by Bill Lasarow

After the first biennial L.A. International (since Absolut is the primary donor/sponsor, the exact appelation is the Absolut L.A. International. Vodka, anyone?) two questions have hovered over the prospective, now imminent second festival: can the fifty-plus participating galleries attract enough meaty art from abroad for the time spent taking it all in to be worthwhile? And, will this make L.A. more of an international crossroads for art during the intervening season? Or are we getting leavings, with only the occasional museum rent-a-show keeping us connected the rest of the time?

Writing before the fact means that it's not up to us to offer an answer--that's really up to you to determine over the course of July and August.

But it can only provoke a real feeling of anticpation to see so many galleries and museums throwing in. It's comforting to see some long familiar names--Lucio Fontana, Howard Hodgkin, José Luis Cuevas, Daniel Buren to name a few--being featured, to have at least one multi-venue exhibition project that promises exceptional depth ("Booster Up: Dutch Courage" at Cirrus, LASCA, Angels Gate, Post, and the Laguna Museum), and to scope a fistful of other shows that appear quite promising--a month in advance at least.

So go hit the openings, panels, brunches and all starting July 9th. It should be interesting, disorienting, at times exhilharating, at times disappointing. Oh, and you might drag out your Fromer's Guide or do that Berlitz course before you head for the rues and strasses of L.A.

Among the fifty plus featured exhibitions, Newspace Gallery (Hollywood) offers a group of three German artists (all born after World War II), L.A. Louver Gallery (Venice) features the artist who will represent Germany in this year's Venice Biennale, and Stephen Cohen Gallery (West Hollywood) presents a French artist's installation created for the occasion of the L.A. International.


Katharina Sieverding,
"Stauffenberg- Block XII", photograph, diptych,
79 x 49", 1969.


Ange Leccia, Untitled, from "Project
for L.A.", cibachrome, 24 x 30", 1997.

Jutta Koether, "Soulpack,"
o/c, 27 x 27, 1997.
Photo courtesy Pat Hearn
Gallery, New York.

At Stephen Cohen, Ange Leccia arranges common objects to play with scale and the indoors/outdoors aspect of the exhibition space. Color photographs preserve earlier installations, such as Je veux ce que je veux (I want what I want), in which two Yamaha motorcycles face and touch as though kissing. The exhibition will also include a video projection, Summer '67.

National and personal identity informed by the burden of history are central to the group of large photographic diptychs by Czech-born Katharina Sieverding at L.A. Louver. Taken from a single series dating from 1969, her Stauffenberg Blocks are diptych self-portraits that are altered to make the gender, let alone the personal identity, of the artist unclear. The Stauffenberg of the title refers to the wartime German general who narrowly failed in his attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944 (he was executed without trial). By offering her generalized self-portrait under this man's name Sieverding poignantly deals with the tension between resolve and resignation. Done 28 years ago, these may be the most historical selection of images offered in this year's International.

The varied aesthetic means and postures assumed by Thomas Emde, Isabell Heimerdinger and Jutta Koether stem from host Newspace Gallery's desire to "discover connections between the idiosyncratic visions of these artists and the California phenomenon." Koether is a painter who derives her subjects out of her work as a music and culture journalist. Heimerdinger's digital photographs are beautiful but disquieting still lifes. Emde exhibits an installation in which paintings done in flourescent and phosphorescent pigments are exposed to light--but it's not like the neat psychedelic and blacklight posters you used to hang in your room when you were a teenager.

Traditionally the Summer is the off-season in the art world. For the second time, the L.A. International proves that it is the best time for us to encounter foreign art and artists en masse rather than piecemeal, and take something of a measure of the global state of contemporary art without having to leave Los Angeles.