Art Los Angeles Contemporary, LA Art Book Fair, and Paramount Ranch Los Angeles

Andrew Berardini

February 2, 2015
Art Los Angeles Contemporary
LA Art Book Fair, Los Angeles
Paramount Ranch, Los Angeles

No one intended it to begin with assfucking and passed out hippies. But there it was.

Past freeways of traffic and a phalanx of security guards, I stepped into Art Los Angeles Contemporary (or the acronymical ALAC) last Thursday night and glanced to my right to see Milavepa, a 1966 painting by Duane Zaloudek at Rome’s Monitor, with which solid smooth planes of color depict in geometric abstraction a plump pink ass getting penetrated with a perfect white rod. On the floor in front of it lay a Paul Thek-ish sculpture of a fucked-up hippie by Nathaniel Mellors (Fallen Neanderthal with Boxed Visions, 2015), his shaggy head encased in a plexiglass box. Irreverent and a bit dark, weird and desirous, a little bohemian but hardly downbeat, injected with its own special feeling of togetherness. In other words, the vibe of Los Angeles amidst its threesome of fairs: ALAC, the LA Art Book Fair, and Paramount Ranch.

ALAC served as the most classic of the trio. Classic as in a large, semi-anonymous space with booths and carpets, cleanly apportioned and seriously wrought but hardly unique. The glaze of white booths and industrial carpet aside, there were certainly more than a few artworks that firecrackered. At Paris’s Praz-Delavallade, Ry Rocklen’s diaphanous ceramic sculptures of folded shirts (Sign, 2014, and Wrinkle FX, 2015) and a half-deflated globe (Globowl, 2014) had all the sad and gentle beauty of ordinary objects that the artist imbues with the extraordinary when he gilds, combines, or recreates them. Untitled Still Life (DETAIL FROM ‘BLACK CAPE’ WITH PEN TEST/BLUE SHEILD(SIC)) (2015), a swatch of an imagined splattery studio wall by Amanda Ross-Ho at Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, revealed with grace how ranging inspirations messily wrestle with the punishing process of creation. A series of drawings of mutating tongues (Lick, 2004) by Ragnar Kjartansson at i8 of Reykjavik reminded me why this was certainly my favorite gallery in a city I’ve only dreamed of visiting. And Michael Berryhill’s smeary landscape Corral (2015) at Kansas Gallery, New York, felt wholly at home in the psychedelic California of the mind.

After a few hours, I left ALAC to drive east to the MOCA at Geffen Contemporary Downtown to catch the opening of the third edition of Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair. With over 300 exhibitors from 21 countries and at least 18 American states, the Book Fair was the most diverse, inclusive, cacophonous, crowded, and overwhelmingly delightful of all the weekend’s fairishness. Every random stop or run-in hid something astonishing: Rick Myers’s tracing the movements of eyes over an image with ice skates into a black, painted hockey rink in Drawing With Removed Subject, 2011; a just-published collection of Allan Kaprow’s posters edited by Alice Dusapin and Christophe Daviet-Thery with contributions by Steve Roden and Oscar Tuazon; Cammie Staros’s take on the Endless Column at Colpa Press with riso prints of stacked vases bound together in a handmade book, each copy coming with unique curvy column of wood with painted ends (I bought one of In the Round, 2015, so should 19 more of you).

I could have spent all weekend only here, happily wandering from table to table, astonished by how many rich and varying publications can be made and then affordably possessed. By Sunday when I briefly returned for a fourth visit, more than a few tables were bare and nearly sold out. And if you’d showed up at the right moment, you might have caught John Wiese and Thurston Moore jamming noise on the steps outside.

On Saturday, I drove an hour from downtown to the countryside just on the edge of the sprawling metropolis for the second edition of Paramount Ranch. The local galleries Freedman Fitzpatrick and Paradise Garage conceived of the fair at an old movie ranch now owned by the National Park Service and after a successful first year, the two galleries expanded their invite list to 54 exhibitors including commercial galleries, non-profits, and alternative spaces, with a program of 19 performances and installations listed on the hand-drawn photocopied map passed out at the gate with the five-dollar admission (nearly one-fifth the cost of admission at ALAC, whilst the book fair was free except for its opening night).

