Two days should have been enough to cover FOCUS LA at Art Toronto. Blame interruptions by well-meaning friends, lazy feet, and occasionally getting lost in the art fair weeds. Ferreting out all the pieces to the Santi Vernetti-curated LA Project Series: And the Sky is Grey would have been great. What I did manage, was spend some time with the eight FOCUS LA participating galleries, and snatch about half the panel discussion LA Talk: Beyond the Hype. My own familiarity with LA art scene begins to thin out somewhat in the middle of the 2010 decade. So much has happened in Los Angeles since. What I managed to glean was merely a core sample of a vital, if not explosively dynamic arts community.
Santi Vernetti, Curator of FOCUS: Los Angeles said, “The best thing about LA are the artist-run galleries. Hundreds of artists are moving here. These artist-run spaces are often extensions of the schools, such as Cal Arts. LA is welcoming. There are spaces here. With the shifting geography of the city’s cultural landscape the lack of funding for re-development is a problem, however. While a dozen major international galleries may set up here, there is a lack of dialogue with the community.” He sees the lack of support and funding as a crisis, not only in Los Angeles, but across the U.S.
Gallery director Stefano di Paola studied art history at University of Southern California with an interest in academics and research. He likes working in a gallery because he gets to work directly with the artist and their work. Every six weeks there is something new. It is Anat Ebgi’s first time at Art Toronto. They were invited by curator Santi Vernetti to come here. It turns out that Stefano and Santi were at college together in different programs. The gallery brought Montreal artist Magalie Guérin here as a way of introducing her to collectors and curators here.
BBQLA describes itself as a migrating installation, rather than a gallery. Conceived by Timo Fahler, Thomas Linder, and Adam Beris, who went to school together in Kansas City, they host BBQ’s that might be attended by 200 people. “The Gallery” evolved, 2-1/2 years ago from back yard and shed, to a temporary studio space, with BBQ’s of course. It was, and is, very casual. Timo Fahler said, “It’s been great. We’ve sold work.” I spoke with BBQLA artist, Daniel Gibson, who describes his performance as doing a public service, a spirituality. He invited me to take part. This turned out to be Cee-lo, a gambling game with three dice. First throw, I rolled a perfect 4-5-6, winning the bank.
Club PrCo Los Angeles
Kyle Roberts of Club Pro Los Angeles said, “There is so much art happening in Los Angeles, that there is tension, artists making work and trying to fit with the politics. It’s a mixture of dog shit and lavender.” Sitting with Kyle was artist, Adam Stamp who created the working bar at Art Toronto, called Sorry’s. I tested it out. It serves wine like any other bar. Adam is a bit disappointed that people don’t get that it’s art.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
Luis De Jesus represents three Canadian artists, so he decided to come to Art Toronto. He was part of the Speaker Series Power Talks, FOCUS: Los Angeles: Beyond the Hype. His gallery is located in the Culver City gallery district, a new gallery area where there were previously no galleries. The change occurred after Chinatown as a gallery district began to decline, with the departure of Perez Projects for instance. The ebb and flow of culture in urban areas has become a sensitive community issue. De Jesus maintains that it’s not the artists and galleries that are driving gentrification, it’s the developers.
ltd los angeles
Gallery owner Shirley Morales of ltd Los Angeles was away in Dallas when I stopped by the booth. I spoke, however, with Kendra Popelas who said, “It’s been very successful. We sold three of John Edmonds’silk prints to the AGO. TD Bank bought five of Esmaa Mohamoud’s basketballs. Her work is about masculinity and race, particularly as they relate to athleticism.”
Meredith Bayse operates the gallery with partner Adam Moskowitz in Hollywood. She noted, “The Melrose/LaBrea gallery district of Los Angeles emerged when post production in film went digital and these great spaces became available.” Adam admits that it was risk to bring only one artist to the fair, but said, “It was worth for us to be here. There have been some sales.” The artist, Kim Shoen was part of the FOCUS Los Angeles panel. She brought up the fact that a lot artist-run galleries are apartment galleries, as well as store fronts and garages. Her empty book works have an analogy to the city of Los Angeles as a site, spaces where things could take place, emptiness as possibility. She was surprised that issue didn’t crop up during the panel discussion.
Davida Nemeroff of Night Gallery is from Toronto, but moved to Los Angeles eight years ago, opening her gallery after six months. She represents mainly L.A. artists. Her gallery is located in the downtown warehouse district. She said, “People are really drawn to the work. FOCUS LA has given momentum and interest in LA galleries.”
Gallerist Rick Royale wanted to show an aesthetic through-line between four different artists at display at Art Toronto. Their only similarity is that they have lived and worked in Los Angeles for about ten years. He set out to expose a formal connection to surface, colour, and light, aspects associated with the geography of Los Angeles.
FLOAT Museum, a future-facing virtual institution from Kate Parsons, was part of the FOCUS LA Project series.
Text and photo: Steve Rockwell