As a thin drizzle fell on Wednesday afternoon, Art Los Angeles Contemporary threw open its doors to a long line of people who made their way past a vintage fighter plane into the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport.
Collectors Beth Rudin DeWoody and the Horts were on hand, as were dealers Stefan Simchowitz and Jose Martos, curator Paul Schimmel, and Art Basel exec Noah Horowitz. This year’s big art-fair week in Los Angeles had begun.
And this is an especially important one for ALAC, which is toasting its 10th anniversary—no easy feat in the fickle fair business—and contending with new competitors: the behemoth Frieze, backed with money from the hometown powerhouse entertainment agency Endeavor, and Felix, an enterprise organized by collector Dean Valentine for a presentation in the Roosevelt Hotel.
Those fairs have lured a fair number of high-profile exhibitors who were in ALAC’s camp last year. David Kordansky, Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Altman Siegel, Susanne Vielmetter, and Night have all ventured to Frieze. And Jack Hanley, M+B, and Nino Mier are giving Felix a whirl.
“What’s fun is that there’s even more to do,” Tim Fleming,ALAC’s affable director, told me at Wednesday’s preview when asked about the newly crowded playing field. He sounded unconcerned, and noted that ALAC had trimmed its hours slightly in response. “We want our galleries to be able to go to the other fairs,” he said.
Thanks to ALAC’s 10 years in the business, many dealers maintain enduring relationships with the annual event. “I used to come to this fair when I lived here,” Grant Wahlquist, a dealer from Portland, Maine, said. “The first time I bought work at a fair, I bought it here.” This year’s ALAC is the first fair that Wahlquist has participated in as a dealer, and he is showing tasty little paintings of interiors by Henri Paul Broyard and spectral inkjet prints by Kate Greene. “Being up in Maine, it’s so far off the path,” he said, “and I want people be able to see the work in person, not just on Instagram.”
Also participating in his first fair, Quang Bao of 1969 Gallery in New York is showing paintings by Anthony Cudahy and Keiran Brennan Hinton, the latter of whom made bright pictures of the home in Boise, Idaho, where artist James Castle once lived. (Castle fans can also find his work across the city at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in the exhibition “Outliers and American Vanguard Art.”) “I wanted to be in a fair that was to-scale with where the gallery is,” Bro said of his operation, which is two and a half years old. “I wanted it to be a more intimate, specific setting.”
Will there be more fairs in his future? “Artists want the gallery to do fairs, and a gallery wants to do fairs—but very precisely,” Bao said. “Because they’re not super-duper inexpensive.”
New Yorker Lauren Marinaro has shown at ALAC for half of its run—two years as a director at the late Zach Feuer gallery, and three on her own. “It’s not as big as other fairs so you get more face-time with collectors that normally might be overwhelmed or have so much to look at that they’re rushing around,” she said. “You don’t get fair overload. It’s easier to look at art than many fairs.” Her walls included intriguing papier-mâché pieces by Kianja Strobert—including a nice drippy egg carton-turned-paint palette—and jaunty photos resembling collages by Hannah Whitaker.
To Marinaro’s point, the layout of ALAC is airy and judiciously paced. Even during the crowded opening, there was room to breathe. The Seattle firm Olson Kundig handled architectural duties and deserves some kind of medal.
Highlight works shown by the roughly 80 exhibitors in the ample space included Eva LeWitt’s sumptuous but spare abstract wall pieces at VI, VII of Oslo, all curves and carefully measured tension; garish, stitched-together Photoshop self-portraits by the inimitable Orlan at Ceysson & Bénétière, which has venues in Geneva, Luxembourg, Paris, New York, and Saint-Etienne, France; recent Blake Rayne and Pae White works at L.A.’s 1301PE; and, at Chicago’s Document gallery, spiky resin assemblages by Erin Jane Nelson that suggest the Hairy Who spliced together with Joseph Cornell and tinged with sci-fi goth.
The most ambitious project—measured by scale, price, and just sheer moxie—had to be that of local artist Eric Wesley, who was offering his entire estate—every available work by him, from his youth to the present—through his New York gallery Bortolami. The price: a cool $1 million. That’s not a small amount of money, but one can imagine it sounding like a bargain for a Wesley devotee, or certain gambling types. (You can’t even buy a fifth of a work by Jeff Koons for that, after all.) Wesley had reassembled his wood-paneled office at the fair, which looks like that of a mid-century CEO or a military general, to entice potential buyers.
Another unusual sight: at the edge of the tent, a small room held a special exhibition titled “The Academy,” which was organized by the curator Claudia Rech. The artist Marie Karlberg was on hand, gamely offering a walkthrough of her works, which resemble pieces by Christoper Wool, Günther Förg, and Daniel Buren with curious prints on them. “You might have noticed in these works that there’s an abstract, somewhat organic shape,” she told her audience, dryly. “It is a print of my butt—yes.” A pause. “Those are buttocks.”
Overcome with enthusiasm for her own handiwork at one point, Karlberg stopped for a moment and snapped some selfies, and later lit up a cigarette.
It was a send-up of art speak and the art-fair business as a whole, and recordings of the kind of obnoxious questions that artists get asked at such industry events interrupted her through speakers. They complimented her boyfriend’s art, proposed different subjects for her work, and asked if she has a website. “I’m a perfectionist,” she replied, “and I don’t want to belittle my works” by posting “images online like it’s just some luxury online store.”
Another voice asked if she’d be willing to perform with no budget. “So what if there is no budget?” she said happily. “I mean, I don’t need money. I don’t need to pay my rent or to buy food and eat. I have art, which is my passion.”
“What’s your art about?” another recording asked.
Karlberg stopped a moment and repeated the question. “What’s my art about?” She quickly turned around in silence and exited through a door to the outside.