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Test Your Artistic Compass; Bill Kleiman Explains Art Fairs (Paramount Ranch, ALAC, LA Art Book Fair this weekend)

Posted January 31, 2014 by 

Bill Kleiman ALAContemp 2012

Two weeks ago hundreds of galleries and thousands of people descended on downtown for the LA Art Fair at the Convention Center and Photo LA at LA Mart.

Now the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair is at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica through Sunday. Also this weekend, the Paramount Ranch in Santa Monica will bring 30-plus galleries and artist-run spaces to the mountains of Santa Monica. And don’t forget the LA Art Book Fair, at the Geffen Contemporary through Sunday. That’s five art and art-related fairs already and we are barely out of January.

But the question arises for those of us who like to go see art but don’t feel expert in who’s who and what’s what in the art world, which of these art fairs matter? What should we be looking for? DnA turned to Bill Kleiman, left, artist and director of Los Angeles Art Gallery Tours, for his opinion.

DnA: First off, why are there so many art fairs these days?

Bill Kleiman: Art fairs are among the big driving engines of the art world, along with the internet.

I think it may have to do with time-budget. In a major art city like LA or New York where there is so much to see, it’s hard to tackle the art scene effectively. So while they are huge, the art fairs are more manageable. As it is, people sometimes pick something up at a fair and bring it home. I think it has to do with immediate gratification.

LA Art Fair

Both the fairs and the internet market have fed back into the way art is a made in a very significant way. It’s preferable for the dealers to have artists who can produce a lot of work that they can move at those fairs.

Often those things are smaller and easier to transport and don’t place heavy intellectual demands on a viewer because they are being represented in a giant overwhelming marketplace.

It’s a problem because the thing that catches your eye may be the thing you hate in another context because it’s so graphic and unrevealing. So the visitors to art fairs are getting to watch artistic evolution; it’s a survival of the fittest in action and even in nature that is not necessarily what we view as being the best.

Another aspect of fairs is that an artwork will be exhibited for a couple of days and if dealers are lucky someone will buy it and no one else will get to see it. For a lot of artists, the appeal of being in a gallery is to be up on a wall for a while and for people to see it before it goes to someone’s private collection.

At some fairs, dealers will put out their best stuff because they attract all the biggest collectors, like Art Basel Miami. The collectors there compete with each other as if it’s Black Friday.

Photo LA

DnA: So how do we know which ones to go to and what to look for?

BK: First, it helps to know a bit about how art galleries evolve.

Art galleries have a particular trajectory; typically there is a group of friends who appreciate what one another does and if they are lucky there’s a little bit of money involved (like renting a space). And they start to exhibit one another and gradually they hone down to a stable of things that sell or they feel like they can stand behind consistently. And then in the end if a gallery is a standard successful stable, it becomes a solid business. Sometimes they steal artists from one another.

The analogy is the transition from being pigs to men in Orwell’s Animal Farm, from being artists and friends to being in business with and against one another.

So the LA Art Fair features more established galleries, including LA’s Jack Rutberg andTobey C. Moss, and a lot of this has to do with the economics of being in a particular fair — and that means simply the cost of participating. Just compare web sites from fair to fair and you can see the price difference; simply through the graphic presentation and production quality of the site you can sense the difference.

I didn’t care about going to the LA Art Fair because I feel that art has utterly arrived and been around for a while, and it is way on the other end of the art that interests me. That doesn’t mean that it’s no good, because that’s not the case, some of it is great; it just doesn’t represent what I’m typically interested in.

The Art Los Angeles Contemporary features galleries in the middle or upper-middle level, including AcmeSusanna Vielmetter and Angles. Those galleries are pretty much known commodities but they are still in a position where they are representing people who are their friends or who they organically move towards.

I found the show last night to be very flat though there were a couple of things I really liked, like the Portland gallery UPFOR showing Brenna Murphy, above, who makes virtual sculptures out of digitized Chinese-like objects. They are weird chotchkes out of her head.

I also thought our local Christopher Grimes gallery made a very strong showing with light boxes from artists named Kota Ezawa and Lucia Koch. Koch makes teeny models out of light cardboard boxes; both supergrand and then they give you the feeling that you get as little child creating a world out of c**p you have lying around.

Photo LA

Then there’s Paramount Ranch show, and in a way I’m more excited about it. These are younger, hungrier gallerists and artists (sometimes one and the same) and they are more apt to put their best foot forward and are willing to take huge risks artistically. They want to get attention in a different sort of way. Only Francois Ghebaly is at both Paramount and Art LA Contemporary.

There are a lot of different things that people look to art to be that are all wholely legitimate and some are about how your art represents you at home;  it may be very important for some people to have something that makes them look cool or established.

So something from Paramount Ranch isn’t necessarily going to serve that purpose but something from Los Angeles Contemporary might; and if you want something that doesn’t challenge people the LA Art Fair might be exactly the right thing. I represent one end of the curve of art viewers.

The important thing is go to a fair with eyes and mind open, take your time and see what you really gravitate toward. It’s a chance to test your own artistic compass.

Clockwise from top left: Bill Kleiman, at 2012 ALCA, courtesy @LauraDGrover; art at LA Art Fair, 2014; arrangement of 3-d printed and laser cut objects by Brenna Murphy , all 2013, photograph by Bill Kleiman; even dogs love art fairs, as spotted at Photo LA; Jay Mark Johnson steps through the doorway bearing his photograph, to Photo LA


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