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L.A. Art Fair Paints a Rosy Picture

Times Art Writer

ART/LA88, Los Angeles’ Third International Contemporary Art Fair, got off to brisk start over the weekend. The size of the crowd at the downtown Convention Center was up from last year and dealers reported that business was well ahead of previous shows.

The fair had a celebratory start Friday night at a $125-a-head gala benefit. About 2,000 dealers, collectors and others involved in the business of contemporary art attended the affair, drank champagne and nibbled on miniature pizzas, salmon sandwiches, blinis and other tidbits catered by Michael McCarty.

The evening raised about $80,000, to be divided equally among four beneficiaries: the Museum of Contemporary Art, the County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Warwick Foundation for the treatment of AIDS. The figure topped last year’s take of $72,000, according to fair director Brian Angel.

Sniffing out the crowd and trying to predict the success of this year’s event, most observers seemed to think the mood was more decorous than in the past but that the party-goers were more upscale and serious about buying.

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Saturday, the first day the fair was open to the public, the fair attracted nearly 8,000 visitors, according to Angel. The first day last year, a Thursday, brought in about 3,500 people, he said. Apparently well on its way to equaling or exceeding the 1987 total attendance of 26,000, the fair also seemed to be doing a brisk business on Saturday.

“Good vibes,” said Richard Polsky of Acme Art in Santa Monica. By early Saturday afternoon he had sold three small pieces in the four-figure range and had an inquiry on a $235,000 target painting on paper by Jasper Johns.

Johns, whose painting “False Start” astonished the art world by setting a record of $17 million at a recent New York auction, is a hot item at the fair. Ovsey Gallery of Los Angeles sold a Johns lithograph for more than $50,000 four minutes after the doors opened to an unidentified buyer from New England.

About a dozen other galleries told Angel that they did very well on Saturday. Two galleries, Marga Paz of Madrid and Interim of London, reportedly sold out on Saturday. “Thumb Gallery (of London), which sold nothing last year, did well enough during the Friday night gala to cover last year’s expenses and is looking forward to covering this year’s costs,” Angel said.

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People watching also proved to be productive for fair-goers. The generally conservatively dressed crowd at the gala was sprinkled with flashy costumes sporting low necklines, high hemlines and lots of glitter. A pair of women swished by in fur coats that probably cost as much as Palm Springs condos, while arty types paraded about in pastel-striped trousers and hand-painted, fly-away neckties.

But the gala’s lead attraction was actor Sylvester Stallone, who lent his name to the fair’s advisory board. He appeared in a tuxedo, looking rather puny next to his two hulking bodyguards.

Wearing light gray suits, the heavies lurked around the entrances of various gallery booths as the actor and art collector disappeared behind sculptures and checked out paintings.

What Stallone saw through his pitch-black sunglasses was open to speculation, but he stayed throughout the evening and made at least one purchase, at Thumb Gallery.

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“Hey, he’s part of this city. I think it’s great that he spent so much time looking,” said Los Angeles dealer Neil Ovsey.

The international part of Los Angeles’ International Contemporary Art Fairs has always been its most troublesome component. It’s relatively easy to round up contemporary American art and display it in a trade-fair setting. Persuading a worldwide sampling of top dealers to spend tens of thousands of dollars to transport their wares to Los Angeles and try to sell it in foreign territory is more difficult.

Attempting to counteract this problem, the organizers of the third annual fair have given the event a stronger international focus. The centerpiece of that effort is a museum-quality exhibition, “East Meets West: Japanese and Italian Art Today,” which provides a welcome respite from the commercial atmosphere.

Organizers have enticed 84 dealers from 19 foreign countries to this year’s fair. Among the most interesting are two exhibiting art from the Soviet Union. Berlin dealer Eva Poll has excellent examples by Igor Kopystiansky and Svetlana Kopystianskaya, a married couple whose works commanded top prices at Sotheby’s ground-breaking auction last July in Moscow.

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Paris dealer Georges Lavrov offers an impressive selection of rare works by members of the Russian Avant-Garde. Sovart, a New York dealer, also has Soviet works.


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