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Los Angeles, with its stubborn resistance to resemble any other city in the world, has managed, nevertheless, to win a special affection in the hearts and minds of people around the globe. Since the 1920's, L.A. has been an object of dreams, envy and easy ridicule. But during the last two decades the city's reputation has undergone dramatic changes. It's no longer easy for critics to get away with tired cultural clich-s about this city of ours. Woody Allen's old joke, that L.A.'s only cultural contribution is the right to make a turn on a red light, is not that funny anymore, (but after all, neither are his movies of the last decade).

The 1984 Olympics showcased Los Angeles in the best possible light, not only to the world, but also to Angelenos themselves, helping them to shed some insecurity about their city not being metropolitan enough. After the Olympics and its cultural festival, one thing became clear: there was a huge L.A. audience hungry for the best that art and culture have to offer. Since then, we've seen new museums being built and old museums expanded. We've become more aware of our cultural heritage, especially of the treasure trove of modernist architecture in Southern California.

There were a few setbacks too - among them the folding of the L.A. Art Fair, which was inaugurated in 1986 but fizzled out in the early 1990s. We were in the midst of the recession, which hit California especially hard, and the art market was in a sorry state. A small group of Los Angeles gallery owners decided that something had to be done. With no budget or institutional support, they created the L.A. International, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer.

To put it mildly, the L.A. International is not yet in the same league with the Venice Biennale, Basel Art Faire or NY Armory Show. What makes the event unique and endearing is its grassroots origins and democratic spirit. There is no committee deciding whom to invite and whom to reject. Local gallery owners select any foreign gallery or artist and invite them to show their art in L.A. Just think about it, instead of paying through the nose for a small booth in an overcrowded convention center, invited dealers and artists get a chance to exhibit, without payment, at the several dozens of local galleries; and not for a few days but for five weeks. Participating L.A. galleries are free to choose whomever they like, with commonsense and the demands of the market as the only guidelines.

In the upcoming "2003 Absolut - L.A. International" galleries, museums and cultural centers all across the city will participate in record numbers. Among them will be big players such as L.A. Louver, Gagosian Gallery and Ace Gallery, along with the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Pacific Asia Museum, MAK Center, Italian Culture Institute and Korean Cultural Center. In fact, this year promises the widest and best representation of international exhibitions ever. In dozens of galleries, from Pasadena and downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, there will be exhibitions of 200 invited artists' works from 30 countries including Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala; South Korea, Vietnam and China; Palestine and Israel; New Zealand and Australia, and let's not forget good old Europe.

Tonight LACMA will host the opening party for the "2003 Absolut - L.A. International" with a special viewing of "Modigliani & the Artists of Montparnasse". The opening festivities continue for three days in a row - at Bergamot Station galleries in Santa Monica on Wednesday and all around town for the rest of the week. This citywide celebration of international art and culture has come a long way, and hopefully, is here to stay.

The ABSOLUT - L.A. INTERNATIONAL
July 9 - August 16, 2003
For more information: (310) 392-8399 or (310) 315-9506
ArtsLA.org

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