The art community in Los Angeles had a real treat this past weekend between openings, free museum admission, and the general events and socializing that mark the presence of art fairs with both Art Los Angeles Contemporary and the LA Art Show opening to large crowds last week. This year’s contemporary fair again occupied the nicely-sized and manageable Barker Hanger in Santa Monica. The venue allowed organizers to collaborate with local venues and complement the market-based focus of the booths with lectures, films, performances, and installations that appealed to a wider art audience.
Walking up to the Barker hanger entrance, visitors were greeted by John Pylypchuk’s “cartoonish political rally” of anthropomorphized cigarette butts holding somewhat nonsensical signs referencing everything from pop culture to relationship taboos. Pylypchuk’s ability to bring his internal make-believe worlds in the viewer’s reality is unique and very successful in this case. With the art world’s general mix of apathy, resigned acceptance, and flustered attempts to combat, the market-driven nature of art fairs and their prevalence, these caricatures seem to teasingly mock the conflicted viewers and attendees.
In general galleries at ALAC were fairly bold with their choices, in many cases choosing just one or two emerging artists to take over their booths rather than present a “best face” exhibition of highlights from their best known. I was struck by the large number of European galleries and general dearth of Asian and Latin American galleries that rounded out the showing so nicely last year. Many works unfortunately fell short, presenting the kind of aggressive and poorly constructed pieces that inspire criticism of the art world for its “emperor’s new clothes” fallacies (a mouse peeing into a skull atop a mountain of patagonia vests… really?). On the other hand, however, I was pleased to see some real gems that imbued the space with humor, gravitas, pleasure, and delightful confusion, despite the always-challenging viewing conditions of the art fair.
Chicago gallery Monique Meloche, turned over their entire booth to young artist Dan Gunn. Despite the fact that Gunn only recently emerged from his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, his work is well developed with broad appeal. The draped works are by far my favorite with their architecturally monumental forms contrasted by the look of fabric so connected to the feminine and maternal. The organic nature of the wood along with Gunn’s soft flare for color, using it for emotional resonance without overwhelming the materials, further invites the viewer to a palpable relationship with the pieces.
Thomas Duncan Gallery also took a chance, handing over their booth to another young artist, Sean Kennedy. Kennedy’s work has explored media and meaning, searching for the lines of symbiotic meaning. Past work has included hanging clear acrylic with precisely arranged objects high above the gallery floor, like a live version of a camera-less photograph. Kennedy’s new work, unfortunately, just doesn’t hold the space, there isn’t enough visual or contextual interest to engage viewers for longer than a quick glance. In this case, to quote Gertrude Stein’s famous line, there’s just no there there…
Another delightful surprise was the work of Cathryn Boch at Claudine Papillon, Paris. Boch really excavates the nature of material, utilizing paper and thread predominantly and envisages the lines and trajectories of memories and interconnections of place. The works themselves physically are lovely things aching to be touched but also, like Orpheus’ bride, Eurydice, they ring of their own fragility and propensity to slip away at the faintest breath upon their surface.
Claudine Papillon had another win with the work of Javier Perez, “en el filo,” loosely translated to “on the edge.” Consisting of four bronze blades protruding from the wall, the bottom two topped by precariously balanced bronze high-heeled shoes, the installation is positioned beside a starkly gorgeous black and white photograph showing the installation in use by a surprisingly unconcerned nude woman. The organic nature of the woman’s body and its photographic reality is contrasted with the harsh blades and dark, surrealistic fairy tale Perez has envisioned.
David Kordansky stuck with a safe choice showing (again) Richard Jackson’s beer bear from 2010. Jackson’s (better work) often immersive spaces infused with shock and humor, as welcome as they would be to the non-buying audience, are just not suitable for the more staid art fair crowd. These bears must have been big sellers, however, because the gallery has shown them at ALAC for three years in a row.
Both Agathe Snow at Hussenot and Lizzie Fitch at New Gallery, really stumbled in this context. Snow claims to “cartoon archetypes” but her presented work, “Senator’s Many Ladies (for John Edwards)” just seems a silly joke without any craft or forethought. Works so dependent on the contextualization of the museum or gallery just don’t translate within the art fair. Similarly, Fitch’s stool piece, a bit haphazard and unfocused anyway, couldn’t hold up to the chaos of New Gallery’s booth and crowds. Fitch is at her best when she keeps her materials simple, or when her chaos contrasts the staid presence of the white cube, but within the raucous fair, her craft gets lost.
Fabric seemed to be a common element throughout the fair with artists from the previously mentioned Dan Gunn and Lizzie Fitch, to Night Gallery’s Alika Cooper’s painterly version and Clara Montoya’s gorgeous tapestries at Marta Cervera, but among the most successful was Liam Everett at Altman Siegel. Jonathan Griffin in Frieze described Everett’s bare yet intricate works as “battered survivors of previous punishments” and they truly do bear the battle wounds of their creation, but the works are also peaceful meditations on process, respite from an otherwise elaborate and chaotic viewing experience.