one, but two four hundred–ton disappearing carriage guns, now occupied by a blanket with works laid out, cadaver-picnic style, by Shana Lutker, Amanda Ross-Ho, Roni Shneior, Josh Mannis, and Harry Dodge, among others. The tiny show, titled “Ex-Corpse,” is curated by AWHRHWAR, the tiny Highland Park storefront space run by artists Erik Frydenborg, Nick Kramer, Aline Cautis, and Sarah Conaway.
A few feet away, photographs and postcards from Paul Pescador spill out of a steely Ford Crown-Victoria with its doors splayed open. The photographs were taken from inside the car and the postcards contain stories about driving. Seymour Polatin, who runs Gallery 1993 out of this comely vehicle, finds its novelty arbitrary. “No space is neutral space. It’s nice to engage with something so stylized.” (If all this car-as-exhibition stuff sounds just too LA, Polatin started the project while working as a taxi driver in Boston.) I miss getting my fortune read by Akina Cox—the lines around the black domed tent where she holds court remain long throughout the day—though I’m intrigued that her performance is being presented by a fabrication studio. Nick Rodrigues and Chachi Mathis’s California Carts operates on open-source ideas. The design of each custom cart they make gets added to a free archive that serves as both a commercial catalogue and an artistic record of their collaborations. They tend to sponsor ephemeral work. I squeal at this weird marriage—fabricator as patron, catalogue as catalogue raisonné.
Maiden LA, a roving network of art happenings, took the most radically inclusive approach, putting out an open call and committing to display any and all art brought to their booth. The booth itself is a garden of cardboard plinths and freestanding walls stuck into the hillside. For a $1 donation to Maiden, anyone could drop off work in the morning and pick up their cash in the afternoon. “We’ve actually sold work! We had to rotate the booth!” reports co-founder Molly Schulman. I do savor a context where an anonymous Long Beach teen might outsell Amanda Ross-Ho, but where does that go in a CV?
The vibe is high-concept tailgate party. At times, the ragtag optimism feels bogged down by the nature of so many site-specific practices responding to an area of so much oppression and neglect. I keep checking in with Artemisa Clark, a chola-nailed and Ph.D.’d performance artist who I will never, ever, unfollow on Instagram—I am too obsessed with her obsession of her own body—and her durational performance, On Record, presented by Elevator Mondays, a converted-freight-elevator-cum-curatorial project open on Mondays. She spends the entirety of the fair perched on the grassy hill above the Battery, her back to the ocean and to whatever cruise ship is passing through, casually dressed and reading quietly—to herself? To me, if I get close enough?—from a fat, unwieldy stack of papers: a mix of news articles and official documents regarding the recently-shuttered INS/ICS San Pedro Processing Center on Terminal Island, just a few miles away and well within view. From where she stands, the island’s giant port cranes and shipping containers look like quadruped bots about to kick over a pile of Legos. Most of the words are carried off by the wind as soon as they leave Clark’s mouth, but I do catch a line—“We don’t know what it’s like outside, but here we have no human rights”—before carpooling over Vincent Thomas Bridge to check out Terminal Island up close on a Transcendental Listening Walk organized by David Horvitz and Asha Bukojemsky. The walk ends with a silent, fifteen-minute active listening exercise. In deference to our perennial water crisis, the purpose of these walks is to listen to various water sites in and around Los Angeles, to contemplate the politics of its movement through our desert metropolis. The minute we spread out on blankets at the end of the dock, someone emerges from a fishing boat named Rylee Nanette a few feet away. He turns the radio on full blast and sticks a cigarette in his mouth, watching us watching him, as we collectively meditate to the dulcet tones of AC/DC and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Back at Other Places, exhibitors yawn and pack up their installations. Clark is still reading as the sun sets (I never actually see her leave). It ends with an ad hoc flag-lowering ceremony. Keith J. Varadi sits on a rock near Harborview and Pole. “I’m Keith” he says, “I’m going to read some poems while other Keith cuts down some flags. You do whatever seems right to you.”