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ART FAIR SHUFFLE: NEW VENUES ALL AROUND

by Bill Lasarow














It has become a familiar enough expectation that with January comes the well rounded Fine Art Dealers Association’s LA Art Show, and Stephen Cohen’s two well grounded specialty fairs, artLA and photoLA. So it makes perfect sense that City Hall decided to designate the first month of the year Los Angeles Art Month.

This first go round it’s probably most accurate to think of it as L.A. Art Fair Month, but down the road a ways perhaps the name will stick and January will take on the feel of a citywide festival. We’ll settle for the fact that entering their eighteenth (photoLA), fourteenth (LA Art Show), and fifth (artLA) years, that Art Fair Month has come to fit like a comfortable shoe.

That all three fairs shift venues for 2009 has, unfortunately, become a source of anxiety rather than a show of strength. At the time contracts by FADA with the Convention Center were signed in early 2007 it was all about growth. The LA Art Show thus graduates from Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar, where the galleries were bursting the seams. Timed with the L.A. Live development just coming online across the street, LA Art Show Director Kim Martindale had to feel good about the prospect that Angelinos would be willing to check it out--even scaredy cat West Siders--and tourists would flock to occupy all of the new hotel rooms. Meanwhile, both artLA and photoLA, which host perhaps half the number of exhibitors, just slid over to the Barker Hangar from their previous Santa Monica Civic Auditorium digs.

Then a gathering recession and the September 15th financial crash scrambled all expectations. The show must go on, but to what effect?  The international art market boomed over the last decade boosted, in good measure, by the rise of surprising new centers like Shanghai and Dubai, and an international Art Fair calendar that no longer has any empty months.  Local galleries who had groused for years that they could never survive here without the support of out-of-town collectors began to feel that L.A., never a leader in the larger art market, was at last positioned to be a player.

So here we are at 2009 and all bets are off. At least the global economy is hardly discriminating against the art world or Los Angeles; the pain is nearly universal. And there is hope, rightly or over-optimistically, that with the coming new Age of Obama that both economic reinvigoration and a broad foundation of cultural engagement may be at hand. Points out Martindale, “. . .one of the biggest dangers is really not being out there in the public eye during this time.” OK everyone, grit your teeth, and make sure that the Show Must Go On. The hope is that by 2010 the worst will be a thing of the past, and such matters as the repositioning of the Art Fairs and the establishment of L.A. Art Month can begin to look like a winning hand.

So this year, even if you can’t go downtown or to the Barker Hangar to buy, you can go simply to enjoy (please don’t feel guilty), to share in the hope, and to take the measure of an art world whose maturity will for now be measured by creative will and persistence more than, well, a swagger and arrogance that perhaps needed to be brought down a notch or two.  Art, after all, is that form of escapism which shakes us up.