From Little Tokyo to Venice Beach, Art Fair Is Pure L.A. like the City That Founded It, 'L.A. International' Is Culturally Diverse, Sprawling, and Inventive

Article excerpt

In the late 1800s, the idea began with the big international expositions of Paris. In the United States, the 1913 Armory Show held in a huge empty New York building exposed Americans to the likes of Matisse. Italy has its Venice Biennale and Germany its "documenta."

These international art fairs have, for nearly a century, joined countries, cities, and galleries under one roof to display their artistic wares.

The Los Angeles version - dubbed "L.A. International" - gives an old idea a new face that is quintessentially L.A. Like the city that invented it, the "L.A. International" is a ranging, romping event without fixed boundaries that uses the city's notorious sprawl as an organizing principle. In 1991, longtime L.A. art dealers Robert Berman and William Turner, along with other members of art-dealer associations from artsy and gallery-dense beach communities Santa Monica and Venice, dreamed up the notion of an art fair without walls. Pure L.A. "Until 1992, we had the standard fair at the Convention Center every other year lasting for three days or so. L.A.'s really too big for that. Local and foreign galleries couldn't justify paying top dollar for less than ideal booths in a supermarket setting," Mr. Berman recalls. Berman and Mr. Turner decided to recruit the city's serious art spaces and have them invite "sister" galleries from all over the world to show foreign art during a city-wide event that includes openings, tours, and lectures. Since its inception in 1992, more than 100 countries have packed and shipped their visual culture, installing it for six weeks in more than 60 galleries dotting the vast and zany expanse of L.A. L.A. also symbolizes successful ideas (like the Internet, also conceived here) that gain steam in a rule-thin atmosphere. Remarkably enough, in that realm just this side of order, inventive things happen and the "L.A. International" is an example. For the first two weeks of the fair, each of L.A.'s unique, chic to funky art centers - Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, downtown, Venice Beach - hold area-wide receptions with whole blocks of galleries serving food and staying open to the wee hours so that fairgoers can actually amble on foot from venue to venue (no one walks in L.A.!). Week 3 features talks by foreign scholars and artists such as Noriko Fuku discussing a century of Japanese women photographers at the 18th St. …


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