Art LA Contemporary Steps Up Its International Game

The fair proved to be the art world’s equivalent to a Weinstein Oscar bash.

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Alex Israel (L) and Karyn Kohl.
Photo: Getty Images.
Sarah McCauley (L) and Tim Fleming.
Photo: courtesy Getty Images.
Stanley Whitney. Photo: courtesy Team Gallery.
Stanley Whitney.
Photo: courtesy Team Gallery.
Peter Stichbury at Tracy Williams
Nel Aerts.
courtesy Carl Freedman Gallery
Stefan Simchowitz and Phil Grauer.
Photo: Getty Images.
Sculpture by David Adamo and paintings by Guillaume Gelot at Untitled
Alexander Wolff.
Courtesy Etal Projects.
Mark Flood.
Courtesy Peres Projects.
Jeff Ellermeyer, Taylor Livingston and David Kordansky.
Photo: Getty Images.
Hugo Canoilas.
Courtesy Work Place Gallery.
Alex Ruthner.
Courtesy Ibid.
Jodi Price, Allison Berg and Jessica Kreps.
Photo: Getty Images.
Eric Yahnker at the Hole
Peter Wu.
Greene Exhibitions.
Michael E. Smith.
Courtesy Michael Benevento.
Hands Ulrich Obrist and Suzanne Deal Booth.
Photo: Getty Images.
Mark Roeder.
Courtesy Michael Benevento.
Matthew Brandt at M+B Gallery
Nathaniel Mellors.
Courtesy Monitor.
Photo: Getty Images.
Elizabeth Jaeger at Jack Hanley
Photo: Getty Images.
William Popel.
Courtesy William Popel.
Amanda Ross Ho.
Courtesy Shane Campbell.
Neil Beloufa at Francois Ghebaly
Michael Berryhill at Kansas
Isaac Resnikoff at Louis B. James
Zach Harris at David Kordansky

“It’s not what’s missing, but really, what’s no longer missing,” said LA-based dealer Mihai Nicodim at last night’s opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Nicodim, who has been a participant at ALAC for five years (the fair has been around for six), finished his thought about what’s ‘no longer missing’: “An audience open to a more international program and a very strong, enthusiastic collector base.”

Nicodim, who brought a group of his artists to the fair this year including Stefania Batoeva, Michiel Ceulers, and Przemek Pyszczek, said the LA fair has become a major destination on the international art circuit. And the effects are noticeable. “We had major sales in the first half-hour: Ceulers, Batoeva, and Boar. It’s a very different attitude from the casual strollers from a few years ago and no longer just locals. Tonight I’ve seen major collectors and curators from London, New York, Paris, and Brussels!” Nicodim, who recently opened a second gallery in Bucharest, Romania, will be opening a new 6,000-square-foot space in LA on March 14, with a show of work by Adrian Ghenie.

The fair (operated by owner, founder, and director Tim Fleming) is undoubtedly a perfect storm of art, collectors, scenesters, and—this being LA—celebs. Tobey Maguire, Ricki Lake, and Fran Drescher all stopped in to shop as a DJ lurked in a corner booth looking like a performance art piece (maybe he was) spinning records that sounded like one constant ambient wine glass composition. The gawk factor was high and texts of who was with whom reached a fever pitch around 7:30 PM. As you walked the aisles, there was a hint of Hermes perfume tainted by the occasional waft of pot smoke trailing a random passerby who had obviously abused the lenient California law on medical marijuana.

Regardless of these Los Angeles trivialities, the ALAC opening proved to be the art world’s equivalent to a Weinstein Oscar bash—a crowd of understated, chic, moneyed, and highly intellectual individuals, for the most part.

“Funnily, the first thing I saw was the best thing I saw,” said Stefan Simchowitz, the collector and patron recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine (see Christopher Glazek Annotates His Stefan Simchowitz Story) and a frequent art-scene agitator. He had arrived early and bought the first thing out of the proverbial gate: a painting of Sharpies by Katherine Bernhardt. “I bought it. $35,000,” he said. “No Discount!”

There were slightly fewer galleries this year—a total of 65 compared to last year’s 67—and some galleries took bigger booths this time around. But it was a well-balanced playing field for dealers and collectors from LA, New York, and Europe. Collector Mihail Lari, was a first-timer to the fair, and believed there was “an intimacy that allows for a meaningful art experience while still providing a very satisfying mix of galleries.” For Lari, this meant there was time to talk in-depth with dealers and learn about what they had planned for 2015. “The most surprising part of the opening though,” he said, “was how many collectors and curators we ran into who we typically only see in New York or in Miami during the fairs.”

The Hole, Kathy Grayson’s New York gallery, had a number of dynamite works by Danish artist Rose Eken. “The body of work was conceived as a fossil dig at CBGB’s, and it’s arranged sort of anthropologically,” Grayson told artnet News, “so if you were digging up this stuff, it would be arranged like a lost culture.” With Eken’s works ranging from $500 to $3700, Grayson’s prices were some of the most reasonable at the fair. Grayson has been a part of ALAC even before she had set up her gallery. “The first few years was about when Deitch [Projects] closed and Jeffrey moved here,” she said about Jeffrey Deitch’s former New York gallery. “I was on my own and there was a lot of talk—people wanted to come to me as a sounding board on what they thought of Jeffrey; the people who were saying negative things didn’t find a receptive audience in me.”

As expected, there were a few missteps—Michael Benevento’s booth was akin to a curiosity shop of pen-and-ink drawings, sculptural mummies, and mixed media works that made for a bit of schlock-and-awe as opposed to anything overly impressive.

London’s Josh Lilley was back for his third year with a solo installment of works by South African born, London-based painter Carla Busuttil. Busuttil, who creates emotionally charged canvases that are a mix of extreme color and hastily-painted caricatures melded with cherished motifs of African societies, was by far the stand-out artist of the fair. “This year is our best here so far,” said Lilley, “We’ve sold the majority of our works.” It was only 7:20 pm.

Come 9 o’clock as the lights went bright akin to a bar’s last call, gallerists began to look a little worse for wear and the crowd—speaking in a mélange of languages from French to Romanian—was still going full throttle. But let’s remember—the fair is still on for another three days.

Simchowitz, who left early, perhaps best summed up the fair. “Tim Fleming and Alex Couri have managed off fierce competition to once again bring LA the fair to beat for contemporary art,” he told us. “The plucky, charming, and politely fierce duo embody LA’s ‘can do’ spirit where everything is possible out West, that is attracting the great art migration out west. It’s our cultural equivalent of the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849.”

Highlights: Isaac Resnikoff at Louis B. James, Leo Gabin at Peres Projects, Ann Cathrin November Høibo at Standard (Oslo), Zach Harris at David Kordansky, Matthew Stone at the Hole.

Notables: Thao Ngyen, Sam Trammell, Eugene Sadovoy, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Rosson Crow, Larry Bell, Ry Rocklen, RETNA, Ann Goldstein, Merry Norris, Cliff and Mandy Einstein.

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