“It fulfilled a need I had,” said John Baldessari last Saturday night. The 82-year-old art icon was sitting onstage at downtown's flamboyantly ornate United Artists Theater, just renovated by the adjoining, newly opened Ace Hotel. He was on a panel sponsored by L.A. non-profit ForYourArt and New York-based Surface Magazine and part of the spree of art fair related events held last weekend. Next to him sat L.A. artist Meg Cranston and, next to her, Swiss curator-critic-historian Hans Ulrich Obrist. The theater would have been at capacity if not for people who left early, apparently not understanding what they had RSVP'd for (one woman who slipped out thought it was silly Baldessari put dots over people's faces, something he did in one of his better-known series).

The “need” Baldessari referred to was behind his food-meets-current-events series. A general food fetish seemed to him to be growing in proportion to the awfulness of conflicts and events in the world at large. So he'd put images from newspapers next to names of fancy dishes, like “fennel raviou with Scottish langoustines.”

“Maybe we just need to eat more,” he said Saturday. He also talked about walking through Soho on acid with artist Robert Smithson, teaching in SoCal and the difference between Nixon and Einstein. No one asked specifically him about being an L.A. artist, however, noteworthy only because people so often have.

The Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) fair weekend always coincides with the launch of something ambitious. In 2012, it coincided with the launch of the Pacific Standard Time performance festival, all about SoCal performance art history. Last year, it coincided with the launch of Ceci N'est Pas, a multi-month series of events and exhibitions featuring Paris artists in L.A. Both these initiatives felt boosterish, very much about underscoring the fact that L.A. has a history and international fan base. But a major art city continually reminding everyone it's major is sort of like Jack Nicholson going around telling everyone he's a big deal actor – anyone who cares already knows.

This year, ALAC, which ran at Santa Monica's Barker Hangar from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2, coincided with the official launch of the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, art press offices and France-Los Angeles non-profit that will all operate out of Francois Ghebaly Gallery's new downtown complex. It also coincided with the second annual L.A. Art Book Fair and Paramount L.A., a pop-up fair held on a movie set ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains that may or may not return next year. The weekend felt solidly international enough to make boosterism beside the point. ]
The book fair, held at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary, included about 250 international art presses or other publishers, mostly from the U.S. and Europe. As John Baldessari put it Saturday, books are “art anybody can own,” and almost everyone squeezing through the crowd, looking at vintage catalogues or artist-made zines, felt like a participant, not a spectator.

The lounge at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.; Credit: Stefanie Keegan/Getty Images

The lounge at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.; Credit: Stefanie Keegan/Getty Images

At the hangar, while some of the biggest local galleries (Blum & Poe, Matthew Marks, Regen Projects) were missing, half of the exhibitors present came from places other than New York and L.A. This means you might see a booth featuring a young L.A. program – like Hollywood-based, months-old Tif Sigfried gallery – not far from more established Standard Gallery from Oslo. Tim Fleming, who directs the fair, has said repeatedly that he's aiming for this kind of diversity.

Paramount L.A., a fair announced only three weeks ago and hosted at the ranch that Paramount Studios bought in 1927 – more recently, it was used Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman –  had at least as much diversity. Nine of the twenty-nine exhibitors, who set up shop in general stores or above the saloon, were from L.A. Most were from Europe, like Milan's Fluxia gallery, which showed paintings by Alfred Boman that looked like fantastic tapestries against rugged wood walls. People came dressed in cowboy boots and hung out on wooden porches.

Outside the Saloon at the Paramount L.A. fair.; Credit: Catherine Wagley

Outside the Saloon at the Paramount L.A. fair.; Credit: Catherine Wagley

The organizers, artists Liz Craft and Pentti Monkkonen, who run Venice-based Paradise Garage, and Alex Freedman and Robbi Fitzpatrick, who started Freedman Fitzpatrick gallery in Hollywood last year, invited people they knew, who liked the idea of coming to Los Angeles and could afford to, given that the organizers kept costs way below those of a typical fair. “They had no idea what it was going to be like. They were expecting a smaller number of galleries,” says Freedman, about the reactions of the exhibitors when they arrived last week. “No one has every been able to do this,” meaning that fairs haven't been able to bring together this caliber and span of international galleries and alt spaces in such a DIY way. “It was received incredibly well.”

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