Fair Weather in Los Angeles: Making the Rounds at Art L.A. Contemporary

“I’m kind of obsessed with it.”

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Actor Emile Hirsch wasn’t talking about Sundance—he’d already been there, done that by last Thursday night when, along with throngs of other well-heeled Angelenos, he arrived at Santa Monica’s Barker Hanger for the art fair Art L.A. Contemporary (ALAC). He was talking about ALAC, and his attitude reflected that of a lot of attendees. The event seems to have caught on.

Now in its fourth year, the fair, which ran through Sunday, has jumped out of its awkward tweens (see 2011), zipped through its adolescence (2012—see our report here) and emerged this year as a savvy, well-rounded adult.

At 6:30 p.m. on opening night, L.A. collectors and looky-loos were already out in force to visit the fair’s international blue chip and emerging galleries, which brought out premiere works from their rosters of artists including Mark Flood, Vicky Wright, Vincent Szarek and Richard Jackson.

Not surprisingly, the fair is still dominated by Los Angeles galleries. Of the 70 participants, 18 are local. But it’s a sign of this fair’s appeal—and the increasing appeal of Los Angeles’s art scene generally—that New Yorkers are not far behind. A full 15 of the fair’s participants, including the Hole, Clifton Benevento, Brennan Griffin and Untitled, made the trip from the Big Apple. There were also international dealers—seven from Paris, and a smattering from other cities like London and even Oslo.

Business was brisk on opening night, with the red dots signifying “sold” sprouting up next to artworks all around the Hangar.

And the quality of what was on view wasn’t lost on locals. “There’s a lot of good work here,” said Franklin Sirmans, chief curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “And L.A. deserves that.”

Collector Stanley Hollander, who’d opened up his art-filled home to participating dealers the night before, used the word “exciting” to describe both the selection of galleries and the prices of the works on offer, which, because the work is mostly by young and emerging artists, tend to be more modest than those at the major international art fairs like Art Basel or Frieze. And he couldn’t resist some Los Angeles boosterism. “It used to be that California collectors mainly bought in New York and the U.K.,” he said. “But [with] the influx of dealers and artist studios here, [it] tells the rest of the art world to visit, [and] pay attention to everything from the MFA graduates coming out of places like CalArts, plus some of the best artists in the U.S. teach here, to the fact that our museums have grown dramatically over the last 10 years.”

Collector Eugene Sadovoy is on the boards of both this fair and the L.A. Art Show, which takes place simultaneously downtown, but he has a soft spot for ALAC. “What distinguished this fair, is that it is not only a marketplace for collectors, but has become a local cultural event, a social gathering,” he said. “It is so L.A. It looks fresh and has a younger, edgier vibe, and it offers a refreshing change of pace from other international fairs. It has definitely become the art fair vehicle for emerging galleries who seem to come to L.A. to test the local art market and to raise their profile.”

There are other art fairs in Los Angeles, but one of the reasons ALAC has been such a big hit is its genial and energetic director, Tim Fleming. “Tim Fleming has really elevated the game here in Los Angeles,” said Mieke Marple, co-owner, with Davida Nemeroff, of Los Angeles’s Night Gallery. They showcased four artists—Alika Cooper, Samara Golden, Josh Callahan and David Korty. Their booth was small, but that’s something the partners are used to—their former gallery was only about 700 square feet. Over the weekend they opened a 6,200-square-foot space in downtown Los Angeles, designed by architect Peter Zellner (who is also responsible for Matthew Marks’s impressive West Hollywood space).

“We don’t do Art Platform or the L.A. Art Show, primarily because we’ve always had a relationship with Tim Fleming,” said Stuart Krimko, director of Los Angeles gallery David Kordansky. ”And many of our peers are here. There’s a great sense of community, and it’s a bit more informal and less intense than some of the other fairs can be. Plus, we’re definitely seeing more of an influx of people from Europe and the East Coast.”

Kordansky’s booth was dedicated to work by Richard Jackson, whose retrospective will soon open at the Orange County Museum of Art. “We like to do solo presentations at art fairs,” Mr. Krimko said. “It really lets someone immerse themselves in the work. So often people are used to moving like cattle through these fairs and are like ‘whatever’—it’s like a rug show or something. We like to give them a solidified, quality experience.”

London dealer Josh Lilley was at the fair for the first time, showing artists Vicky Wright, Nick Goss, Nicholas Hatfull and Robert Pratt.  “It’s a smaller scene here,” he said. “But I have a lot of clients in L.A. and a lot of artists here too. We felt it was important to have a presence here.”