Surrounded by lush green hills and past an official sign discouraging pot-smoking, the sunstroked ranch’s convivial atmosphere, goofy sets (the jail, the saloon, the stable), and idyllic weather made the whole affair feel like a hot, punky, western summer camp for weirdo intellectuals and frisky aestheticists.

The LA Free Music Society joyfully clattered at Los Angeles’s The Box, around the corner from another stage where a poetry reading was backdropped with paintings by Richard Hawkins and friends (Hawkins also had a sweet suite of paintings at Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, in ALAC), between which walked a crowd holding up letters made from what looked like metal poles in a performance by UNITED BROTHERS and Karl Holmqvist. Just a few feet away was what could only be called a most fetching mystical non-booth by Paris’s independent project space Shanaynay. Hoping to get a teepee that didn’t pan out, Shanaynay’s organizers spread their collection of spiritual objects by eight artists (including Adrien Genty’s Sculptures (MASTER IS ABSURD), 2012–15, and Signe Rose’s Diamond dancer mobile, 2013), both ramshackle and refined, on a patch of concrete behind the picnic tables using, in one case, a set of wooden barrels for plinths.

Two of my other favorite “booths” were organized by alternative projects in stalls in the stable. Their horse doors eased open in the light breeze and the dust kicked up below foot with every step, both of which added to the strange beauty of Martin Soto Climent’s heteronym Iris Shady’s warped white plaster faces with green plastic bags pulled through their eyes (all Untitled, 2015). Presented by Mexico City’s Lulu, they hung against the stable wall with the alluring chill of metaphysical dread. I stood for an uncomfortably long time in the booth of Los Angeles’s Artist Curated Projects, glancing from a series of four lyrical cut-outs by MPA (Blood Bowl, Flag, Flag, and Universe. Possibly, all 2015) to a small sculpture by Kelly Akashi of polychromatic pooled wax, a mold of the artist’s disembodied hand in the center (31, 2015). A teenage goth’s shabby romanticism or a fleshy hold-over of Breton or Bellmer, this simple, disturbing, and sensual object gave me the same mixed, profound emotions I get from Mike Kelley’s More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin (1987).

Like Shanaynay, neither Lulu or ACP are traditional galleries. The first is a project space run by an artist, Climent, and a curator, Chris Sharp,1 that sells these donated artworks to support their program, while the other is solely run by practicing artists, spearheaded and often run out of the apartment of Eve Fowler. Both offer heartening alternatives to traditional ways of showing, sharing, and even selling art, just like the odd art fair that housed them.

Paramount Ranch offers one model of how an art fair can be better than a boothy convention-center showroom, that our values as a community are not wholly driven by retail, but by an elusive feeling that maybe we actually are a community with enough creativity to gather in a more interesting way than your conventional conventioneers. The bucolic landscape and the aged movie set provided a unique backdrop to this singular event, but it is hardly the only model possible and as our practices evolve, I await with anticipation what novel approaches other galleries, artists, and curators are going to come up with out in the world.

By the late afternoon with the hot sun cooling with winds off the sea, I found it hard to tear myself away. But a few miles down the road, through fields of coastal sage, down a rickety metal staircase, and along a long tide-pooled beach next to the swirling geology of cliffs carved by wind and water, there was a sunset that needed watching with a bottle of cheap white wine. Call it corny romance, a hometown bias, or just the quasi-countercultural proclivities for more democratic alternatives to the conventional modes of operation, I don’t care. From the beach at Point Dume, it looked to me like California does it better.


Ed.’s note: Chris Sharp is also a Contributing Editor to art-agenda.


Andrew Berardini is a writer in Los Angeles.

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