Hippie Vibes Reign at Paramount Ranch, LA’s Newest Fair
It isn’t a secret anymore.
“This is the way it should be in Cali,” said Alan Ross, a collector from Detroit, who comes to LA every January with his wife Rebecca to visit Art Los Angeles Contemporary (see Art LA Contemporary Steps Up Its International Game). This is his first time at Paramount Ranch, LA’s newest and youngest fair, now in its sophomore year. Set in the colorful confines of a Hollywood Western film and television stage in the Santa Monica Mountains, galleries had set up in a horse stable, a farmer’s exchange, a sheriff’s station, and a jail. The Mandrake, a long-time artist-run bar, set up a pop-up operation in the saloon. “I enjoy seeing art while being outdoors,” said Ross, “and I love how informal it is.”
If not one of the most intriguing fairs in the world, Paramount Ranch, run by LA galleries Freedman Fitzpatrick and Paradise Garage, has at least grown enough to be taken seriously. And informal is the most precise definition—in describing it, others I spoke to used the words “messy,” “woolly,” and “screwy” interchangeably. There’s no application process for Paramount Ranch. The 54 exhibitors had been invited, which resulted in a showcase of chaotic art, events, and site-specific installations, which, in the utterly confusing location, filtered through as a mix between Paris Photo LA (see Paris Photo LA Taps the West Coast’s Emerging Art Market), a photography fair that takes place on Paramount’s “New York Street” back lot, and a DIS Magazine party (see Say So Long to Summer With Ryan Trecartin).
The relaxed, youthful nature of the fair is what brought Thao Nguyen, a talent agent at Creative Artists Agency and the overseer of CAA’s private collection, to the Ranch. At 10 a.m., the VIP preview was surprisingly packed, confirming the suspicion that Paramount Ranch wasn’t a secret anymore. “We’re here to buy,” Nguyen said, bounding into the sheriff’s station.
Mathew Sova, co-owner of Jenny’s, a very cool one-year-old gallery in LA, was hesitant at first about participating in an art fair, but said this opportunity was too good to pass up. Without even saying it, he spoke to the fair’s MO perfectly: small galleries unable to afford booths at established art fairs found the $1000-$5000 booth fee easy to cover; the low cost encouraged the kind of experimentation necessary to keep small galleries relevant; this, in turn, led even resolutely outsider galleries to feel at home. Jenny’s was showing paintings by Mathieu Malouf, sculptures by Max Hooper Schneider, and wall hangings by Liz Craft (who is also the co-owner of Paradise Garage with fellow artist Pentti Monkonnen). “It was worth it. This sold,” he said, pointing to a sculpture of a pair of shoes, which appeared, due to strategically placed magnets in the shoes and the pedestal, to be levitating. The work, by Hooper Schneider, was created from the discarded homemade shoes of a deceased homeless man who the artist had seen being dragged away.
The presence of international galleries at the fair was strong as well, prompting Swiss Institute curator Simon Castets to quip, “My favorite booths are the Swiss ones. Why bother seeing anything else?”
Apart from the booths, perhaps the weirdest installation at the fair was New York-based duo Debo Eilers & Kerstin Brätsch’s “Kaya’s House,” a pink trimmed miniature ranch house that was built the day before the fair, and filled with the collaborators’ printed performance “work outfits,” costumes that they would periodically don to drag a painting around the fairgrounds. The textured painting contained a disembodied nude cast of “Kaya,” the duo’s Texan-born muse, an 18-year-old girl that Eilers had been creating impromptu works with since she was five. “We did the cast the week before she turned 18, so we captured her teenage youth,” he said, shoveling dirt in front of a large coin sculpture they had created with Monnaie de Paris, the French national mint that hasn’t had much work since the Euro replaced the Franc.
At the outskirts of the fair, there was a Wild West-themed music performance by the Free Music Society, a 40-year-old group that has counted among its members Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, and Jim Shaw. Lizzi Bougatsos DJ’d at the space hosted by 356 Mission (see West Coast Gallerists Bet Big on Los Angeles’s East Side), a house which she had covered in Xeroxed ephemera and zines. As I wandered around the grounds, a man with a lobster harmonica invited me to come back at noon, when a man named MX Farina would be performing songs “out of a teepee.”
The fair’s relaxed atmosphere isn’t lost on anyone. “Hippie vibes,” says Emi Fontana, a curator at West of Rome. “I enjoy the pastoral atmosphere,” says artist Michael Quattelbaum, Jr. (a.k.a. Mykki Blanco). But compared to last year’s anxious anything-could-happen feeling, this relaxed sensibility was a relief, it seemed, to the first-time galleries, some of whom reported making sales that they didn’t expect to make.
The mellow mood was perhaps a response to the Dionysian spree that was last year’s fair (notorious for a “drunk vs. stoned” soccer match that was shuttered by the park rangers). I spoke to Jason Hightower, a ranger with a stern red moustache, who said that they made extra efforts this year to inform the public that “controlled substances weren’t allowed in state parks.” What did he think about the fair? “I love it. I love coming to see what people come up with. I’m an artist myself—landscapes. I’m interested in the geology of the national parks.”
Alison Pill, star of the HBO series the Newsroom, admitted to being a newbie to the scene. It was her sister, Katherine Pill, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, who got her interested in the fair. “I’ve never bought anything,” she said. “Yet.” Her friend interjected: “It’s in development!”
If it all sounds crazy, that’s because it was—which is a good thing. Remembering anything from a more professional art fair might be a struggle, but Paramount Ranch was an experience. And that makes it emphatically necessary. It may not be grown-up, but it’s defiantly grown.
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