by Moira Cue
Wednesday January 19, 2011: The VIP Gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center brought more flare than ever to the star-studded event. As exhibitors, artists, collectors and press got a first look at the show's offerings, performers from Cirque du Soleil wandered in Victorian-inspired costumes and make-up artists from Pixi offered gift bags and demonstrations. (At ticket prices of $125 and $500, it was nice to know that the evening's proceeds went to benefit The Art of Elysium to expand its program to bring arts to critically ill hospitalized children and increase substantially the number of school children who visit the Getty through the Getty Museum's Education Department program for Title One School visits.) Wine flowed freely; food offerings included vegan guava or saffron-flavored cubes sweetened with agave, and fennel and arugula with shaved parmesan among more. The afterparty, hosted by Kat Von D and held at the Ritz-Carlton residences around the corner, was so packed with cognoscenti and their cohorts that the fire marshal refused entry to those unlucky enough to be standing at the back of the line. For those of us who made it in, the view of the downtown skyline from the 2-story loft on the 51st floor was breathtaking.
With all the hoopla and fanfare, I still managed to get my fill of the art on view and converse with gallerists and artists alike. Compared to previous years, there was more work on paper. The 26th Annual Los Angeles/International Fine Print Dealers Association-aka IFPDA-Fine Print Fair occurred simultaneously within the larger exhibition space. Additionally The Vintage Posters Section provided a special exhibition of pop-culture and contemporary history featuring pieces from two participating galleries, Galerie Documents from Paris, France and Michael Maslan Vintage Posters and Photographs from Seattle, Washington. Poster styles included: Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Mid-century Modern and from periods including turn of the century Belle Époque, to the stylized 1930s, to the promotional expressions of the Post World War II Cold War era.
Also this year, there was a notable absence of images of Obama, whose likeness was omnipresent last year. There were roughly the same amount of Buddhas and Marilyns, including Russell Young's diamond dust series (yes, they use real diamond dust-cool, huh?) at Guy Hepner. Contemporary artists nodded to Impressionism; Todd Brainard's Monet-meets-SoCal palm tree "haystacks" at George Billis and Andrew Hem's moody blue Gauguin-like palette in scenes populated with the spirits of Cambodian ancestors amongst his contemporaries, merging the Los Angeles cityscape with the one he left behind (LeBasse Projects).
At Ferrin Gallery, Chris Antemann's porcelain and photography, inspired by 18th century porcelain figurines, played with gender roles (the male figurines are nude; the female, clothed) in a tongue-in-cheek, not overly obvious way. (Chris, by the way, is female.) At Micaëla Gallery , Eugenia Pardue's white on white decorative floral motifs in relief blurred the line between painting and sculpture. Lorraine Peltz, also at Micaëla Gallery, continued the contemporary reference to eras past by putting a fresh, feminine spin on 17th century chandeliers.
The show had many notable "firsts," including the show's own iPhone app which provided not only a map of the exhibition space, but the entire show catalogue on visitor's mobile devices. Also for the first time: Gallerist Peter Fettermen of his namesake Bergamont Station, Santa Monica gallery, exhibited Rarely/Unseen, a collection of formerly unprinted photographs from Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of modern photojournalism.
China, a powerhouse of Asian Art, was a major focus of the 2011 show. A special program, China Today featured a lecture on Contemporary Chinese art led by artist Tao Dong Dong (represented by David Lawrence Gallery) along with a screening of the 2006 documentary, "The Rising Tide" providing insight into China's Contemporary art scene. A significant number of participating Chinese galleries, a majority of whom have never displayed works outside of China, provided attendees with a remarkable opportunity to see what's really hot in Asian Art. It was a pleasure to meet Tao personally while chatting with staff members at the LACMA booth. Tao graciously provided me with a copy of the catalogue for the 2nd Beijing International China Cultural Artifacts Fair, wherein he had selected an excerpt from my previous coverage of him in The Hollywood Sentinel, and had it translated for Chinese buyers.
Shot in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen in the summer of 2006, "The Rising Tide", directed by Robert Adanto, explores China's march toward the future through the works of some their most talented photographers and video artists. This unflinching study is described as an "eye-opener" in every sense of the word. As Richard Vine, Senior Editor, Art In America and author of New China, New Art wrote, "If you want a living sense of China's contemporary art scene-and the artists who are shaking it up-check out "The Rising Tide." It reveals some of the brightest and best new talents, capturing their works, their words, and their faces amid a swiftly changing environment. (See video clip below.)
The conditions of artists in China made international headlines recently when Ai Weiwei, an artist famous for his sunflower seeds exhibition at the Tate in London, was put under house arrest and his studio demolished by authorities. The exhibition contains 100 million hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds made in the "porcelain capital of the world," Jingdezhen, China, by 1,600 workers over the course of two years. Visitors were initially encouraged to walk over the seeds, crushing them underfoot, until concerns about the toxicity of the ceramic dust forced the museum to rope off the installation.
While most of the older artworks at the LA Art Show was decidedly past the point of controversial social commentary due to the passing of time, and many of the newer artists' political sentiments were expressed obliquely if at all, one artist I discovered at the LA Art Show expressed a chilling reality; Halim Alkarim, whose work references his life as an Iraqi in exile. Alkarim grew up in Iraq and was trained at the University of Baghdad. While living in self-exile with gypsies, he studied Bedouin mysticism; an experience that is expressed in his fixation on love as the ultimate human expression. His altered photographs of witnesses to the violent regime of Saddaam Hussein-altered for their own protection and only exhibited after the dictator's demise-reference the hazy romanticism of John Singer Sargent's nineteenth-century portraits of society ladies, but in a much different context. Robischon Gallery Director Jennifer Doran spoke to me lucidly about the obstacles faced by Alkarim and other artists in the gallery stable. I was truly impressed by her intelligence and commitment. Additionally, I enjoyed discussing a still life by Janet Fish, a rare treat, at the Abby M. Taylor booth.
With to art from India, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, American cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francicso, and Chicago, last but not least, this year marked a first for Aboriginal art at the LA Art Show. West Hollywood Gallery Aboriginal Dreamtime brought original Aboriginal paintings to the fair, a welcome addition to the massive encyclopedic display of art, that many are calling "the most important art show in the West." As the show draws massive sales (25 million in 2010, including 1 million on opening night) along with high profile clientele (actors James Franco, Rhea Perlman, Kevin Bacon, Martin Sheen, collector Eli Broad, MoCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, among more) I can't wait to see what next year's exhibit and VIP premiere will bring.
© 2011, The Hollywood Sentinel.