COMING HOT ON THE HEELS of Mercury’s retrograde, here we are with three art fairs—out of the frying pan and into the fire! Los Angeles is, after all, known for spontaneously combusting every few months or so.
I arrived at the first one, Art Los Angeles Contemporary at Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar, on Thursday night after the usual crosstown crawl that is demanded to get to most anywhere. One does not just book it to an art fair here—one crawls (crawl worm!). ALAC, one letter away from goosing you for insurance, is in its seventh year and this time around featured seventy-four galleries and nine independent publishers to tempt a collector base that is generally acknowledged as not quite yet existing here. This is a city that has always had plenty of artists, despite what the New York Times’ breathless articles about a newly discovered creative paradise would lead one to believe, but not always the institutional infrastructure and patrons’ support to care for them.
There was a strong contingent from across other waters—Düsseldorf’s Kadel Willborn brought all Barbara Kasten photographs, Rome-based Monitor showed mysterious ink-on-canvas works by Ian Tweedy and lovely collages by Tomaso de Luca, and Galerie Christian Lethert from Cologne presented just-so minimal watercolor and chalk drawings on paper, by Henrik Eiben—but the LA galleries were on their home turf and had ample evidence of the health of contemporary art in this town regardless of collector cash. 1301PE’s Uta Barth photographs of blinds or white-wall corners dangled somewhere between the hallowed and the clinical; Marc Selwyn busted out beautiful drawings by Cameron, Lee Mullican, and Marcia Hafif; and VSF’s Esther Kim Varet threw down with Joshua Nathanson’s iPad drawing–derived acrylic canvases and an Amy Yao red bow rising above the sea. Lots of shiny surfaces abounded, and prettiness put on its best face. Then again, there were rumblings from the international crowd about fewer sales than years before, along with grumblings of disorganization. We won’t even discuss the restroom situation.
Collectors like the Rubells and Horts made rounds, as did designer Bernhard Willhelm and his date Colby Keller, currently on a cross-country art-porn tour titled, appropriately, “Colby Does America.” Later there were also reps from the Santa Monica Fire Department, perhaps on duty as conservators of the wooden JPW3 smoke-emitting shack installed in the chain-link-fenced front courtyard of the fair. A dude slithering out of the tent dubbed it “trippy” and I was in California at last. Alison O’Daniel’s opening-night performance utilizing the Compton-based Centennial High School’s marching band, organized by the gallery JOAN, was invigorating even if I wasn’t under the bleachers making out with someone I’d dump an hour later. I followed the musicians as they wound through the aisles of the fair—most others did too, because what else does one do with a marching band but follow along? Later that night, David Kordansky, Bureau, Standard (Oslo), and Christian Andersen hosted an afterparty at El Carmen; there was a strong Nordic contingent but locals played well with them, including artists Chadwick Rantanen and Calvin Marcus, dealer François Ghebaly, Hammer curator Jamillah James, and CalArts dean Thomas Lawson, who was an early arrival, early exit. Good night, Major Thom.
At a morning caviar breakfast hosted by Pancake Epidemic (above the IHOP near LACMA), there was supposed to be a release for a Camille Henrot book, though there was no sight of Henrot or a book but plenty of Converse product, recycled denim, and a Petra Cortright painting above the iMacs. The space is an initiative by StreetVirus creative director Darren Romanelli, who showed me a “Felix the Cat” room in their teenboy fantasy offices and other things in that vein. After a tour of the Frank Gehry retrospective at LACMA with assistant curator Lauren Bergman, I slunk off back to the fair for a talk with another LACMA curator, Rita Gonzalez, along with artists Carter Mull and Kathryn Andrews and editor Jonathan Griffin, addressing how artists are expected by outsiders to live up to the clichés of Hollywood and its imagemaking industry. Private planes took off at regular intervals from the Santa Monica Airport mere feet from our panelists as they discussed the model of the “California Caveman” for artists who wish to “drop out of the global dialogue of art and retreat into retromodernist handicraft” (Mull), explained how artists here “don’t have to wage war against positions” (Griffin), and declared that “you don’t have to be a rebel in paradise” (Gonzalez).
I missed the Depart Foundation’s Marc Horowitz book signing at a McDonald’s on Wilshire Boulevard, and how many chances does one get to gather the well-heeled into the dispensaries of poor nutrition foisted on working-class people? Instead I vamoosed to ARTBandini—ArturoBandini’s weekend expansion from a stucco box in the backyard of a nondescript building in the Cypress Park/Mount Washington area of Northeast Los Angeles to a whole courtyard fair behind said building, complete with free opening-night tattoos for the masochists among us, courtesy of artist Alex Becerra and his needle. This was the fair you could smoke weed at (finally), although the fire department’s appearance (hello again!) was, I overheard, related to someone collapsing. Other highlights included a tiny Noah Davis painting of a girl splayed out among pillows and smears of yellow paint and a Ritz cracker painted silver with an embroidered cube on its center. I believe the latter transcends authorship.
