As Mega-Galleries Descend on L.A., ALAC Warms Locals to Collecting Art
Back in 2009, Los Angeles was finding its footing in the art world. The Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) fair started on the second floor of the Pacific Design Center—humble and inauspicious. The city was emerging, up-and-coming, but certainly not a stop on the art fair circuit. It had a rich history and a promising future, but its present was less consequential.
Finally, in 2016, Los Angeles is firmly rooted in the present tense of the art world.
Now located in the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, ALAC is the next stop for collectors after Art Basel in Miami Beach. It isn’t as labyrinthine as ABMB, nor is it as much of a worldwide phenomenon. But it’s become a must-attend event for international collectors seeking work by a variety of L.A. artists, as well as Angeleno collectors who want to peruse the work of artists from around the world without having to leave their city.
The trends seen at this year’s opening night were intriguing—tons of fabric and textile-based work, like Verena Dengler’s embroidered canvases at Thomas Duncan and Laure Provost’s spectacular tapestry at MOT International; a pull towards representative painting, like Marcel van Eeden’s cake painting at Clint Roenisch or Louise Bonnet’s ’60s-style oil paintings of peculiar sad-sacks at Mier Gallery; and any abstract work to be found was very multicolored, like William J. O’Brien’s trippy plant-like paintings at Shane Campbell and Stanley Whitney’s vibrant grids at Team Gallery.
“That’s going to the Smithsonian,” a Team rep told me.
Auckland-based gallery Starkwhite also proudly crowed about a sale to an undisclosed institution of a pair of photorealistic paintings from their solo booth of works by Australian artist Michael Zavros. “We sold out the whole booth within five minutes of the fair opening,” said gallery director John McCormack. “We’d had some interest before the fair, but we closed the deals here.”
One collector caught perusing the fair was model, actress, and art collector Emily Ratajkowski. “I collect things I like, not just things that are trendy,” said Ratajkowski, who studied art at UCLA for a year prior to her fame. “Unfortunately, you see it in some of the booths, things that are just trends.” Ratajkowski, who owns work by Katherine Bernhardt and Jonas Wood, said that she is a big fan of local galleries Night and Venus (formerly Venus Over Los Angeles), and will be attending an opening for young artist Calvin Marcus at David Kordansky later in the week.
Not everyone was on the prowl to make a deal, however, as evidenced by collector and L.A.-based designer Darren Romanelli. “I haven’t bought a piece at an art fair in years,” he said. “When you buy at an art fair, it’s about the adrenaline rush. Other people are trying to buy that work. So you have to move on it. It’s impulsive, and that’s not always good. Let me tell you: The best way to do it is to walk around and make connections, get to know the gallerist and the work, and think about it.”
Fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm was spotted taking selfies in front of Henrik Eiben’s abstract works at Galerie Christian Lethert. “We’re just making the rounds,” he said as he bounded through the teeming crowds to catch up with his friend, porn star Colby Keller.
By far, the best booth of the fair was that of L.A. gallery Grice Bench, who teamed up with Blum & Poe and ROGERS for a “three-way weekend” of rotating shows orchestrated by artist Dave Muller, whose replicas of Maurizio Cattelan, Ali Subotnick, and Massimiliano Gioni’s Wrong Gallery stood for sale at $40,000 a pop. (The booth also had a suite of Roger White paintings.)
If viewers attend a combination of the shows at the different venues and get a card punched, they earn a limited-edition print of the punch card—along with a grand prize of a brand new vacuum if all nine iterations of the show are attended. “There’s only one vacuum, so act fast,” said Grice Bench rep Susan Yi.
Interesting work could be found in the new Freeways section of the fair, focused on younger galleries like London’s Evelyn Yard, L.A.’s ASHES/ASHES, and New York’s Louis B. James, who showed a solo booth of Jeremy Couillard’s excellently bugged-out videos (one via Oculus Rift goggles). “We came here just to get exposure, so we didn’t expect to sell anything,” said Alan Gutierrez, co-partner of Miami space Michael Jon Gallery. “But we did.”
The buzz around the fair was almost primarily about the transplantation of Sprüth Magers, Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel, and Maccarone, among other galleries who’ve made the move west. “L.A. is too hot,” I overheard one woman say. But ALAC director Tim Fleming doesn’t see it as a bad thing, nor does he see the fair as being as oversized as some of the fairs frequented by those new mega-galleries descending upon L.A.
“We’re still modest in size compared to some of the international fairs,” he said. “I’m not sure Los Angeles is necessarily ready for a 200-gallery contemporary art fair today. A lot of what we’re doing is getting Los Angeles acclimated to what an art fair can be, and adapting to that as we go. Our collectors have grown up with the fair.”
How are sales, by the way?
“Strong,” said Fleming. “The new galleries are telling me they’re meeting new collectors. I haven’t checked our numbers, but our parking filled up in the first hour, so I think we’re on our way to a special weekend.”