The twin specters of the recession and a sluggish art market hung over opening-night festivities for ART/LA91, the sixth annual international contemporary art fair.
Tuesday night’s preview benefiting UNICEF even looked different than opening nights in previous years: no lavish buffet, few wild get-ups, a catalogue that was more functional than elaborate, lots of stiff-upper-lip talk among vendors and officials and slow ticket sales.
There were also about 150 fewer gallery owners than in the past. Absent from the floor at the Convention Center this year were New York’s Leo Castelli and Marlborough galleries as well as quite a few big hometown dealers, including James Corcoran, Dorothy Goldeen and Karl Bornstein.
Instead, much space was given over to what fair director Brian Angel referred to in the catalogue as “the new creative work of many younger and underknown artists.”
Marcia Simon Weisman may have been the individual most missed this year. Weisman, a collector and art enthusiast who died Oct. 19, was a stalwart force in the battle to construct the Museum of Contemporary Art. Her gift of Jasper Johns’ “Map” to MOCA was a major topic of discussion on last year’s opening night. Architect Frank Gehry, a good friend of Weisman, said, “She was a Mack truck who willed MOCA into existence.”
After welcoming speeches from Angel and honorary co-chair Barbara Bosson Bochco, actor Roger Moore presented a $25,000 check to Lawrence Bruce, president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.
MOCA Chairman Frederick Nicholas and Menil Collection director Walter Hopps presented ART/LA’s International Arts Awards to Henry Hopkins, chairman of the UCLA department of art, and artist Sam Francis, who was represented by his wife, Margaret Smith.
With weaker American participation than in previous years, foreign galleries stole the spotlight. A large exhibit, “New Art From the Netherlands,” drew crowds, as did a Hungarian-curated exhibition of contemporary Eastern European artists.
Entertainment was provided by musicians Gutbucket and the Emily Hay Trio, Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose and the Shrimps.
The calamity of AIDS, a primary focus of ART/LA89, was represented at one booth commemorating Dec. 1, the art world’s “Day Without Art” memorial.
Although most guests seemed happy with the safe-sex information provided, others were less pleased by a TV monitor broadcasting explicit safe-sex videos to passersby.
ART/LA91 continues through Sunday, with special events daily at the Convention Center. Art lovers will be dancing away their uncertainties tonight at a ‘60s-themed beach party on the Santa Monica Pier.