Thursday, January 20, 2011

LA ART SHOW 2011, a disheartened disappointing fair

The 16th annual LA Art Show opened last night at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Thank God we did not participate.) The organizer boasted a special program on contemporary Chinese art trends. As a contemporary Chinese art specialist, I was excited until I entered the exhibition hall. The program, titled “China Today,” featured an exhibition of three unknown and uninspiring Chinese artists: Feng Feng, Qin Jin and Liu Qingyuan, slapped together by an unknown curator Hu Zhen from an unknown Chinese museum: 53 Art Museum in Guangzhou China. I wondered what the curatorial idea was and what made the fair invite such a curator without a vision. The fair, supposedly by invitation only, included more than a dozen Chinese galleries who never before showed outside China and also were hardly heard of within China, such as Cocolan Art Center, Louie Art Space, Min Gallery, Proud Gallery and See+ Gallery from Beijing, F Q Projects from Shanghai, Hao Space from Gaungdong and Phoenix Art Palace from Jiangsu Province. Like most galleries there, those Chinese galleries showed decorative art and souvenir-like objects. An unknown painter Tao Dongdong was crowned “famed” Chinese artist, who would deliver a lecture about contemporary art in China.

Not only was none of the historical and influential figures in Chinese art history presented at the LA Art Show, but also many of the works displayed were so poorly rendered, that you would mistake the fair as a flea market. To many art professionals, it was offensive to see a wealthy scandalous self-claimed Buddhist sage from Taiwan, who only began to pick up brushes in 2006, showing his amateur paintings and photographs, just because he paid a handsome fee. One can’t help but wonder who was in charge of selecting the artists and work. Does this art fair even care about art at all? Or would it accept anybody who is willing to pay to play? Do they even have any art professionals on their committee?

At the opening last night, the only presentation was given by a member from the Los Angeles city council and the general consultant of China in Los Angeles. It was opened by Viking River Cruises' advertising performance and mediated by a Los Angeles Chinese speaking local TV station. Even though the LA Art Show claims itself as the longest running fair on the West Coast, it seems to have lost its purpose and quickly transform itself to disheartened “everything goes” entertainment, gambling for money. In order for the fair to elevate itself, the organizer must have serious artists, galleries, curators and critics involve in the process of choosing and admitting exhibitors. To make LA a respected art destination, the attitude towards art has to change. A good art fair is not a swap meet. There should be a measurement for the quality of art. The quality of art and the vision of the organizer determine how attractive it is to collectors, galleries and art journalists. If merely by calling itself the best and the fabulous, and by selling tickets on travel websites and craigslist, it does nothing to guarantee a successful show but to lower itself to a level of a vulnerable street vendor. You could smell the monetary desperation in the air. The strong political engagement, or “support” as the fair called, from the city and from Chinese sponsors, was overwhelming. No doubt it was creative for the fair management to solicit funding from various sources, but unfortunately by doing so, it jeopardized the integrity of art. I doubt whether LA Art show will survive next year, but if it miraculously manages to do so, it should at least make a little effort to make sure that a “famed” artist was heard by a few people and that a sponsor “museum” was legitimate. And please, let an art fair focus on art.

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