IT WAS 6:30 AM on a Friday in Los Angeles, and the three twentysomethings on the porch of Ryan Trecartin’s Los Feliz home shared that last-cigarette look of people who should have gone home hours ago.
In reality, they’d only just arrived, fashionably on time for the Brutally Early Club, a pet project of Hans Ulrich Obrist, who, amid all his cross-continental comings and goings, discovered the untapped meeting-planner potential of the wee hours. (There was some experimentation with a 4 AM “Hyper Early Club” Shumon Basar informed me, but that “never really took off.”) In its other iterations, B.E.C. tends to attract only the die-hard and the jet-lagged, but the scene in Trecartin’s dining room could have been cut-and-pasted from any It bar—though maybe that’s because I had run into a good portion of the guest list (Bettina Korek, Karen Marta, Kevin McGarry, K-Hole’s Sean Monahan) a few nights earlier at a ForYourArt party at Union Station. “Los Angeles is really the place for this kind of thing,” Obrist marveled, surveying the line for pour-overs and homemade corn muffins. “Here it’s no big deal to get everyone together at 6 AM because they are all already up.”
The stateside art world’s Second City, Los Angeles continues to enchant and enrage in unequal measure, bestowing on visitors the mystical rush of waking with the sun only to then force them to squander those precious extra hours in traffic, listening to the same three pop songs on repeat (two of which are by Taylor Swift). If the spate of reclaimed warehouses in Boyle Heights has challenged Culver City’s sway as the city’s preeminent gallery district, upstarts like Chin’s Push, Chateau Shatto, Farago, ASHES/ASHES, and Papillon Gallery have continued to test the limits of the art world’s GPS.
While only a handful of these young Turks infiltrated last week’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary, they dominated the roster at Paramount Ranch, the renegade fair held on an old movie set in the Santa Monica Mountains. Paramount Ranch launched last year as a joint initiative of Paradise Garage’s Pentti Munkonen and Liz Craft and dealers Alex Freedman and Robbie Fitzpatrick, who all felt that the duly quirky location (we’re talking the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman here) was just what was needed to capture the edgier elements of LA’s rapidly evolving scene. For its sophomore outing, which opened last Saturday, the two-day event swelled to over fifty galleries, nonprofits, and otherwise art spaces, with a similarly sizable rosters of special projects and performances. “Last year, everyone was just so blown away by the setting,” Freedman admitted. “This time we really have to prove ourselves as a functioning fair.”
From the looks of the Saturday morning kick-off—the closest art fairs come to a B.E.C.—Freedman didn’t have to worry. Gates opened to a ready swarm of collectors including Dean Valentine, Josef dalle Nogare, Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik, Axel and Barbara Haubrok, and Susan and Michael Hort. “Last year, we had no idea who would come, let alone that there might be that 10 AM rush,” dealer Jeffrey Rosen recalled. “This year we were prepared.” Over the next few hours, the main drag of old-timey storefronts saw a steady flow of traffic, with guests ranging from Hollywood types like Jodie Foster, Alison Pill, and Ethan Suplee to curators Jeffrey Deitch, Aram Moshayedi, Massimiliano Gioni, and Cecilia Alemani to artists Paul McCarthy, Silke Otto Knapp, Oscar Tuazon, Sanya Kantarovsky, Liz Magic Laser, Jon Rafman, Kon Trubkovich, Vito Brodmann—in short, too many to name. If, as that much-loved Baldessari quote wagers, for an artist attending a fair is akin to walking in on one’s parents getting it on, Paramount Ranch styled itself as an orgy for orphans. Artists congregated in clumps along the sun-drenched wooden porches of the main drag, with its fake bank, barn, and boarding house, while just outside of “town,” picnic blankets were spread around a teepee and a set of oversize letters spelling out FREEDOM. An entrance sign forbidding the use of marijuana made for amiable selfies, as Ziploc bags of various baked delicacies were passed from pocket to pocket, while the barkeeps at the Mandrake pop-up slung spicy micheladas over tables designed by Justin Beal and Jesse Willenbring.
