Special Report: L.A. Art Fairs 2007
L.A. is no exception to the art fair trend. Here’s a look at two January fairs that had Santa Monica in a state of Stendhal syndrome
For the past seventeen years, Photo L.A. has been one of the most exciting and comprehensive venues for viewing and collecting fine art photography. The 2007 edition, held January 25th-28th at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, was no exception.
“They’ve got it down to a science in terms of promotion, ” says Los Angeles dealer Beverly Feldman. She would know—Stephen Cohen, the owner of the eponymous gallery she directs, is the mastermind behind Art Fairs Inc., the producers of Photo L.A. and Photo Miami.
“We made some changes this year,” Cohen admits. “That’s always a gamble. We rearranged the floor plan of the show, especially in the east wing. That side is a little more intimate and human-scaled, unlike the main auditorium with those huge, soaring ceilings. Everybody was happy with their new locations.”
The focus of Photo L.A. shifted as well.“People want to see the latest trends in photography,” says Feldman.“They’re very curious and excited about what’s new.”
Cohen concurs. “We’re showing more and more contemporary work, often on a larger scale. It’s a growing area of collecting, and increasing at auction.”
The new and improved version of Photo L.A. attracted record crowds and sales.Visitors came from as far away as England, Japan, the Czech Republic and all across the U.S., converging upon Santa Monica to celebrate the best in modern photography. Many dealers are still basking in the warm, profitable afterglow of follow-up sales.
For Beverly Feldman and the Stephen Cohen Gallery, the stand-out artists of the show were Alec Soth and South African Pieter Hugo, whose striking (and controversial) portrait of a small child with albinoism became the trademark image for Photo L.A. 2007. “The human face is about the most intriguing subject there is,” Cohen muses. “Pieter Hugo’s work forces us to look directly at people we often regard in a sidelong way, people who are marginalized because of their appearance: their skin, their age, their disabilities—their differences.”
Doug Christmas of Ace Gallery Los Angeles came to Photo L.A. with an impressive collection of works by Hans-Christian Shink, Orlan, Jay Johnson, Charles Fine, Martin Schoeller, Melanie Pullen and Dennis Hopper. He agrees that Photo L.A. was a huge success, both for his gallery and for the L.A. art scene overall.“L.A. is definitely in the midst of a growth spurt in the art market,” he says. “The quality of the art fair reflects this. It improves every year.”
Ace Gallery represents a stellar assemblage of con- temporary artists from the 1960s to the present, and photography plays an important part. “All our artists attract attention,” says Christmas. “But photography is growing in significance and influence. Large-scale photography is now competing with painting in importance. A lot of painters want to look at it, study it and become influenced by it; a lot of artists who would have studied painting in the past are now becoming photographers instead.”
Peter Fetterman, the urbane Santa Monica dealer who specializes in classic twentieth-century photography in his Bergamot Station space, handles works by Andres Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson and other masters. He also had a successful run at Photo L.A.“It was non-stop! There was no time to eat! I am still doing a lot of follow-up business,” he bubbles.
According to Fetterman, Photo L.A. attracts the perfect mix of clients. “It runs the entire gamut from beginning collectors to the most sophisticated. A lot of new collectors came to the show to view new work.”
L.A. Art Show
The prestigious L.A. Art Show celebrated its twelfth year with a gala opening night benefit. Four thousand people thronged the Barker
Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport for a festive and glamorous evening of art that raised over $170,000 for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
And that was just the first night. Over the next three days, thousands more visitors flocked to the Los Angeles Art Show, viewing an exciting and eclectic array of works from Old Masters to emerging artists.
“We want it to be a full-spectrum show,” explains show organizer Kim Martindale. “We are focusing mostly on contemporary works now, because that’s what’s driving the market—that’s what collectors are buying. That said, however, the Taos School and Western art were also very popular this year, and dealers with European and American nineteeth-century pieces did very well, and California Impressionists were also hugely successful.”
The L.A.Art Show has expanded over the years.What began as an exclusive showcase for members of the Fine Art Dealers Association now boasts a lineup of over eighty dealers from around the world, with many more on its waiting list.The event focuses laser-like attention on the city and its cultural life.
To entice collectors this year, Martindale added a V.I.P. program, a heavy-duty lecture schedule and a 32,000-square-foot pavilion to the Barker Hangar venue at the Santa Monica Airport.“Twelve years ago, the gala brought in 85 people and entire attendance numbered 300,” says Martindale, who cites attendance this year as hovering in the $25,000 range. He believes $60 million in art was sold.
The show’s scope and the enthusiastic crowds it attracts drew veteran New York dealer Michael Haber to the show. His gallery, Wooster Projects, located in Manhattan’s hyper-hot Meat Packing District, specializes in marquee contemporary artists: Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselman, Klaus Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. In L.A. however, it was the new names creating the most buzz.
“L.A. is very interested in emerging artists, ” the gallerist explains.“People gravitated to the new. They were impressed with Matthew Satz, Gordon Cheung, Robert Platt, Susan Sommers—all painters.”
Wooster Projects enjoyed a success with its old-guard artists as well: they sold both a Warhol and an Oldenburg during their visit to Santa Monica. “The sophistication of the audience in Los Angeles is wonderful,” says Haber. “I was impressed with the attendance, and with the knowledge of the people who came to the show.”
The enthusiastic crowds and rich opportunities will bring Michael Haber and his Wooster Projects back to the West Coast next year. “The L.A. Art Show draws serious collectors shopping with knowledge and intent,” he says. “They want to see what’s fresh, and it’s good for the art market when young artists attract new collectors. It reinvigorates the entire market.”
Frank Goss of Montecito’s Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery enjoyed spectacular success in Santa Monica. “We were amazed at the aggressiveness and the knowledge of the patrons,” he says. “On previous opening nights, for example, it was more social than anything else. People were much more concerned with looking at and talking to one another than looking at the art. But this year, people were genuinely interested in the artworks—observing them closely, discussing them avidly.”
Sullivan Goss–An American Gallery had the distinction of presenting the most expensive single work at the L.A. Art Fair: a Magritte.
In addition to the Magritte, Goss also displayed works by David Hockney and John Nava, the muralist of Downtown L.A.’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He was surprised at the apparent revival of interest in portraiture. “We’ve exhibited it for years, albeit rather sparingly, ” he recalls. “People seemed reluctant to consider representations of subjects who were strangers…but now, buyers seem more open to the possibilities of portraiture and its eloquence: it can be abstracted or naturalistic, ironic, satirical—not necessarily very pleasant, but powerful. It communicates very deeply.”
Frank Goss is already looking forward to next year’s L.A.Art Fair.
“We saw more paintings being carried out than ever before,” he says.“It’s a wonderful way to see and buy art.”
Image: At L.A. Art Show: Rene Magritte,Two Girls Walking Along a Street, 1954. Oil on canvas. Signed lower right. Image courtesy Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery.