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Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2012


by Pedro Vélez
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“People like you need to fuck people like me,” reads a scarlet neon sign by Tracey Emin, brightening the pool house of mega-collector Eugenio López, who was nowhere to be found during the kick-off party for the third edition of Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC), Jan. 19-22, 2012, which was installed at the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. According to locals, Mr. Jumex can be one elusive host; apparently he never leaves his bedroom during his own parties. How cool is that?

Eccentric or not, he sure missed a pretty bunch gathered at his humble pad in Beverly Hills, among them Betina Bethlem and Alexander Gilkes of newly established online auction house Paddle8; curly-haired sculptor Juan “Juanito” Asensio; multimedia artist Lucas Ajemian, New York’s newest sensation; and local writer and academic Michael Ned Holte. I also spotted ALAC’s director Tim Fleming chatting amicably with super-collectors Sam and Shanit Schwartz, and their daughter, art consultant Alexys Schwartz. And lounging near one of those “spot” paintings by Damien Hirst I found maverick filmmaker Jon Leone. It was over a few shots of vodka that we happened to agree that Hirst’s dots have become insupportable sickly sweet signifiers of elitism, wealth and leisure.

Overall the mood at the party was cool, “Dennis Hopper” cool with not a care in the world, and it would stay that way over the long art-fair weekend.

Boasting 70 exhibitors from 11 countries, ALAC is still a relatively small event, though it has been gaining momentum in dramatic fashion. UBS wealth management guru Michael A. Schweitzer revealed the secret behind the fair’s irresistible magnetism. “When Art Basel Miami Beach is over the city gets sleepy, but L.A. is constantly evolving, and we would like to play a part in that growth -- so we need to push the west.”

Following in the footsteps of UBS was the Getty Trust, which coordinated an 11-day marathon of performances, new and recreated from the 1960s and ‘70s, an integral part of “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” the genius event that has brought new energy to the So-Cal scene (and that was covered thoroughly in these pages by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp).

The ALAC opening preview struck an apocalyptic note, as workers dressed in matching white jumpsuits and face masks set up blocks of dry ice into chest-high pyramids for the re-envisioning of Judy Chicago’s seminal 1968 work, Disappearing Environment. By nighttime the thick fog expelled by the ice, which was artificially lit with red flares, had engulfed the fair's entrance. Inside, celebrities and collectors mingled under the hangar’s domed ceiling. Among them were heartthrob Sam Trammell of the HBO vampire show True Blood, Hollywood producer Stefan Simchowitz, reality TV show host China Chow, and collectors Dean Valentine and Linda and Jerry Janger.

The real star of the fair, however, was Land Periscope II by L.A. artist Anton Lieberman (b. 1984), a makeshift wood structure towering above the booths and fitted with a periscope on its insides. Sponsored by ltd | Los Angeles, the observation tower allowed a 360-degree view of the fair from above. I overheard someone say that he felt like a “scientist studying caged rats,” which leads me to believe that Lieberman’s panopticon could be constructed as a public unveiling of the addictions and obsessions of collectors as they go about their business inside the maze-like environs of the art fair.

Strolling through the aisles I saw Arely Villegas, a young photographer I follow on Twitter, and she gave me the scoop on the Latino contingent. “Go check Yautepec Gallery,” she said. “It caught my attention because of the closeness of artistic practices in Mexico City and Los Angeles. They're sister cities!” Among the gallery artists, most of whom are based in Mexico, is Texema Novelo, whose grouping of cursive vinyl text on the wall reads, “God=7 Devil=6 Man=5.” Titled God Is Seven, the equation gives God a much-needed win.

Yautepec’s director, Daniela Elbahara, expressed satisfaction with the fair. He had sold a C-print by L.A. artist Ryan Perez for $6,000, and also lined up a studio visit for him from LACMA. Yautepec was the only Latin American gallery at the fair, which is strange given the prominence of Eugenio López as host committeeman.

Another surprise was the price tag of $32,000 on Escucha by Brooklyn painter Eddie Martínez (b. 1977) at Peres Projects. I just can’t understand what’s so hot about a hipster version of a Jean-Michel Basquiat style. Good thing Peres was candid enough to guide me through it -- that’s how you know, if you had a doubt, that he is a great dealer.