It makes sense that a fair founded by two artists and two dealers would encourage a spirit of creative collaboration. Misako Rosen entrusted its barber shop to the Tokyo-based XYZ Collective, who set up a photo-op stand on the front porch. Over at Green Gallery, American Fantasy Collective recruited artist Donato Mezzenga to help construct a hermit hole, lit up in an eerie green and stocked with albums by Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, a stack of VHS tapes, and a well-worn copy of How to Survive on Land and Sea. Out in the pasture, fellow settlers Debo Eilers and Kerstin Brätsch built a two-story playhouse, the latest step in the continuing saga of the Kaya project they started in 2010 at what was then known as 179 Canal. The structure supposedly contained some of the “body bags” from the series, but my view was blocked by two young boys rejoicing in having locked their father outside. (Another sign of changing times, kids competed with dogs and edibles as the fair’s must-have accessory.)
Less kid-friendly, at the saloon Artists Space enlisted two ten-gallon-hatted models to help hawk T-shirts created by Eckhaus Latta using motifs from Tom of Finland (“They only have S and M,” a friend quipped, momentarily unnerving his size-L companion.) Remembering that the nonprofit had used a similar technique to sell artist-designed scarves last year, I complimented director Stefan Kalmár on his consistency. “Well, those cowboys were porn stars. These guys are…”—he ran an appraising eye over the closest cowpoke—“better.”
Another of the changes at the Ranch was the introduction of a five-dollar entry fee (waived for art students). While still a fraction of today’s going rate for art-fair admission, the added income enabled the organizers to build out the stables, which had been used as an empty space for sound installations and performances the previous edition. This year it was lined with stalls, hosting the likes of Gregor Staiger, Kendall Koppe, and Lulu, where I was particularly charmed by Allison Katz’s cabbage paintings and a Michael E. Smith sculpture adroitly fashioned from a pair of sweatpants. A few stalls down at Thomas Duncan, Oscar Enberg’s assemblages—one integrating a live goldfish—inspired more than a few double takes. As I leaned in for a better look, a girl in a tulle skirt and waist-length hair drifted in, a tiny toy terrier trailing behind her on its little pink leash. She carefully Instagrammed an Enberg, while the terrier seized the moment to urinate on the wall. “That happens all the time at Art Basel,” a witness deadpanned.
With good vibes prevailing, sunset showdowns were confined to the pasture/parking lot, where Paramount Ranch’s prompt 5 PM closing time caused some minor havoc. “It’s all natural light here,” Freedman explained. “When the sun leaves, so do we.” The early curfew meant we had just enough time to catch Anish Kapoor’s new resin-and-earth works at Regen Projects before heading to Harmony Murphy and Ibid for a backyard barbecue, where Negar Azimi, Artemis Baltoyanni, and artists G. T. Pellizzi, Alex Rutner, and Ben Noam kept close to the fire pit. “You should try a burger,” dealer Magnus Edensvard urged, as I cast a wary eye over the makeshift buffet. “I made my own special sauce, like from a recipe and everything.” Dealer Johann König cut in to assure me, “it’s actually quite good.” I took his word for it.
Both galleries were open, with Murphy showcasing I Ching–inspired ink works by Pelizzi and Ibid screening William Hunt’s film Still yourself and calm your boots, an excruciating take of the artist crashing a car into a concrete wall. The viewing experience was intensified by the sounds of circling helicopters and rumors that police barricades were blocking the Seventh Street bridge. “It’s just a flash mob,” König shrugged, polishing off his burger. “I saw all these teenagers who were, you know, not gallery people, so I asked them what they were doing, and they said they had come to dance.” What better reminder to get over to Arlington Heights staple Jewel’s Catch One for the joint LA Art Book Fair and Paramount Ranch afterparty? At least there, with Future Brown on the decks, we knew we’d get something other than Taylor Swift.