Friday, January 11, 2008

Photo LA 2008

Last night FBC! a.k.a the diminutive orange mushroom attended the kickoff of Photo LA, which was great fun!
As far as art fairs go, that one was nice because it wasn't horribly crowded, people seemed much more relaxed, and there were some nice things to see. FBC! was a bit out of her element so the amount of things to see felt overwhelming. So as seasoned art world veterans, my friend and I headed directly to the food/bar space to regroup around some vodka cocktails and donated catered food before hitting the aisles. We were quickly joined by other art world friends and acquaintances.
Just to dispel buffet etiquette misconceptions, I'd like to explain to my non-artworld readers (Hi Annie, Jonathan and Mike!) that the people who hit the buffet first in this kind of event are the pros: most of us are usually coming straight from work an have no other opportunities to get dinner later in the evening (we have to schmooze), so if we want to get nourishment of the non-visual, non-mind-elevating kind, that's the moment to do it. Therefore it is not tacky for you to do the same. Feel free to join next tie you're attending!
By common consent we agreed that the best food was from Chaya, as for the sweets it was an even draw between Milk (citrus soda floats, very refreshing) and Susina mini tarts and peanut-butter thingies.

Thus sustained we headed back to the galleries. What I really like about photo is, well, I know very little about it and I often find myself in the position of the uninitiated. It's very refreshing and humbling to find oneself in the position of the normal public, not really knowing how to make choices. Since usually the curator/critic role is to pass judgment, and discriminate based on one's intimate knowledge of art history and current issues, finding oneself somewhat naked without our usual critical tools and crutches was very exciting. My friend (who is a 19th century European art specialist herself) was very attracted to whatever looked the most contemporary, in a spectacular way, whereas I found myself in the reactionary role, liking either classic photo masters or being drawn to anonymous but tending toward the abstract photographs.

There were lots of classics, from Julius Shulman who was being honored at the gala, to Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Harry Callahan, some classic Edward Weston (sexy eggplants), Andre Kertesz, etc. There were some galleries from LA, like Stephen Cohen, Craig Krull or Ace (creepy enormous portraits of bodybuilders by Martin Schoeller), one gallery from Vancouver that showed stuff I didn't like, but I failed to see they had work by Scott McFarland (an acquaintance and also friend of my pal Daniel), an enormous display of Jill Greenberg (again, creepy) shown by ClampArt from NYC.
My friend really liked Julia Blackmon, presented by photo-eye Gallery. I didn't, leaning more toard the classics, as I said. There were some truly fashionable, in the worst sense of the term, giant pictures by David LaChapelle , which always makes me feel like fashion photographers should remain in their own domain (and the same goes for Inez van Lamsweerde and Wolfgang Tillmans), and some fashionable-from-7-years-ago-pictures by Massimo Vitali.
Remember Vitali? Well, if you wonder, the photos looked exactly the same as they did 7 years ago. It's like imagining a Vanessa Beecroft retrospective. Would you like to attend one? Exactly.
There was a contingent of soft-core, erotic photographs here and there (does B&W makes them more tasteful? In many cases, not really). Lots of Chinese photography too, or, subtle distinction, photographies taken in China, including some very good ones of traditional houses being demolished in Shanghai, right next to brand new skyscrappers (I don't recall the name of the artist, sorry!).

FBC! was delighted in all the cool and cheap things you can get in the bins. As I was mentioning yesterday when speaking about prints, the cool thing about art fairs like this is you can find totally affordable *real art* to put on your walls. It's usually in the bins, not on the walls, but even on the walls you had vintage prints by well-known, classic photographers that were affordable in contrast to the contemporary art market.
Of course, there's a distinction between vintage prints, later prints, posthumous prints, unique prints and editions, and the notoriety of the artist varies greatly. You also have vernacular photography, with one gallery specializing in the stuff (with categorizations along traditional lines such as portrait, landscape, etc. and subdivisions like street scenes, beach scenes, etc.).
Some of it is pretty generic, some other have for sole virtue to be *antique*, some is derivative, but all in all if you decide to spend a bit of money on something interesting to put on your walls, this type of even is for you. Plus, it's usually pre-matted in standard formats, so all you have to do is get, say, an IKEA cheapo frame, and voilĂ ! some nice photos to grace your walls and make your life generally fuller. Or so I hope!

FBC! is on a budget herself, what with having to find a job and all that, so I nobly refrained from buying stuff, but if you buy what I've spotted yourself I'd be happy to know the photos found a good home. You can also decide to donate it to me, say for my B-Day!
In the bins of the Etherton Gallery from Tucson, Arizona (a totally unpronouncable place name for my Frenchy self) I saw an anonymous aerial photo of WWI trenches that looked like a semi-abstract scar on a pockmarked skin, for only $750. Of course it's impossible to imagine this having a future added value, but it is a beautiful picture. There were also, in another gallery that showed antique salt prints, a series of 19th century Greek and Roman ruins (Paestum, Pompei) by someone who actually was a well-known photographer but whose name I cannot recall (I blame Absolut vodka for my memory lapses), for as low as $300.
Somewhere else I saw 3 prints by a Polish (?) artist whose first name is Camille. It represented some birds on a telephone line, somewhat overexposed, almost abstract to the point of resembling sheet music. I was told it may be derivative of Graciela Iturbide, whose show at the Getty I haven't seen. Derivative or not, they were part of an edition, and each sold in the $750-$850 range, though you probably want all 3 of them to get some effect. I've also spotted somewhere else (not in the bins) some pictures by Mickey Pallas which I liked, representing a couple of gun owners. It was probably Arbus-derivative, but quite good nonetheless.

All in all, it felt like a fun event, where we ran in nice people including the always delightful Peter Frank who I mention because he totally impressed me by speaking fluent German to my friend. In addition to his perfect French! It was really cool to make (admittedly, minor) discoveries and feel like a collector, with so many things being totally affordable for you and I. As far as giving a panorama of current photography practices, it's hard to say, as I'm not particularly well-versed in that domain. So tune in to Charlotte Cotton's-initiated website and go to the Saturday series of talks at Photo LA, which is free, to have a better idea. For nourishment before or after, there's the Spitfire Grill which serves good breakfast and Typhoon (fusion, but also for the adventruous, bugs as appetizers, eeeeewwww,) at the Santa Monica airport, or you can go get ramen at Santouka.
Have fun!

Pictures above; Peter Frank speaking German, Art people eating, Photo LA galleries, One Photo LA visitor

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