If art in L.A. is important to you, then this past weekend was a doozy. The proliferation of gallery and museum exhibitions associated with the mammoth Pacific Standard Time project, which opened to great fanfare between Thursday and Monday nights, would have been more than enough to overstimulate even the most Type-A culturati.
But as if that weren't enough, this weekend also saw the arrival of three and a half art fairs: Pulse, Fountain, Art Platform, and ARTRA/Co-Lab (that's the half, since it was nested inside Platform), each taking up residence in various parts of the art-world's current sweetheart, downtown.
Pulse has consistently been my personal favorite among the clusters of sub-fairs that pop up around major fairs like the Armory in New York City and Basel in Miami. They offer a progressive, experimental, installation-heavy, and artist-friendly experience; they are the cool kids, but in a good way.
The thing is, in Miami the Pulse offerings are less hysterical and superficial than much of what goes on down there; while in New York City they are a breezy dose of fresh air and a good romp compared to the estimable but traditional centerpiece of the Armory brand.
But with the Armory people, who were behind the inaugural Art Platform fair, making a concerted effort to garner early support among the local contemporary gallery class, deliberately skewing young and hip to get the attention of non-L.A. participants, this time, it was all but impossible to tell the two apart. As to whether that translated into heft in terms of L.A.'s international reputation and/or sales, opinions and spin are plentiful and ambiguous.
What follows is a merely small selection of some of the most interesting images and experiences taken from most of the places I went between Thursday and Monday. It's far from comprehensive, for reasons of space and clarity. There was a certain amount of cross-over between Pacific Standard Time-related projects, artists and galleries with presences at the various fairs.
A lot of what was on people's minds had to do with the mythology of the local collector base in L.A. It's a widely known but little understood phenomenon that collectors here frequently fly to NYC to buy the work of L.A. artists from the galleries there, rather than from the local galleries or studios here at home. I know, it's weird, but there it is.
A lot of people were attracted to Art Platform and Pulse because their organizations' impeccable New York City pedigrees were expected to keep some of that currency circulating locally. It didn't really work. Though many reported solid sales (when do they not?) it was mostly to familiar customers.
I skipped Fountain because a) I've never liked it among the New York City fair cluster each spring and had no reason to believe it would be better here, and b) early and subsequent reports coming back confirmed this instinct. Seems like it was especially centered on the party-night experience, and aside from fatigue, that was the night of the kick-ass three hour DJ set by Henry Rollins at the MOCA members' opening for Under the Big Black Sun as well as the combined after-parties for the Pulse and Platform fairs at the Standard, so that was kind of that. I think I did the right thing.
One of the liveliest and most popular of the fair components was the ARTRA Co/Lab independent curatorial project downstairs from Platform at the L.A. Mart building. Free spaces were offered to artists and collectives, who, liberated from the need to sell, were encouraged to install crazy shit in their open spaces, further unencumbered by the grid system of aisles and booths. It was really fun down there, especially at the Artillery and Epson video lounges curated by Paul Young, whose rotating programs were some of the most memorable art on offer despite video being notoriously hard to sell.
Outside of the fairs but strategically timed and located to coincide with them were exhibitions including Interchange at a disco on the site of the old Stock Exchange starring a major painting by Jim Shaw; Avant-LA, a pop-up project presenting a Mat Gleason-curated group of ten artists who operate without gallery representation; and 5.Lite presented by Merry Karnowsky, an installation of new and classic works by five of the most respected artists from the old Cool School guard, all of whom showed light-based works in a row of empty storefronts in a slightly gritty neighborhood. All three were wild successes.
Meanwhile, back at the main events, crowds were thick and plentiful even on Monday afternoon. As usual, the highlights were the more dramatic installations as opposed to the trade-convention vibe that often attends even the best-curated art fairs.
Perhaps the most salient of these was the Okay Mountain rooftop installation presented by Mark Moore Gallery for Pulse. It looked like a really fun playground from a distance, but up close you realize it's hard to get into and you might end up getting hurt.
It remains to be seen whether the international and national presence will have been significant enough to overcome the intractable collecting practices that can plague even our best galleries. But they built it, and the crowds came, so it seems likely that we'll see a return engagement next year — without the bonus distractions of PST to factor in, it could be even bigger and better.