Art Basil LA 2016: A Greener Alternative to the Big-Ticket Art Fair
By Jennifer Susan Jones
Both prestigious and exclusive, Art Basel – with its three art fairs in Basel, Hong Kong, and Miami Beach – claims to offer visitors the “most important art from international, world-renowned artists,” and booths run in the six-figure range for the full week. But fellow artists, let’s be realistic; that price tag sounds as hefty as an elephant doing overtime in a weight room, and you can’t even afford a plane ticket to Vegas, much less Miami!
Before you give up your hopes of gallery representation, and set your paint brushes down for good, consider a humbler and more affordable alternative to the gigantic art fairs of the world. It’s called Art Basil LA, and it’s green, completely original, and practically in your own backyard.
Art Basil, which had its maiden exhibition last year, is a diminutive, down-to-earth (no pun intended) art fair created and hosted by John Kilduff, AKA Mr. Let’s Paint. John, a Los Angeles performance artist (whose recent performance included painting while running on a treadmill) created Art Basil to help promote the artist friends in his network. “Not every artist has the opportunity to show their work,” John stated. By curating Art Basil, “I am playing the game of being an art fair director.”
Last year, John’s backyard was peppered – or should I say “basiled” – with booths representing artists and galleries primarily within his Facebook friend network, including galleries from Canada, New York, St Louis, and Wisconsin. However, after the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Art Basil last year word spread, and this year’s Art Basil boasted an impressive fifty booths including two from Canada, two from London, and one – a simple ear of corn on a stake – from Mexico City.
The booths, which are best viewed from a kneeling position, consist of anything from computer-printed photos of artwork cut out and pasted to the corrugated plastic walls, to original oil paintings and tiny sculptures. “An art residency from Palm Springs bought this Barbie swimming pool on Amazon and had it sent to me. I filled the pool and they came yesterday to set the rest of the booth up,” John said, gesturing to the plastic toy nestled within the walls of its booth. In another space, well-known contemporary Los Angeles artist Jeffrey Vallance created a miniature version of his current and full size mixed media exhibit for Art Basil. The model is an exact replica of his ‘Now More Than Ever’ show which is currently on exhibit at Edward Cella Art & Architecture on La Cienega in LA.
Art Basil is an open call for artists and galleries and John welcomed the various submissions he received, including political art. “I heard this story about a group of political artists slated to exhibit their anti-Trump work at a high profile art fair just prior to the election,” John stated. “The fair reneged on them after Trump was elected for fear the work would be cause a negative backlash. I didn’t want that to happen here. You want to put some anti-Trump stuff in here that’s fine.”
One of the booth owners exhibiting at Art Basil was Jack Bangerter of Garbage Jungle Gallery. Jack, who was on location hanging with John at the time of the interview, exhibited his own work last year but this year chose to represent other artists in his gallery’s booth: photographer Mackenzie Goodman, whose pictures lined the booth’s walls, and installation artist Katie Thoma who had built an original mosaic walkway and sculpture on the little gallery floor.
There was a bit of everything decorating the white, foam board booths at Art Basil 2016: tiny, gray, painted headstones of the Valley’s Ghostie Gallery; an eight-inch illuminated lighthouse – a mockup of a real project multi-media artist Daniel Hawkins is undertaking in the Mojave Desert; and original works by abstract artist Kristine Augustyn, painted on tiny canvases. To play up the name and add color to the space, John added three inch tall basil plants to some of the display spaces – an appropriate addition which felt symbolic of his “grassroots” efforts.
All of the exhibiting artists had work that was for sale, and visitors could contact them if any work was of interest. Business cards were stacked neatly on a table near the side entrance to the backyard, and at the close of the show John dutifully mails back any artwork the creator would like returned.
Around fifty people attended the opening of Art Basil LA, and they stayed and hung out even after the alcohol supply ran dry. It was a show that was realistic and accessible; it was intimate and charming, and it successfully brought together fifty artists and showcased their work in a low-key and creative format reminiscent of school science fairs and dioramas. It’s the exhibit you feel so good about attending that you want to gather it all up in your arms and give it a long and enthusiastic hug.
Art Basil ran December 1st through the 4th, 2016, in the Van Nuys, California backyard of ‘Mr. Let’s Paint,’ John Kilduff.