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Who's the Fairest of Them All?
Three upcoming L.A. art fairs

There are various theories explaining the amazing explosion of the art scene in the last couple of decades, among them relative prosperity and newly available free time, both of which could be spent enjoying art. In the United States, Europe and Asia we've seen an unprecedented rush in the building of new museums and in the expansion of old ones. Meanwhile, hundreds of professional art schools are churning out thousands upon thousands of young hopefuls whose still-wet, not completely dried out, masterpieces are eagerly sought after by ambitious gallery dealers. Every big city, and seemingly every country, creates its own annual or biannual art fair extravaganza. Huge crowds show up for such events. Museum directors and curators fly in with groups of private collectors to assess the latest crop of hot talent. A lot of money (and I mean a LOT) changes hands.

Here in L.A. we certainly have our share of new museums and excellent professional art schools. What we don't have is a successful art fair. Even Miami got ahead of us with the tremendously successful Miami-Basel Art Fair, initiated three years ago by the smart folks who run the most prestigious European art fair: the one in Basel, Switzerland. In the late 80's and early 90's it looked like we might have a chance at our own international art fair at the L.A. Convention Center, but in the weak economy of the time, the poor darling never had a chance. So, it limped along for awhile then finally keeled over. Therefore I am glad to see an attempt to revive this tradition, albeit on a smaller scale. In January we will have not one but three different fairs for art lovers.

Photo L.A. is the one I'm most familiar with, and am rather comfortable to recommend as a not-to-be-missed event. It opens in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on January 20 and brings together about one hundred dealers specializing in modern and contemporary photography. In the last 14 years, Photo L.A. has grown into an impressive and well-organized showcase of the art of photography, meant not only for aficionados but also for the mere curious.

Meanwhile at LACMA, there is another installment of the L.A. Fine Print Fair, opening on January 21. It will present the old masters, as well as modern and contemporary prints so you'll have your chance to peruse, to touch and to bargain over the purchase of a Rembrandt, Matisse, or Lichtenstein.

The latest kid on the block is the New L.A. Art Fair for Contemporary Art, which opens on January 27, also in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It covers a much wider territory than the other two, by featuring paintings, sculpture, video and digital art, as well as site-specific installations. The success of this, or of any other art fair, ultimately depends on the strict criteria applied to the selection of the participating galleries, and the caliber of the art they present. So buyers beware. As Calvin Tomkins wrote in a recent article for The New Yorker: "Art (in the 1980's) could be anything at all--Anyone with a video camera could be a performance artist, carrying out activities which required neither practice nor skill, and anyone with a degree in art history could make conceptual art. Stoned on 'Andy Warhol's showmanship' and Jeff Koon's high end pornography, young artists everywhere were searching for the right shtick. Some of the new work was brilliant, but the sheer proliferation of self-indulgence could make you weep." With this in mind, let's go there and have some fun.

Photo L.A.
January 20-23
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
1855 Main Street
Santa Monica
323-937-5525

Los Angeles Fine Print Fair 2005
January 21-23
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
LACMA West Building, 5th Floor Penthouse
6067 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles
323-857-6558

Art LA
The Los Angeles Art Fair for Contemporary and New Art
January 27-30
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
1855 Main Street
Santa Monica
323-937-5525

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