Peeling away from the backyard barbecue vibe, I headed downtown to producer-composer James Ferraro’s performance at Chateau Shatto. There Whitney Biennial curators Mia Locks and Christopher Lew—along with artists Ann Hirsch, Amalia Ulman, Laura Owens, Julien Ceccaldi, and “Made in LA” curator Aram Moshayedi—took in four cellists in black SWAT-lite gear with POLICE emblazoned on their caps, sleeves, and backs playing accompaniment for “Burning Prius ® Extraction: movement 3-5,” an electronic track made from sampling glitches of the car’s CPU algorithms. An automated voice cut in and out and Prius instruction manual pages rapidly flashed on the wall behind the performers in “a schizophasic salad of a sustained American twilight,” according to our hosts. For once, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Meanwhile, another meltdown took place in quiet San Marino as Alex Israel’s crew held their post–Huntington Library and Gardens dinner afterparty and Rihanna made an appearance, doing karaoke to Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry.” Failure to follow the money leads to failure to see Rihanna. Remember that, if nothing else.
Fairs are generally the most veni, vidi, vici of all the art events; everything starts and ends with brass tacks and bare numbers, no phenomenological liftoff allowed—unless your name is Paramount Ranch. For the third year, Agoura Hills, nestled between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley, became a hot spot for the gathering of contemporary art’s tribes. Paramount was less booths and more a menagerie of objects, artists, and pets squatting a Wild West mise-en-scène courtesy of a preserved Paramount Studios set.
Does it work? It doesn’t have to—this was its final year. Max Brand drawings were hung by New York and Düsseldorf’s Off Vendome, Chuck Nanney’s sculptures were plunked down and a long wraparound photographic print taped to the wall with pink masking tape at Los Angeles–based Jenny’s booth, which according to the Jenny (Borland) herself was because installations at the aged Ranch had to be noninvasive. Freddy Krueger wandered around for a performance by Puppies Puppies, scaring children and getting adults’ phones all hot and bothered. I later met the guy under the disguise, a nice boy.
Step up to Susan Cianciolo drawings at Bridget Donahue, have a gander at Danny McDonald’s demented sculptures at Maccarone, or slow your get-along to take in Maggie Lee’s TVs with delicate beaded headphone cords brought by Real Fine Arts. Melbourne’s Centre for Style run by artist Matthew Linde had an install of collages and sculptures by Chloé Elizabeth Maratta, one half of the best poet duo with a drum pad around these parts: Odwalla 88. Linde testified that Kim Gordon had wandered up and declared Maratta’s pieces “cool.” Another scoop: John Kelsey and Gordon? Intrigue abounds. For the most part that was the scene at the ranch—passing tacit approval on all and sundry, friends glowing with pride for their friends’ work, or just happy to be out in the sun and stoned on edibles under the benevolent gaze of a green Paul McCarthy butt plug, I mean, tree (which, whatever it was, you had to go behind it for the kundalini yoga sessions).
MoCA director Philippe Vergne browsed the tables of rocks and crystals for sale, which had, according to an anonymous source, caused some rancor about how much real estate they were taking up in the Mess Hall. While there were no cowboy collaboration T-shirts this year, there was a cowboy on horseback who descended a hill like a vanilla daydream in a hard-core porno. Horseback riding and crystal shopping at the fair, and me without my parasol or cash to buy a little piece of centeredness. Conservatively, I’d estimate a quarter of people were toting freshly born babies while another quarter led adorable dogs around on leashes. The rest of us were from New York with nothing to love except ourselves.
Saturday night there were openings: Calvin Marcus and Evan Holloway at David Kordansky, Laure Prouvost at Fahrenheit/Flax Foundation, and Seth Price at 356 S. Mission Rd, among others. I ran into fellow weekenders from New York, Sofia Leiby and Joshua Abelow, at Kordansky around the Miracle Mile and then bounced back downtown for Price’s show “Wrok Fmaily Freidns,” featuring a certain men-at-work aesthetic of paintings thrown up on fences strewn with orange construction netting. Taking up one whole wall were three large fabric works backlit and printed with astoundingly sharp close-ups of human skin as captured by camera technology that can devote gigabytes to recording even an inch of flesh in thousands of photographs. The only problem is that, after taking more photographs in a session than most cameras are designed to take in their lifetime, the lenses break. How many innocent machines died in the making of these works, Seth? “Four or five.” An acceptable loss. Jordan Wolfson declared the pieces “super” and said they’d “work in a domestic setting and a museum one.” A two-in-one product, it’s the Neutrogena contemporary.
An artist who wishes to not be named called this year’s Paramount Ranch the “Last Hurrah Shit Show,” but that seemed more apropos to the bottlenecking line to get into the Ranch afterparty, down the street from the Price opening. The door person was intransigent, but Paramount organizer and dealer Alex Freedman waved me in, pulling her hair at the bratty crowd of kids who filed into a corner of the enormous hangar to sway in a poor man’s Berghain adjacent to the freight train tracks. DJ Wof (pronounced woof!) was responsible for the clicks and bass, and Freedman admitted that in this “economic era the model of a two-day art fair and all the money to execute it doesn’t make sense,” adding, in light of the fact that this was the last year of Paramount, “I hate administrative work, I just like artists.” Girl, I feel you. Suddenly it was 3 AM and I was sitting on a log outside the rave talking about Norwegian cultural funding and the tyranny of democracy, clearly a sign that it was time to go home.
Did the weekend of fairs, shows, talks, and subsidiary events ever cohere or add up to a grander whole? No, but that’s this fractured town all over. Both LA’s curses and its charms manifest in the arts: The metropolis can’t be unified, and it can’t quite live up to the images it propels to the rest of the world. But then, the refusal to meet powerful expectations is always a great fuck you—it turns out there is the black and blue among all those colors.