This past weekend's Art Platform Los Angeles art fair turned out pretty well, despite some trepidation that its move from last year's popular inauguration at Downtown's LA Mart to the usual art-fair suspect of Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar would render it indistinguishable from the others.
The general opinion was that APLA organizers worked wonders with the venue. A change of entrance that reconfigured the welcome area into a breezy sculpture garden and lounge, as well as the occupation of two separate buildings and creative use of the rear tarmac, made the experience fresh, new and breezy from the get-go.
Inside, an impressive range of galleries was diverse in terms of genre, style, and internationalism (Street Art! Not one but two Istanbul galleries! Installation! Performance!). The selection of local galleries was also itself eclectic, with stalwarts and indie outfits represented on equal footing.
Random polling revealed a sense that the quality of the art was "uneven" but that is par-for-the-art-fair course, and on balance the exhibited work was notable for its inclusion of younger, riskier artists and a near-total lack of Warhols.
Here are 10 great artworks from the fair, in no particular order:
10. Gretchen Ryan at Fred Torres Collaborations (NYC)
If there was any single artist who generated the most buzz, it had to be LA-based, NYC-repped painter Gretchen Ryan (see image above). Her particular combination of an almost Raphael-like sense of luminous color and the regal bearing of her portrait subjects combines to great effect with a dark humor and zeitgeist-lambasting of our national obsession with youth and beauty -- the obsession that leads to the abandoning of girls' childhoods to the predatory vagaries of beauty pageants and reality shows. Prettiness in Ryan's work is both visual strategy and a suspect topic, making for delicious and anxiety-inducing images.
The truth is that Fred Torres' booth may well have been the best of the fair, with four powerful women artists from different generations rocking different media to great effect. Besides Ryan, Torres showed large-scale photographs from the estate of Dare Wright, whose iconic children's books were once banned as sexually inappropriate for teddy-bear-on-doll action and were an early influence on fellow Torres artist David LaChapelle. Madeleine Gekiere -- a NYC doyenne whose assemblage work was classical and heart-breaking and whose best piece was a composition of wooden doll-arms -- showed alongside "Doll Parts" singer Courtney Love, whose large, emphatically messy paintings on paper were striking enough to forestall any rock-star-turned-artist bashing you might have had planned. FredTorres.com.
9. TTOZOI at Art1307 (Naples/LA)
"Mold on canvas." That's the medium of choice for Italian artist TTOZOI, who first encourages, then eventually freezes and fixes, the growth of organic fungi on his treated canvases. Beyond the hook of his unusual process (trying so hard not to make a breaking-the-mold pun here), the resulting works embrace the kind of chaos, life-force, and geological, organic quality that painters have been chasing throughout the history of abstraction, turning ideas about natural beauty upside-down. Art1307.us.
8. James Georgopoulos at Guy Hepner
This work of manipulated photography is notable for its hilarious unphotographability. The image captured above -- like any attempt to take its picture -- exists in defiance of resemblance, as the image is designed in such a way as to resolve its pixelation when digitally photographed, and thus reveal an image mostly unseen by the naked eye. In person, the composition is barely legible though its contours suggest a cropped and foreshortened figure and its high-contrast color scheme is graphically arresting on its own. In your iPhone camera, you get a delightful bit of soft-core porn. It's a neat trick that rewards curiosity and plays with ideas about availability and exposure. JamesGeorgopoulos.org and GuyHepner.com.
7. Jason Shawn Alexander at 101/exhibit (Miami/LA)
Painter and graphic artist Jason Shawn Alexander lives in LA, but shows with this Miami-based gallery that in two weeks or so will become the newest player on the local scene, as the inauguration of its new Melrose Ave space features Alexander in a solo show of new paintings and drawings from his acclaimed work in graphic novels and artsy comics. This particular painting shows off both of those skill sets, in a recombinant picture combining his evocative facility with ink and his expansive ideas about merging figurative art with expressive abstraction. 101exhibit.com.
Up next: Nudity and body image obsession
6. Federico Uribe at now contemporary art (Miami)
Uribe's sprawling sculptural installation wins the prize for Most Fun in Show, as the gallery's entire space is given over to his trademark coterie of life-size sculptures of humans, animals, and their environments constructed mostly out of colored pencils. His ability to achieve both nuanced accuracy and emotional narrative with such an offbeat process is impressive, as his ability to achieve such a towering height of complexity and craftsmanship without sacrificing any of the light-heartedness you'd expect from a room full of monkeys and zebras. nowcontemporaryart.com.
5. Jay Stuckey at Anat Ebgi/The Company (LA)
Like most of Jay Stuckey's work, this painting is really unsettling. It's violent and kind of gory. Its draftsmanship is frenetic and anxiety-inducing. It forces the eye into constant motion with its density of small detail and eccentric, crazy-crayon lines. It's wrong, so very wrong. It's upsetting, and it only gets more so the longer you look at it. But it's also hilarious and confounding and the sort of thing you can't stop thinking about and end up becoming quite fond of, almost in spite of yourself. AnatEbgi.com.
4. Amir H. Fallah at Wendi Norris Gallery (SF)
Just plain gorgeous, this large-scale painting from L.A.-based artist and Beautiful/Decay magazine publisher Amir Fallah is notable for its academic rigor and on-trend balance of allegorical imagery and pop-inflected, geometrical abstraction. Good for San Francisco's Wendi Norris for making sure fair audiences got a taste of the kind of high/low showmanship at which contemporary L.A. painters can so excel. amirhfallah.com.
3. Michael Haussman at Young Projects Gallery (LA)
This dispatch from the ugly/sexy aesthetic wing of modern art comes courtesy of video-centric Young Projects Gallery, which presented a series of large-scale video pieces distributed throughout the fair. Considering his career as a commercial, video, and fashion editorial director, it is perhaps not surprising that Haussman would utilize both cutting-edge software and his up-close look at body-image obsession to create this super-creepy video work that transforms footage of a model jumping on a trampoline into an unsettling meditation on the effects of gravity (and by extension, the ravages of aging) on the female body. haussman.net.
2. Clayton Campbell (LA)
One of several innovative works commissioned by fair director Adam Gross, selections from artist and author Clayton Campbell's acclaimed and ever-expanding photography series "Words We Have Learned Since 9/11" were installed along the long fence/wall flanking the entrance. Regular people holding up hand-written signs with text like "Let's Roll," "Water-boarding," and other memes from the war-on-terror era creates a silent but eloquent testimony to the subtle ways in which the new era of permanent, amorphous war has changed us all. claytoncampbell.com.
Up next: A fake cafe
1. Rachel Lee Hovnanian (NYC)
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Also commissioned by the fair organizers as a public installation work, Hovnanian's remarkable Cafe was an interactive public performance installation nestled amongst gallery booths, featuring a pair of sunny, hospitable waitresses with sugar-sweet Texas accents offering coffee and a menu of free snacks to all comers. Bacon, pecan pie, and pulled pork arrived in the form of fragrant, authentically tasty jelly candies that required an adventurous spirit to consume. The entire experience was charming and a little scary, but ultimately a resounding take on the ideas of beauty, technology, authenticity, artificiality, appetite, and access that characterize the art world itself. rachelhovnanian.com.