The Velvet Buzzsaw references fly during this year’s art week, spearheaded by Art Los Angeles Contemporary’s (ALAC) and running between February 13 and 17. The cheesy yet incisive horror-parody of the blue chip gallery world coincides with the city’s first Frieze fair at Paramount Pictures on Melrose Avenue. Here the flimsy separation between artist and celebrity collapses under the airy pressure of Paul McArthy’s monumental inflatable ketchup bottle, looming large over the high-rise building façade of the studio backlot. There’s a queue for the elevator to The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel rooftop for the inaugural Felix Art Fair and its grotesque of a penthouse exhibition. Another out-of-towner, Spring/Break sets up shop in an old produce distribution warehouse downtown with little regard for the raging gentrification debate. Tickets are $25 and there’s parking two blocks down at the old salmon-pink American Apparel factory-cum-commercial redevelopment in the infamous Skid Row, now rebranded Row.
You can trace the volatile sociopolitical landscape of Los Angeles with these pins on a Google Map, along with the art-washing scenes of hipsters vaping poolside, while rumours circulate over who owns the lease for a certain DTLA depot. The uneasy feeling of demoralizing inevitability reaches as far as the Barker Hangar multi-purpose venue in the Santa Monica Airport, where ALAC is enjoying its 10th edition in the comforting space of a city that was. It’s a treacherous drive west in another unusual downpour but the parking is free and easy to find. There’s conversation inside around the rain, what to eat and the omnipresent threat of a bigger international art fair (“Frieze is Frieze”). Invigilators dress down and talk about Curb Your Enthusiasm. An antique market across the road seizes an opportunity by charging $15 for parking and announcing “MORE ART HERE” for the unaware. An ALAC attendant shakes his head and shrugs, “they’re just piggy-backing on it.”
While a Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin sculpture at Frieze bears an uncanny resemblance to the murderous animatronic artwork in Velvet Buzzsaw called ‘Hoboman’ – ALAC cuts closer to the heart of a long-overlooked Los Angeles art scene. It’s one that is foundational to the art capital interests now drawn to a city better known for its entertainment industry, while tragically being most at risk of becoming extinguished by those very interests. Here, the set up is comparatively rugged but there’s a DIY dynamism that’s more vital, less formalized and the most authentically Californian than any of the other art fairs.
The amusing display of West Coast singularity comes in the Bohemian domestic space set up of San Francisco’s Ever Gold Projects, that includes Mieke Marple’s Art World Tarot illustrations framed above the furniture and Lazaros’ magical jars of Astral Oracles lined up along the carpet. The Indian classical music of California transplant Ravi Shankar plays in the background, while the gallery’s friendly owner lounges within this colorful tableau of a faded Bay Area culture. Dylan Spaysky’s foam-carved fawn sculpture resembling Disney’s Bambi of Highland Park’s AWHRHWAR cuts closer to Los Angeles pop surrealism, as does Brian Rochefort’s gloopy gaudy stoneware at Odd Ark LA. Culver City’s Klowden Mann presents some potent expressionist paintings by Morgan Mandalay who was also curator of San Diego’s nomadic gallery and ‘pop-up canopy’ SPF15.
Reaching outside of California State lines are other small spaces showing emerging art from the margins. At North Little Rock’s Good Weather booth, there’s Matt Siegle’s stack of readymades – a microwave tipped on its side, Starbuck’s coffee can precariously placed on its open door. Erin Jane Nelson’s delicate resin and pigment print mementos dot the white partition of Chicago’s Document. Internationally, Emilio Bianchic’s acrylic nail series at Buenos Aires’ UV Estudios is possibly the most exciting new discovery, between the video of the artist painting his nails on a roller coaster and a large-scale photo of a hirsute arm impersonating a foot in a stiletto heel. There’s Isaac Lythgoe’s wall hung dragon lamp and Urara Tsuchiya’s glazed stoneware orgies at London’s Union Pacific.
One’s own complicity, as part of an expanding globalized art scene is felt most acutely when Instagram-ing a jacket, price list in hand, depicting the artist Amalia Ulman from London’s Arcadia Missa. It hangs above a couch near the snack bar, as part of the ALAC ‘Salon’ called The Academy. Other art works featured, include a coffee table ashtray fountain by Lindsay Lawson from Lisa Kandlhofer, a Paul Rouphail painting care of Smart Objects and a ready made urinal and cactus assemblage by Juliette Blightman courtesy of O-Town House. Nearby, the whirr of a coffee machine is blocked out by the deafening sound of propellers as a dual rotor helicopter hovers into view through the Barker Hangar windows. It comes as a timely reminder of the endurance and adaptability of a city, within an art fair that is a Los Angeles institution.**