Art Los Angeles Contemporary this year had terrific energy and featured a lot of interesting, high quality work. It continues to surprise me, however, given that L.A. now houses one of the world’s more dynamic art scenes, being replete with artists of national and international reputation, galleries showing exciting and important work and a growing collector base, that this, the city’s preeminent fair focused on current work, which is now in its 7th year, has remained so modest in scale. It is by no means just a local affair, as the galleries indicated below will testify, but I anticipate that in the coming years this fair will greatly expand its scope and become a magnet for collectors worldwide. Soon, the major New York galleries that have thus far avoided the fair may well seek presence. The selection of artists and artworks that I highlight and/or illustrate here represent an admittedly quirky range, being works that struck me for any number of reasons (some of which I will attempt to articulate).
Beginning with LA-based galleries, the handsome, formally controlled abstract paintings by Nick Aguayo at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects attest to this gallerist’s unfailing eye. The David Kordansky Gallery’s booth was devoted to a series of recent works by Matthew Brannon consisting of paintings in a mid-century modern graphic style of president’s desks from the Vietnam War era and of seemingly casual, towel bar assemblages, all of which were at once politically-pointed, nostalgia-laden, funny and smart. I found Kirsten Everberg’s large-scale painting of a modernist house at 1301 PE stunning in its execution (realistic depiction meets painterly lushness). Catherine Wagner’s photographic diptych at Gallery Luisotti, based in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, was clean, precise and of subtle beauty, leading me to look further at the work of this San Francisco artist.
The New York gallery Team presented a work from Cory Arcangel’s recent Photoshop Gradient Series (images both of the work and of the title, which documents the process of its making, are illustrated here). While potentially easy to reproduce in multiple, each piece in the series is unique. Although Arcangel is based in New York, the color scheme evokes a California winter sunset. The intellectually controlled, but sensuous photographs of books taken on end by Erica Baum in which fragments of texts intermingle with images, shown at the booth of Bureau Gallery, look back to photo-based, feminist, Pictures Generation work, while being utterly fresh and captivating.
Also looking wholly current, but actually dating to the early 1980s, were a series of small-scale Polacolor photographs by Barbara Kasten exhibited at the booth of Kadel Willborn of Dusseldorf. These early works were shown in tandem with much larger digital photographs of abstract studio set-ups (in Kasten’s characteristic Constructivist mode) made by the artist in the last two years. As an art historian who has often concentrated on American art circa 1960, among the greatest delights of the fair was my encounter with a collection of marvelous recent paintings by Jack Youngerman. Youngerman is now in his early 90s, but still going strong, as the abstractions shown by the Galerie Herve Bize, based in Nancy (France), witness. Among the first and most prominent exhibitions of Youngerman’s work was Dorothy Miller’s groundbreaking Sixteen Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959, which also featured work by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Nevelson, Richard Stainkiewicz, Jay DeFeo and others. Together with such artists as Stella, Kelly, Al Held, Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, Youngerman was a leading figure in Post-Painterly Abstraction. The new paintings shown at Art Los Angeles Contemporary demonstrate that while the artist has moved to symmetrical structures, he has maintained the sensuous stroking–a certain quality of touch–that was seen in his earlier works (and is not visible in reproductions).
Art Los Angeles Contemporary, however, is a fair that focuses on cutting edge work by emerging artists and a special, albeit tiny, section in the back entitled Freeways featured booths devoted to young galleries featuring new work by young artists. Among these were Toronto-based Cooper Cole, which presented energetic ripped canvas abstractions by Zoe Barcza and the London gallery Evelyn Yard which showed a few intriguing pieces (I was drawn to the seascapes in which paint cans suggest portholes and celestial orbs) by Conor Backman. Also worthy of note were a few nearby tables hosted by independent art book publishers, among them Siglio Press, which had books by Sophie Calle and a new volume devoted to poems and other work by Marcel Broodthaers.
Finally, a stunning new painting by Despina Stokou shown at the booth of New York’s Derek Eller Gallery deserves mention. It is an exuberant, multilayered work by an artist who recently relocated from Berlin to L.A. While its title parenthetically refers to Brazil, the flora and quality of light are very SoCal.