Looking busy was Jerome Zodo of the eponymous Milan gallery, who by the time of my visit had sold Mr. Pope Welcome to Hell (2008),a video animation by Federico Solmi (b. 1938), for $3,800. And a painting of an American flag made in gold leaf on embossed paper aptly titled Gold Dripping Flag (Made in China) by San Francisco artist Andrew Schoultz (b. 1975). It went for $7.000.

However, the piece attracting attention like bees to honey was the massive reinforced ceramic sculpture Static Fuel #4 by Detroit artist Steven Montgomery (b. 1954). Resembling a sort of futuristic car engine with wrench and alternate boat helix protruding from its body like appendages, the sculpture was a steal at $42,000. It had not sold by Saturday, but I bet you he will sell it, eventually.

Also from Milan, exuding refined elegance (something that’s all too rare in American galleries), was Cardi Black Box, showing works by Italian master Gianni Piacentino, Mark Flores, Mario Ybarra and, for some strange reason, Mr. Brainwash. Piacentino’s Black Frame Vehicle with Signed Oval Plates (1971) is an amazing semi- abstract, tubular racing bike made of iron and nickel-plated brass, with tiny wheels. It sits close to the floor and sports plaques embossed with the artist’s last name on its sides. The museum-ready piece was rightfully priced at a steep $140,000, and it had not sold by Saturday. But at least Cardi made a killing selling works by Mark Floresfor as much as $12,000.

The West Hollywood gallery Annie Wharton Los Angeles reported multiple sales, including five paintings by “diamond art” specialist Mary Anna Pomonis, ranging from $1,400 to $8,000. But the painting I liked by was Counter by L.A. artist Rachel Kessler, a large, cinematic depiction of a woman in a pink blazer laying her head down on a dressing room counter, perhaps passed out or weeping. The room is lined with leopard-skin curtains in shades of dirty yellow and pink. A steal at $5,800, the picture was on hold -- whoever you are, send that check immediately before you lose it.

Other standouts at ALAC include Dan Attoe’s small, pasty oil of a fallen horse titled Get Up ($6,000) at Portland’s Fourteen30 Contemporary; Lucas Knipscher’s beautiful photographic emulsions on canvas at Thomas Duncan Gallery from L.A.; and sound pieces and cassette tapes encased and framed with painted canvases by David Hughes at John Tevis Gallery from Paris.

In addition, The Hole sold paintings by Sayre Gomez ranging from $6,500 to $10,000, David Kordansky Gallery sold out a booth featuring the slightly inflected abstract works of Anthony Pearson, and New York-based independent bookseller Printed Matter sold over ten copies of Tauba Auerbach’s glorious new Technicolor geometric pop-up book titled [2,3].

Overall, not a single dealer I talked to during the weekend yapped about the bad economy. On the contrary, everyone looked pretty relaxed, tucked inside their spacious booths. Who knows, maybe fairs have truly become the new biennials, where selling art is the next best thing to promoting esthetic ideas.

God bless Dennis Hopper
“It’s an intimate fair, and I was able to see great works walking down the aisles and not feel crushed,” said performance artist Molly Shea during the lively party on Friday night, held at the home of late screen legend Dennis Hopper. Hopper’s place is located in the eclectic beachfront neighborhood of Venice Beach, famous for canals modeled, of course, after the ones in Italy.

Designed by architectural “bad boy” Brian Murphy, Hopper’s residential complex is a stylish industrial-style home stacked with goodies. It has seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms, high ceilings, skylights, a corrugated steel façade, exposed beams, pink furniture, a narrow pool, floating staircases, and thick see-through glass floors on the second level from which you can view the collection of vintage motorcycles down below in the garage. Hopper’s own photographs of Hollywood starlets and famous painters grace the walls, along with a few of his paintings, including his large billboard-style portrait of Andy Warhol holding a flower.

Did I forget to mention that Hopper’s complex also boasts three townhouses designed by Frank Gehry, and that it all can be yours (sans the art) for $6 million?

At one point during the night, Molly recited Hopper’s frantic line from Blue Velvet: “Heineken? Fuck that shit. Pabst Blue Ribbon!” She told me it was an homage but I figured it was a some sort of agitprop performance, since Heineken was the official beer served at the party.

Art Los Angeles Contemporary, Jan. 19-22, 2012, the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, Los Angeles.

PEDRO VÉLEZ is an art critic and writer hibernating in Chicago.