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Art Platform L.A.

by Deborah Ripley
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Could a new art fair possibly debut under the big black sun of "Pacific Standard Time" (PST), with its 60 affiliated art shows at museums, galleries and alternative spaces? This was the question haunting Art Platform Los Angeles, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2011, and its organizer Adam Gross, a native Angelenos who joined the fair-management team at Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (producer of the Armory Show and others) in 2010, after being a development staffer at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and a private art dealer.

Art Platform brought 75 galleries to the L.A. Mart, a 50,000-square-foot warehouse downtown. Three other fairs also crowded their way onto the weekend schedule: the midsize Pulse Los Angeles, which put more than 60 gallery booths under a tent near the downtown convention center; Avant LA, a small ancillary fair with emerging art, also located in L.A. Mart; and Fountain, the scrappy New York-based fair.

In the Art Platform VIP room, Gross opined that PST was crucial to the success of his operation. “All the important collectors and museum trustees are coming in for this event and will provide the impetus that galleries need to bring their very best works,” he said. He also mentioned that he had an “Art Basel-style” talk with local collectors, emphasizing that to make the fair successful, they would need to open their wallets and buy, as well as open their houses to VIP fair visitors. Gross successfully attracted an A-list art crowd, but in the end it all amounts to sales. “If the dealers are happy, then I am happy," he said.

Spotted on opening night were Don and Mera Rubell, sitting in the booth of Chicago dealer Kavi Gupta and discussing the possibility of acquiring a major work by Chicago artist Theaster Gates for their private Miami museum. The estimable Gates, whose exploding art career should help fund his social outreach efforts (via a string of pottery centers), is the subject of a solo show at MOCA, privately financed by the Chicago collecting couple Paul and Linda Goskind. Gates' exhibition ran concurrently with curator Paul Schimmel's “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981," celebrating the Helter Skelter side of L.A. art.

California collector Robert Shimshak, who owns a substantial number of works by assemblage art pioneer Wallace Berman (1926-1976), was spotted with fellow collector Mark Richards outside the booth of Michael Kohn Gallery. The dealer, who represents the Berman estate, had some gems by the artist, including an untitled collage from 1968 made using a Verifax, a brand of obsolete copier, which was priced at $48,000.

Shimshak was also touting “Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken,” a show on view at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. He said he was excited to see the two artists exhibited together for the first time.

Cirrus Editions founder Jean Milant has printed graphics aplenty by Ed Ruscha, which are on view in several museum shows as well as in Art Platform booths. Milant was hoping, however, to find a home for the rarest work he had brought to the fair -- a large 1973 vacuum-formed painting by the late artist Craig Kauffman, who died last year. (Artist Ed Moses dropped by the booth to ask the price, which was $250,000.)

At the Ikon Ltd. booth of Los Angeles dealer Kay Richards, one of the standouts was an important early Ruscha print, Cheese Mold Standard with Olive (1969), priced at $55,000. It was complemented by several Vik Muniz photos of gas stations that were cheeky take-offs on Ruscha’s paintings.

Meanwhile, Mixografia atelier was debuting a new, all-white version of the Ruscha print, this one embossed and titled Ghost Station (2011). The price: $25,000. Mixografia technical director Shaye Remba explained that Ruscha wanted to remove all the color from his iconic subject to show what Ruscha, calls "lazy architecture" -- design that you can understand instantly at 50 miles per hour.

Californian classics prevailed at the fair, with dealers joining in to promote the overall PST theme. The new Nye+Brown gallery, opened last month in Culver City by New York transplant Tim Nye with Los Angeles dealer Lexi Brown, featured a lovely Larry Bell sculpture, along with works by John Altoon and Peter Alexander.

Santa Fe dealer David Richard Contemporary was showing a beautiful series by Judy Chicago from the 1960s entitled "Star Cunts," which despite the rude monikers look like pretty pastel portals. He was also offering a show-stopping Billy Al Bengston acrylic on canvas entitled Wiliwili Draculas (1979) for $130,000.

Manny Silverman sold a 1958 Billy Al work on paper on opening night for $15,000, and said there was interest in his 1958 Ed Kienholz Untitled oil on canvas priced at a seemingly reasonable $50,000. At James Kelly Contemporary, a staffer said he felt close to selling a Ken Price painted ceramic sculpture Bebe (2003) for around $120,000.

Not all galleries were having attacks of PST. Mega-player Haunch of Venison mounted an astonishing installation by Japanese performance artist Chiharu Shiota, who filled one corner of the booth with a filigree of black wool threads, forming a web around a wedding dress. Other galleries showed works with a strong sociological component. Mexican dealer Nina Menocal had a neon and acrylic wall sculpture by Carlos Aguirre that recorded the last words of death row prisoners. More memorable lines included “Jesus, your baby is coming home,” or “As Gary Gilmore says, let’s do it!”

New York gallery Andrew Kreps had a solo show of drawings by the activist artist Andrea Bowers, who recorded early 1960s letters addressed to feminists who were dubbed "The Army of 3." These women shared a list of doctors willing to perform abortions. The letters are harrowing and personal -- a harbinger of what life might be without Roe vs. Wade.

According to early reports from the Art Platform press office at fair closing, strong sales were reported by Cirrus, Mixografia, Kavi Gupta and Maloney Fine Art.

Visitors were having trouble finding the Pulse fair, which was tucked away near the downtown convention center in busy area called L.A. Live. Signage was strangely minimal. Outside the tent was a strong show of sculpture, which was featured as well in an entirely separate, small taupe-colored tent entitled "Grey Area." This last is the brainchild of collector Beth DeWoody’s daughter Kyle DeWoody.

The operation debuted in July and is entirely online, save for occasional pop-ups like this one. Co-director Manish Vora explains that “Grey Area” refers to the space between fine and applied arts. One viewer wondered how functional an E.V. Day Mumified Barbie sculpture might be, especially priced at $3,500. An expensive doggy chew-toy, perhaps? A big hit with shoppers was the $5,000 Homemade Birkin Silicone Bag by Shelter Serra, Richard Serra’s nephew.

The booth of New York gallery Schroeder Romero & Shredder attracted a big audience for “Man Ray in Hollywood: 1940-1951.” A unique Cadeau (1947) -- that's the iron with tacks -- given by Man Ray to his niece was priced at $120,000, and an exquisite group of tiny Joseph Cornell boxes could be had starting at $25,000.

Rick Webster from New York was showing a fabulous group of rare photographs by California conceptual photographer Robert Cumming for $12,000 each. Fred Torres Collaborations had attractive Alessandro Twombly oils for $25,000.

Joshua Liner Gallery was pleased to report that the mixed-media assemblages of Kris Kuksi were finding buyers, notably to movie people, who go for the artist's disturbing element of fantasy. The Evidence of Tyranny (2011) sold right away for $35,000. The Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro is one of Kuksi's collectors.

A gallery from Tokyo, named STANDING PINE - cube, was having great success with its tiny “Third Eye” sculptures by Kenji Sugiyama, very well priced at $980. The eyeballs each had a little diorama inside them. Empty spaghetti boxes also housed dioramas of tiny art galleries, which were priced at $480 each, and moving quickly.

Los Angeles dealer Mark Moore said that colorful paintings by emerging artist Feodor Voronov had received a push from an Los Angeles Times critic who felt strongly about the work. Starting at $3,800 each, the pieces were doing very well and Moore reported that De Woody had been among the buyers.

DEBORAH RIPLEY is senior print specialist at Artnet.