Paris Photo at Paramount Studios, Los Angeles
Let’s face facts: art fairs are entertainment. They provide an opportunity for the mildly culturally curious to scan and peruse 40-80 galleries which trot out their chosen best. All under one roof. Art fairs are pop up malls of the visual culture world. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are pretentious, expensive and self congratulatory. Some try for a raw, young and rough veneer, which they believe to be proof of authenticity. Some just look needy from the start.
On the entertainment basis, Paris Photo Los Angeles was a game changer. The venue made for one of the most pleasant art fair experiences ever. Most art malls are mounted under one roof, mostly a convention center or civic auditorium. The most recent physical incarnation has been the outsized tent, which lends an air of revival meeting circa 1952. Paris Photo settled into the sound stages and fake streets of the Paramount Studios like a bespoke glove. Three large ceilinged sound stages became the familiar milieu of rows of booths. But visitors had to walk (something foreign enough to Angelinos) from one site to another. And on these walks visitors got a chance to amble the mock streets of the venerable studio. Turn a corner and you were in a Greenwich Village street with brownstones and stoops. Another corner offered an erstwhile Chicago street scape and in each area photo dealers, exhibitions and bookshops occupied the stores.
Couple this thematic art mall with the brilliant sunshine and moderate temps of Los Angeles and you get a user friendly entertainment for the aesthetically minded. The vernissage even sported theatrical lights beaming down the warm glow of 20k fernels. Artifice meet Art. Art, Artifice.
The art in question and on display neither exceeded the expectations nor fell far below. The usual suspects were mostly on display, always with room for a few new discoveries. And as with any fair that is medium specific (really only Photography carries the dubious mantle of media exclusivity) the greatest pleasures often lie in historical material. Here then a few highlights.
Man Ray is still da man!
Gallerie 1900Δ2000 Paris offered a uncommon opportunity to see a bevy of vintage prints each a jewel from the man who wielded photography with innovation, wit and daring. Double exposures, solarizations, unexpected compositions and artistic collaborations with a peer group of surrealists and founders of Dada were all on display. Man Ray didn’t think as a photographer. He used and experimented with photography as a tool of creation and interpretation. Several pieces are routed in genres of the nude, still life and portrait but while their origin may be tradition, his Midas touch of transformation left tradition choking on the dust of his fertile “anything is possible” imagination.
Abstraction is different than Abstract!
It’s always such a welcome moment when you see more of an artist’s work and like it even more than you did before. Such was the feeling when encountering the lyrical art of Allison Rossiter at Yossi Milo Gallery. Rossiter is an artist of the highest caliber. She combines the intellectual rigor of a Sol Lewitt with the organic charm of an Elsworth Kelly. And in an environment of art fairs where people gravitate to art that shouts and screams for attention, Rossiter’s intimately scaled works are whispers that draw you in for further investigation and dialogue.
Made with expired silver gelatin papers anywhere from ten to 70 years old, Rossiter exposes and paints with developer letting the forms unapologetically appear. For a medium that is almost indivisible from the shackles of depiction and referent, she coaxes form that is wholly abstract. But our eyes read forms as adobe structures, pyramids, skyscrapers and leaves. We can’t help ourselves. But the pleasures of truly abstract art are undeniable. There are so few who have the chutzpah. She gets my vote as inheritor of the mantle of Malevich and Reinhart.
Fissures in the provincial nature of the photo world.
Photo fairs were notoriously slow to include either digital methods or video in their comfort zones of provinciality. Digital origins or manufacturing limped in and video is still eyed with a suspicion. The fine art world has neither hesitation nor disdain for the new. Thankfully there are a few video artists on the art fair horizon that create work that demands the medium’s kinetic elements. We should all be thankful for Cherry/Martin gallery for vigorously supporting the work of Brian Bress. I was fortunate enough to see Bress’ one-man exhibition at the gallery in Culver City last fall. Bress has a dark wit, which he pairs with high key lighted surrealism. No doubt, the Gee Whizz factor is there, which often can fade into a chorus of Patsy Cline’s “Is that all there is?” but there’s subversive and thoughtful content that shines as resonance long after the vertically placed wide screen has been unplugged. He understands that video art has to work both on an episodic, 20-second encounter and on the long (for him the 20 minute loop) form landscape. Bress also understands that humor can be an on-ramp for both attention and curiosity. But a Henny Youngman joke is good for a giggle but I’d venture to guess that hanging Henny on my wall would get old fast. This last malaise is the death nell for most video based work. Bress avoids any of these trappings while delivering sophisticated technological wizardry with compositional and content acumen that resonates with the impact of any narrative painting master.
The fair that allows and encourages an exhale.
If seeing art, booth after booth, wall after over hung wall is an experience of visual inhaling then Paris Photo in its new LA incarnation has mastered a built in exhale. I know no one who can continue to inhale endlessly. After a while, it all becomes white noise. With the physical layout of the fair spread over stages and streets, visitors had a chance to exhale; sip a coffee in the sun and chat about their favorites with fellow art enthusiasts; strike up conversations about either art or the relative merits of sliders versus turkey focaccia sandwiches with strangers and wing men alike. Paris Photo has managed a paradigm shift that might be hard to replicate elsewhere but has, in the process, set a new high water mark for the very concept of what an art fair can be.
In this regard, much has been made that Paris Photo chose Los Angeles as their first non-Parisian branded version. The standard line has been what a gift to LA it has been that Paris photo is here but I’d like to venture that it’s LA’s gift to Paris Photo.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, April 27th, 2013