Los Angeles

“The Los Angeles International”

The “Los Angeles International” made it painfully clear that if the “global village” Marshall McLuhan fantasized about had indeed arrived, the utopia that was supposed to accompany the delirious, unending transmission of information somehow got lost in transit. Caught between their desire to import the best the art world had to offer, and the futility of financing such a grand and suddenly outdated endeavor, the organizers of the “International” created an interesting and important event that, despite its shortcomings, has the potential to develop into an exciting biannual invitational—if its organizers come to terms with what they are doing, more sharply define their goals, and learn from the mistakes they made this year.

Staged as an art fair without a center, “The International” took place simultaneously in more than 40 galleries across Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Venice, and included art from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. If the structure of this original event was meant to mirror that of the (sub)urban sprawl of Los Angeles, it was also meant to bypass the organizers of the city’s beleaguered, seven-year-old art fair, “Art/L.A.,” and to deliver the esthetic goods from around the world with one less layer of mediation and with fewer expenses.

Conceived three years ago by Sandra Starr, Director of James Corcoran Gallery and then president of the Santa Monica/Venice Art Dealers Association, this ambitious, inventive, and clever project promised to increase profits, to expand markets, and to strengthen the connections between art from Los Angeles and the rest of the world. Today, in an economic environment that is sluggish at best, this type of budget-conscious activity has become a common, often frantic scramble to attract new collectors. Like almost all of the recent innovations in art dealing, this one is marked by the overriding and immediate matter of real-world survival. The economic collapse that occurred between the planning of the “International” and its realization accounts for the undercurrent of barely repressed desperation and the sense of belatedness that haunted many of the individual exhibitions.

Throughout, it seemed as if the overall form of this collective, cooperative event was fundamentally out of sync with much of its displayed content. This inconsistency was most evident in the yawning gap that separated the elevated, often embarrassingly high-fallutin’ rhetoric used to advertise the reconfigured, decentered fair from the modest, tentative, and generally down-scale works that constituted the majority of the actual installations. The “International” made the art world seem, at once, to be both smaller and larger than it is. Rather than delivering a surplus of international art-superstars, the exhibition served up a preponderance of young, unknown artists whose talents and ambitions paled in comparison to the distance their work had traveled.

What the participating galleries exhibited from mid March to mid April was really nothing more—yet nothing less—than token postcard views from places one would not otherwise exert the effort to visit in person. Although many of its critics dismissed the “International” as nothing more than an exercise in dressing up business-as-usual with the stale rhetoric of some sort of “nouveau internationa-lisme,” what their accounts did not address is that today, business-as-usual is nothing like it was yesterday, but a practice pushed to such extremes because there is so little to lose—that it might generate an original idea, or be the source of a more balanced relationship between esthetics and entrepreneurship. At its best, the “Los Angeles International” offered an as-yet-unexplored version of what is best described as a sort of stay-at-home tourism: a curious, new, and surprisingly worthwhile way to see—and consume—hitherto unknown art.

The biggest problem with the city-wide, cooperative endeavor was that the art that was shown did not, as a whole, measure up to what one would normally see in L.A. galleries during any other month of the season. This was probably because host galleries gave their guest dealers too much freedom to choose which artists and works to exhibit. L.A. dealers who had previously worked with their invited counterparts, or who selected works themselves, generally fared better than those who collaborated for the first time with or completely yielded their spaces to their guests. Also, individual-artist exhibitions or installations were more successful than group shows in which only a few pieces could be presented.

Swiss artist Peter Wüthrich’s silently gorgeous installation of hundreds of linen-covered books at Thomas Solomon’s Garage stood out as the discovery of the “International.” Daniel Brandely’s whimsically understated plaster sculptures at Cirrus; Anya Gallaccio’s rotting flowers at Kim Light; Peter Kogler’s maze of burgundy curtains on which he’d printed an endless circuitry of human brains at Shoshana/Wayne; Craig Wood’s cool projections of impure light at Burnett Miller; and Duck-Hyun Cho’s weighty assemblages at Dorothy Goldeen added up to a promising, around-the-world tour of solid, competent works that were somewhat one-dimensional. Jean-Michel Othoniel’s sulfur and wax heads and hands at Kohn/Abrams were more delicate than ominous; Kazuo Okazaki’s tiny waves and rolls of plaster carefully balanced eroticism and elegance; Wastijn and Deschuymer’s silly images of eels, mice, and spiders scampering and slithering across color copiers were amusingly unnatural;Rolf Walz’s translucent version of monochromatic minimalism at Ruth Bloom was coldly pristine; and Joseph Santarromana’s video of his sleeping body at Newspace was at once uneventful and strange.

Figurative painting was surprisingly well represented, to the point of being over-played, with examples of William Tillyer’s lyrical decorations at Manny Silverman; Jan Peter Van Opheusden’s saturated still lifes at Earl McGrath; Eugeni Mitta’s stale recapitulations of Salle-esque emblems at Patricia Shea; Dieter Hall’s empty biographical sketches at Ruth Bachofner; Helen Napper’s typically dreamy silhouettes at Tatistcheff; Rainer Fetting’s trademark Pop-Expressionism at Jan Baum; Guiseppe Gallo’s quietly traumatized drawings at L.A. Louver; and an uneven group show of seven painters at Salander-O’Reilly/Fred Hoffman.

“Exiles in Angeltown” at Steve Turner Gallery stood out because it approached the “International” historically, by presenting paintings, sculptures, architectural models, and books by European emigrés who spent time in L.A. between 1920 and 1960. Knud Merrild, Man Ray, Rudolf Schindler, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, and Arnold Schönberg were among those represented by this intriguing glimpse into L.A.’s history of international interaction. In contrast to the historicism of this small, engaging exhibit, Res Ingold’s Ingold Airlines vitrine at Robert Berman Gallery possessed a goofy, half-serious playfulness. Ingold’s fictitious airline had all the accouterments of the real thing, including business reports, embossed stationary, brochures, and souvenirs, even martini glasses. All that was missing were the airplanes, pilots, and flight attendants.

As a whole, the “International” wavered between the qualities embodied by these two shows—between the historical seriousness of the former and the flagrant fakery of the latter. Sometimes the entire event seemed like a pretentious, overadvertised sham, at others simply an intensification of the way art usually works in this city: by adapting and patiently transforming its surroundings.

David Pagel