Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Few Words and Pictures from the LA Art Show

Untitled/Doug Thielscher
I attended the Los Angeles Art Show last month, courtesy of a sculptor friend, Doug Thielscher, who was represented by The McLoughlin Gallery of San Francisco. I was relieved in hindsight to have entered through the early California Impressionists and western landscape painters like Edgar Payne and Maynard Dixon, since I had less than two hours to spend amongst roughly 100 booths spread over 175,000 square feet (i.e., ~6 football fields full of art and “art”).

Looking at art – really looking – is exhausting. An hour was enough to see some stunning landscapes and gorgeous figures and florals, and I spent the second hour wandering through the show, alternately enjoying and being repulsed.

With 50,000 people attending over 4 days, the crowd was as diverse as the art, which ranged from $600 to $600,000.  Vendors included 33 “historical and traditional,” and 58 “modern and contemporary,” from the U.S. and Asia (Japan, Korean, 9 from China), South America (Venezuela), and Europe (Italy, France, Russia), and the United Kingdom (including Canada and 6 or more from Britain).

Edgar Payne in the Sierra Nevada.

John Gamble's poppies are prolific in paintings.
The California impressionists are popular; the concentration of people – and red dots - in the booths from William Karges Gallery/Carmel and George Stern Fine Art/West Hollywood and others was certainly greater than at more cutting edge booths. While I appreciate some modern work, it feels as if some people currently known as “artists” are trying too hard to be provocative and not trying hard enough to figure out if they have anything meaningful to say. Brand names were on display, like vinyl Gucci emblems with handcuffs and mirrors and Chanel logos behind an array of old prescription lenses. Really? Someone needs to dive deeper if the depths are still that shallow.  

Word Art (photo from LA Art Show website)
According to the Los Angeles Times, LA gallerist Jack Rutberg noted that “besides documenting the importance of the written word to the LA art scene, the show aimed to comment on the self-concept of the only major city he can think of that commonly goes by its initials alone.” Is that profound? Or is it shallow – in which case perhaps it’s perfect for LA, although he’s forgetting NOLA, which is another perfect moniker (No LA), given how different New Orleans and Los Angeles are; but I digress. Maybe the word art got to me after all.
This may invoke heartbreak for a
4-year old, but is it artistic?
Steven Diamant, owner of Arcadia Gallery in New York, was also quoted in the Times, saying “most of the tastemaking critics and curators have a need to find something new, and as far as they're concerned, representational painting is not new, regardless of its skill and impact. . . It seems that representational painting has to be disturbing or ugly to be taken seriously.”
Arcadia, known for its contemporary, representational (and neither disturbing nor ugly) art, had pieces at the show from $3,000 to $70,000 and expected to exceed show sales of 23 pieces in 2012. The Times noted that after showing for years in the "historic/traditional" section, Diamant moved Arcadia into the "modern/contemporary" section, “hoping to make a statement that his kind of art deserves the contemporary realm's respect.” Clearly buyers are showing some respect, even if critics aren’t. I wondered about that “contemporary/traditional” split, so he cleared that up for me – it’s arbitrary.
Oh, and Damien Hirst had a hologram of the diamond encrusted skull that he bought from himself, and a few dot paintings, looking flat and shallow and sort of, well, just right for LA.

These dots remind me of candy. Or Katy Perry.