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Taking on the Armory

Rejection is hard to take, but artists are used to it — dealers, after all, toss aside their slides as if they were swatting flies. But recently, with the immense popularity of art fairs, the tables have turned for many dealers, who get spurned on a regular basis. One of the biggest fairs is the Armory Show in New York, and many L.A. gallerists feel they are increasingly being squeezed out.

This year, a group of L.A. dealers have had enough. They’ve organized their own show — called L.A. Art — in New York the same days as the Armory Show, March 9-13. Wayne Blank, of Shoshana Wayne Gallery and the organizer of the show, says the bias against L.A. dealers left them with no choice. “Absolutely, Los Angeles is underrepresented.”

The Armory Show is touted as “The International Fair of New Art” but the numbers do seem to tell a story: Of the 154 exhibitors, 54 are from New York — and only 11 Los Angeles galleries made the cut. Those in: Blum & Poe, China Art Objects, Black Dragon, Marc Foxx, Anna Helwing, David Kordansky, Patrick Painter, peres projects, Richard Telles Fine Art, Michael Kohn Gallery and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles.

Blank says that’s not enough. “L.A. happens to be one of the great art cities in the world. We have the five major art schools here, with tremendous young artists and great faculty. We have lots of great people here who show with New York dealers. So the dealers don’t need the competition from the West Coast. They’re very reluctant, very competitive and they don’t support our being [at the Armory Show].”

But Katelijne De Backer, the director of Armory since 1999, begs to differ. She assures me that there is no acrimony or competition with West Coast dealers, and she appears baffled by the suggestion that Los Angeles galleries may have been slighted. “I don’t think [L.A.] is underrepresented. L.A. Art focuses on L.A. Our job is to showcase the world. I think they are two completely different goals.”

De Backer insists that the Armory’s selection process is based on the art itself. “The last thing we do is look at where the art comes from. It’s not like we say, ‘Oh, we need so many from here,’ so they pick the art and then decide on what the galleries are going to bring or represent. We don’t have a number set in advance.”

It’s true, the Armory selection committee looks like the United Nations of the art world — Milan, London, Paris, Zurich and New York. And with more than 500 applications for the 150 slots, there’s a lot of weeding out to do. But Blank says he knows better. He’s served on those committees before and says, in the end, it’s who you know. “It’s more subjective at the Armory. [Armory honchos] Matthew Marks and Paul Morris would certainly have a major, major input.”

If Marc Selwyn agrees, he’s not saying so publicly. The L.A. Art gallerist stresses that the show is not about retaliation, noting that most of the other participating galleries did not even apply to the Armory this year. “What’s interesting about [L.A. Art] is that it was an idea in the air with a lot of people and it came together as a group effort.”

L.A. Art will be held at the Altman Building, which is closer to the ?Chelsea arts district than piers 90 ?and 92, where the Armory Show is. ?There will be 16 galleries in all, including such top names as Rosamund Felson, ACME, Roberts & Tilton, Sandroni Rey, Angles, Richard Heller, and Daniel Weinberg. And a free shuttle service will provide transportation back and forth ?to the Armory.

“All these committees, all these fairs, there are always some political issues — fairness is relative,” says Anna Helwing, on the phone from a fair in Spain. “It’s a general problem, who gets in and who doesn’t — you could apply that to every fair in the world.”

Spencer Brownstone is a New York dealer who has had a booth in the Armory Show since it began in 1999. “It gets better and better every year,” he says. As for this L.A. thing, he doesn’t quite understand what the fuss is all about. After all, he says, the fair is in New York.


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