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by Marlena Donohue and Bill Lasarow

(L.A. International, Citywide) Hoping to mitigate our dispersed art ghettos and the downfall of the standard art faire--i.e., numbers of rows of exhibitor booths on one floor under numbing indoor lights--a gaggle of Santa Monica and Venice dealers came up with the first L.A. International in 1993. The fourth biennial event has developed to include more than 65 host galleries with guest artists and galleries from two dozen countries, an expected 70,000 visitors, and enthusiastic support from nearly every major local museum. All of the major art rags are carrying ads, a 160-page full-color catalogue is being produced, four docent-assisted bus tours of L.A. International venues are scheduled during the four Saturdays of the run, there’s a Web site for info and virtual viewing (, and a telephone hot line detailing events. You’ve got the makings of a lasting, if rompingly uneven municipal institution.

The L.A. and Santa Monica City Councils apparently think so too. The L.A. International has been designated the kickoff event for an eighteen-month long Los Angeles Millennium Celebration of art and culture. Co-chairs Robert Berman and William Turner have been hired to help insitute many of the event vehicles--art buses, Web site--already set in motion by the L.A. International.

The real question: Does this in fact do anything substantial to advance local and international arts, or is it just the puffery of some special interests? “I don’t think the typical bottom line business model is effective in answering that question. It is a non-profit event, and every sponsor cent is used for producing and publicizing it. I don’t know how much business is done or not done, but I do know that benefits are intangible, long term, invaluable. Like the impact of opening up multinational dialogues on art, like the contacts made between dealers, museums, visiting scholars and consulates,” says Turner.

Tomoko Takahashi, “Tool Box Sculpture.
Accordion or Normal Patience
(Solitaire),” mixed media, 50 cm x
60 cm x 120 cm, 1999.
Host gallery, Grant Selwyn.

Pol Bury, “Perspective avec 17
volumes et 20 boules,”
91 x 74 x 13 cm, 1997.
Host gallery, Louis Stern Fine Arts.
Guest gallery, Galerie Louis Carré & Cie.

Pierre Alechinsky,
info to come

Judith Hoffberg also provides
a special report from Poland.

In the end, you can write all the press releases, drop all the catch phrases, but the proof of the pudding is in the art. Curatorial oversight has been, to say the least, minimalist, so the range of quality and effort is historically unpredictable, though the inevitable rewards promise to be many and substantial if the first three Interna-tionals can be used as a yardstick. There will be artists of great stature and experience who are very rarely seen in any depth here--Pierre Alechinsky (at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts), Pol Bury (at Louis Stern Fine Arts) and Costas Varotsos (at Tobey C. Moss Gallery--see preview) to name just a few. True host/guest gallery relationships occasionally emerge in the midst of the the planning process. New discoveries are there to be made, not just of European and Japanese, but Indian and African artists contributing to a thoroughly variegated visual stew.

A cross-section of the exhibitions on view can loosely be described as conceptual pluralism: multi media, cross media, anything-goes type formats, complete with diligent references to deconstruction of standard approaches to the art object, to gender and nationality--ideas we’ve been watching percolate in L.A. at least since Chris Burden shut himself in a locker at UC Irvine and Cal Arts became the bastion of art vs. non-art ideas over twenty-five years back. That is not to suggest that we Yanks have got it right and everyone else is just catching on, but it does confirm that the contemporary evaluation of what we regard as art is carried on globally, at times intelligently and with excellence, at others vapidly and with mediocrity.

What holds the International back from emerging as a truly world class art event is that too many galleries are unable or unwilling to make a powerful statement with the show they host. Some of the most prominent participants simply do not put out, showing artists they already represent who just happen to not be Americans, or just flat out staging a minor show that disappoints the expectations that we hold for them.

More tragically, some shows stretch the means of the host too far, with consequences for the individual gallery. It’s a shame that a willing gallery that takes a risk is essentially on their own if, say, last minute logistical difficulties threaten to capsize a promising exhibition. The host and the guest galleries are essentially on their own. Hopefully the International can progress to where it will be possible to demand commitment to a serious effort on the part of all participants, and to protect them from mishaps as well.

True to the spirit of a festival, in addition to the staging of exhibitions there are also plenty of opportunities to mix it up with fellow fans and to hear the takes of the pros at the numerous openings, panels, and tours over the course of the month.

With our coverage in this issue we’ve tried to encapsulate some of the flavor and scope of this ambitious and innovative festival alternative to the old-fashioned art faire. First there is a sampling of some of the most promising shows coming up in a group of articles and capsules. Following that is a special report from the field, by Judith Hoffberg, on an aesthetic junket through Europe during May and June (the International Art Critics Association, AICA, held its annual conference in Poland). Her encounters with various institutions and individuals making vital contributions to the visual arts field are not only good stories, but help place local efforts to participate in the international marketplace of ideas in context.