“What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art; art is the gap.” ~ Marcel Duchamp
“I try to work in the gap between art and life.” ~ Robert Rauschenberg
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
Twenty years ago, when the LA Art Fair at the Convention Center was the only game in town, it was worth the trip to see galleries from around the world. One never knew what new artist or gallery one might discover. With the explosion of fairs, from Superfine at the Reef to Springbreak in DTLA, Frieze at Paramount and the print folks and book -sellers camping out in Pasadena — to name some — opening from last week to this week, the competition for both galleries, artists and visitors is fierce.
The LA Art Fair has always been crammed check to jowl with galleries in a labyrinthian maze that only a minotaur could successfully navigate. Even with a map it is a dizzying experience. Opening night was filled with free food and drink, the occasional festively dressed Cirque du Soleil acrobat on stilts roaming about and Miss Art World posing in her multi-tiered multi-colored wedding cake of a dress as a preview for her performance later in the week, entitled “Diversity Walks and Talks.” Black clad young women from the PSJM Collective of the Canary Islands dressed as hostesses were roaming around trying to engage people to answer their questionnaire. Their performance was entitled “There Could Be A Monster Inside Of You.” In the catalog, this group describes themselves as a “brand,” thus “appropriating the procedures and strategies of advanced capitalism…” Their intent was to “startle” viewers and cause “reflection.” I ran into one of them but was neither startled nor prone to reflection. Oh, well. Best laid plans!
The spaces were grouped as follows: CORE, EUROPEAN PAVILION, DESIGN, WORKS ON PAPER, PROJECT SPACE, MEDIA, ROOTS and FASHION. I must admit, somewhat guiltily, that I wholeheartedly enjoyed Sue Wong’s elaborately embellished gowns under the banner of “Beauty-Magic-Transformation.” These reminded me of the marvelous sculptures that Lezley Saar has on display at The Walter Maciel Gallery!
REQUIUM AND REVIVAL is a large calligraphic piece by Japanese artist Chiba Sogen in the Exhibition section that transcribes newspaper reports of The Great Japanese Earthquake of seven years ago. It is a meditative piece even though the actual content is not readily available to the non-Japanese. The barefoot artist himself did a beautiful performance where he worked with enormous brushes to create a simply elegant work on paper set out on the floor of the gallery.
In the section entitled DIVERSEartLA, there was a pyramid of paintings by the gregarious and prolific LA artist Gronk, celebrating the work he does as a set designer with Peter Sellars. The catalog states “During the run of the LA Art show, Gronk will be painting on a full-size mock up of a theatrical stage, providing visitors with a behind-the-curtain view of his art practice…” Sounds interesting, but was not in progress the two times I went to the fair.
Viktor Freso of Slovakia created the enormous phalanx of shiny, white pouty sculptures, their scrunched-up adult faces plunked down on toddler bodies. Entitled “INSTALLATION BIRTH OF NIEMAND,” — the word “niemand” translates to nobody, no one or no man — is according to the catalog trying to “represent a whole range of negative emotions that people try to hide in their lives.” What it is constructed of is not listed anywhere but it certainly is a paean to peevishness.
Most of the engaging artwork on display seemed to be either work of historical significance or art that referenced the history of art. At Ukiyo-e-Project gallery, which presents work in the Edo-period style, modern illustrators work with the few remaining wood carvers and printers to create fusion works in the manner of Masami Teraoka, who pioneered the mashup of traditional 19th century Japanese prints with American pop culture. Seeing work by Egon Schiele, whose drawings look as fresh and daring now as they did over 100 years ago, and Gustav Klimpt is a pleasure that never fades. Coagula Curatorial had a quiet but lovely grouping of work by Chouinard alums in a tribute to Nelbert Chouinard, who founded the important art school named after her. In a surprise, one of the figurative works was a watercolor by Light and Space artist Robert Irwin (who destroyed his early works) of palm trees swaying in the breeze from 1952. Zeal House had a few early Yayoi Kusama’s, among them a small, painted silver shoe stuffed with banana shaped phalluses. Speaking of bananas, there is a recent Mel Ramos sculpture on a light box of a Playboy-type nude rising out of a three dimensional banana next to a real banana taped to the wall in honor of the Maurizio Cattelan piece that sold for $150,000 and spawned countless memes.
The Rehs gallery had some spectacular work by Mitsuru Watanabe that marries the past and the present by referencing French artist Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream,” or borrowing figures from Hieronymous Bosch in incredible detail.
A few of the contemporary artists were using materials in an innovative way, such as Marcellina Akpojotor of Nigeria, whose figures were both painted and composed of bunched up fabric. Junsuke Yokoyama at S.E.A. gallery, whose playful pyramids had a mouth, an ear, or an eye in them, reminded us that the dead cannot speak see or be heard, were composed of paper, clay and polyvinyl chlorides.
At Coagula Curatorial, was the poignant quilted work of artist Lavialle Campbell that relates to her illnesses and her resilience.
Most of the galleries just jammed the work into tight space, jumbling up different styles, and denying the works of art the space to be seen. There seemed to be lots of shiny objects, literally and figuratively. The work seemed eminently forgettable or very derivative and was disappointing. For the most part it seemed so generic it became, sadly, the Ikea of art fairs. One can only hope that next year will be better and will provide work that takes risks, work that is willing to fall in the gap between art and life.