Art Los Angeles Contemporary Debuts With VIP Preview

John Sciulli/Getty Images for Art Los Angeles Contemporary
Stefan Simchowitz (left) and Tim Fleming

The annual art fair kicked off on Wednesday night at Santa Monica's Barker Hanger.

Amid new-found international attention on Los Angeles’ art world  — triggered by the arrival of Frieze Los Angeles and Felix L.A. Art Fair — Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) celebrates its 10th anniversary by welcoming both old and new audiences at the Barker Hangar.

Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) opened its doors this Wednesday at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, displaying artwork from 80 emerging and international exhibitors to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

ALAC, which will be in town until Sunday, has primarily been the city’s lone surviving art fair throughout its 10-year history. However, when Frieze, an international art fair brand announced its plans to exhibit in Los Angeles this same week — as well as the smaller Felix L.A. art fair housed in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — the larger art world began to shift more attention to Los Angeles and subsequently, ALAC.

Tim Fleming, the founder, and director of Art Contemporary Los Angeles spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about ALAC’s evolution throughout its 10-year history.

“I wish I could say something more inventive, but it’s really been about staying the course and keeping to the recipe. You can try things in L.A. and if it works great. If it does not, you can take a turn and try something else. I think fewer eyes were on us — in a critical way — than, say, if you had a fair in New York or folks trying to do Miami in those days of everyone launching fairs in Miami. I don’t really want to call it a wild west, but it just had not really been done quite as we do it — ever,” said Fleming. “We really try to have the collector meet the international gallery coming or the New Yorker. The local galleries that take part really are hosting the whole team. The growth really has been expanding our base in L.A. We’ve really been getting to know them and that we’re all learning and enjoying this together. Because the L.A. art scene is just wild.”

This year’s fair also features two new sections — The Academy, an exhibit of solo offerings from International galleries curated by Claudia Rech and Movable Types, a slate of literary works from independent publishers put together by Francis Horn.

However, Fleming believes the fair’s unique “L.A.” spirit will endure this year as the show remains “very dedicated to showing some of the best galleries from Los Angeles area,” with “emerging galleries and emerging programs married to more established programs.”

“There’s a youthful spirit to the fair, but the younger galleries benefit from the collector base from the older, more established galleries,” Fleming told THR. “It's really all the characters from L.A. from Stefan Simchowitz to some celebrity elements to major collectors from New York and Europe and Latin America. They come and have gotten to know us over the years. We have a real loyal collector base and it’s fun watching this kind of unfold.”

While many attendees of ALAC attributed Los Angeles’ recent art world growth to it being an "artist’s city,” local art collector, Stefan Simchowitz, disagreed. Issues like rising rent and land-use issues, which he attributed to problems of zoning, have caused Los Angeles to become less appealing as a site for art production.

“I don’t believe the city as a, particularly interesting city as a center of cultural production. It’s a city that’s interesting because of its network of people that can help market and distribute art. It doesn’t have to be a center of production. That’s the big mistake people have because people are very regional,” Simchowitz told THR. “They want to think our region dominates production. We have great artists working here. It’s not about that. It’s about the city as being a crucible that facilitates cultural conversation, discussion, and marketing. It doesn’t mean it has to be a center of production.”

Simchowitz went on to use Los Angeles as an example to criticize the art system as a whole:

“The art system is built on an art fair system, on a biennial system, that forces artists not to build studio practices but to hobnob with curators and writers all the time, instead of focusing on their studio practices. They want to live in Los Angeles because they want to have the notion of conversation, instead of studio practice,” Simchowitz said. “That is one of the failures of the contemporary art system. You have a system of conversation of basically academized bullshit that is sort of proliferated institutionalized by these magazines — all of these fancy things that you read and that you don’t understand. So, I think that rising rents are a problem of capacity, but I think that its a structural problem for the city altogether.”

Other attendees were more optimistic about the current mechanisms of Los Angeles’ art world.

Diane Allen, a renowned collector of art and owner of 23rd Street Jewelers, sees ALAC as L.A.’s more accessible and affordable art fair.

“This is my 10th year of coming to my local fair. It’s very accessible and does not have to be an all-day commitment — although I have made it an all-day commitment ending at the bar in the back with friends. I know a lot of the gallery owners, so it's interesting to see who is showing. A lot of the international artists that I didn’t know I’ve looked at today — a lot of Parisians,” said Allen. “It’s intimate. It's the size of it. It's the accessibility of the art. It’s at a price point that is more affordable. This is like a friendly art fair. Its more local and low-key.”

Allen sees the recent growth in the Los Angeles art world as a response to recent politics: “My summation of what’s happening in the art world: politics is disgusting and boring. The art world is alive and youthful and exciting and forward-thinking.”