The "Los Angeles International" made it painfully clear that if the "global village" Marshall McLuhan fantasized about had indeed arrived, the utopia that was supposed to accompany the delirious, unending transmission of information somehow got lost in transit. Caught between their desire to import the best the art world had to offer, and the futility of financing such a grand and suddenly outdated endeavor, the organizers of the "International" created an interesting and important event that, despite its shortcomings, has the potential to develop into an exciting biannual invitational--if its organizers come to terms with what they are doing, more sharply define their goals, and learn from the mistakes they made this year.
Staged as an art fair without a center, "The International" took place simultaneously in more than 40 galleries across Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Venice, and included art from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. If the structure of this original event was meant to mirror that of the (sub)urban sprawl of Los Angeles, it was also meant to bypass the organizers of the city's beleaguered, seven-year-old art fair, "Art/L.A.," and to deliver the esthetic goods from around the world with one less layer of mediation and with fewer expenses.
Conceived three years ago by Sandra Starr, Director of James Corcoran Gallery and then president of the Santa Monica/Venice Art Dealers Association, this ambitious, inventive, and clever project promised to increase profits, to expand markets, and to strengthen the connections between art from Los Angeles and the rest of the world. Today, in an economic environment that is sluggish at best, this type of budget-conscious activity has become a common, often frantic scramble to attract new collectors. Like almost all of the recent innovations in art dealing, this one is marked by the overriding and immediate matter of real-world survival. The economic collapse that occurred between the planning of the "International" and its realization accounts for the undercurrent of barely repressed desperation and the sense of belatedness that haunted many of the individual exhibitions.
Throughout, it seemed as if the overall form of this collective, cooperative event was fundamentally out of sync with much of its displayed content. This inconsistency was most evident in the yawning gap that separated the elevated, often embarrassingly high-fallutin' rhetoric used to advertise the reconfigured, decentered fair from the modest, tentative, and generally down-scale works that constituted the majority of the actual installations. The "International" made the art world seem, at once, to be both smaller and larger than it is. Rather than delivering a surplus of international art-superstars, the exhibition served up a preponderance of young, unknown artists whose talents and ambitions paled in comparison to the distance their work had traveled.
What the participating galleries exhibited from mid March to mid April was really nothing more--yet nothing less--than token postcard views from places one would not otherwise exert the effort to visit in person. Although many of its critics dismissed the "International" as nothing more than an exercise in dressing up business-as-usual with the stale rhetoric of some sort of "nouveau internationalisme," what their accounts did not address is that today, business-as-usual is nothing like it was yesterday, but a practice pushed to such extremes--because there is so little to lose--that it might generate an original idea, or be the source of a more balanced relationship between esthetics and entrepreneurship. At its best, the "Los Angeles International" offered an as-yet-unexplored version of what is best described as a sort of stay-at-home tourism: a curious, new, and surprisingly worthwhile way to see--and consume--hitherto unknown art. …