That it’s a smaller scene is also what makes it attractive—there isn’t the herd mentality. “Other fairs are really more hectic—it’s all about the first hour,” said Mieke Marple of Night Gallery L.A. “Here there’s not that irrational frenzy. It’s more relaxed and everyone is really trying to absorb it all and take everything in.”

Actor Hirsch (who is about to make his own painterly debut alongside Matt Smiley and Ace Norton on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles) lingered for a while in front of a Zak Kitnick’s piece called Compendium, a decorative food poster homage to notions of consumption, information and decoration. Mr. Hirsch wasn’t so much about discussing the work; he instead preferred to drink it in.

But other visitors were asking a lot of questions. Midway through opening night, New York dealer Kathy Grayson, whose gallery, the Hole, is doing the fair for the third time, was already nearly talked-out. “People ask a lot more questions here,” she said. “Where the artist went to school, what shows they’ve been in—they’re very thorough. So it’s a lot more tiring for a gallerist here—instead of just giving someone a one-liner, you really go in depth about the artist’s work. The audience here is just really engaged; whereas at other art fairs you get people that are there to party or whatever.” We’re guessing she means Miami.

Last year, Ms. Grayson said, she sold out the work by her L.A.-based artists, “but everyone just walked by our New York ones.” Her total sales were around $50,000. This year she brought work by one New Yorker, two L.A. artists and a Brit.

Los Angeles’s weather is a draw for New Yorkers, who missed a frigid week in their hometown. “It’s really simple,” said L.A.-based collector Stefan Simchowitz of why dealers have flocked here. “Palm trees, sun—it’s a blast. Cold weather dealers love coming here end of January, crisp to warm blue skies and an escape from the East and Western Europe in the winter.” Chatting with exhibitors bore this out. “Why am I here? You mean apart from breaking up the Norwegian winter?” joked Eivind Furnesvik of Standard (Oslo), who was seeing a lot of activity around his works by artists Nina Baier and Matias Faldbakken. He participated in the fair in 2010 and 2011. He skipped last year and, he said, “sort of missed it. We have a surprisingly large amount of support for what we do, and for the work—it’s essentially an opportunity to deepen those relationships.” As of Thursday, he’d sold all but one of the artworks he’d brought. Also swiftly selling work was Javier Peres, whose gallery, Peres Projects, was in Los Angeles before he relocated to Berlin. “Who wouldn’t want to get out of fucking freezing cold Germany for sunny L.A. in January?” he said.

“It’s much quirkier than the bigger fairs out there,” said another former Angeleno, Jack Hanley, whose gallery is now in New York. He meant it as a compliment.

By the end of the evening, collectors were doing their postmortems. “Jonathan Viner showed Dan Rees’s new vacuum-sealed paintings; it was a wild collectors grab-bag of work,” said Mr. Hollander, weighing in once again.  “Thomas Solomon featured new works by Ry Rocklen—those were gone in the first hour. Josh Lilley had great works like Vicky Wright’s painting, which were wonderful to buy and see. Night Gallery with Sean Townley, is worth a strong look. Mihai Nicodim had Phil Wagner works that flew off the walls as well as his new find, Raymonde Beraud.

“It’s really one of the few joyous art fairs,” Mr. Simchowitz said. “Particularly because it’s just so easy to access and it’s an inexpensive destination. Look at the collectors here—everyone is here. People are coming from China, from Italy, from Greece…L.A. is on sale.”

Strengths: Johnny Abrahams/Jack Hanley, Richard Jackson/David Kordansky, Denis Darzacq/GDM, Neil Beloufa/ François Ghebaly, Luka Fineisen/Claudine Papillon Galerie, David Korty/Night Gallery

Weaknesses: Tim Hawkinson/Ace, Lee Materazzi/Quint Contemporary, Michael Riedel/Bischoff Projects, Mel Bochner/Quint Contemporary, Lucia Koch/Christopher Grimes, Matthew Stone/The Hole

Additional Attendees: Justin Gilanyi, Shamim Momin, George Stoll, Rosette Delug, Drew Heitzler, Roger Herman, Wendy Stark, Sam Trammell, Jason Schwartzman, Gilena Simons, Homeira Goldstein, Susan and Michael Hort, Anton Yelchin, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Robert Shimshak and Marion Brenner, Dean Valentine, Steve Martin

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