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An Alternative Art Fair Finds Its Niche in L.A.

TIMES ART WRITER

“It’s a billboard made in heaven,” said Los Angeles art dealer Joni Gordon.

“It’s a fresh new opportunity,” said Kim Montgomery, who owns a gallery in Minneapolis.

“It’s a place where dealers from all over the world show works by emerging artists in every medium, and you can see it all under one roof,” said Paul Morris, whose gallery is in New York’s trendy Chelsea district.

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They’re talking about the L.A. version of the Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair, making its third annual West Coast appearance at the Chateau Marmont Hotel Friday through Sunday. However participants from all across the country describe the event, it is not an ordinary trade show. Morris and three other New York dealers--Colin de Land, Pat Hearn and Matthew Marks--organized the fair as an alternative to the big-bucks extravaganzas staged at convention centers.

Named for the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, where a similar annual effort was launched in 1994, it’s intended to be in tune with the times and a shaky art market still recovering from the boom of the late 1980s and bust of the early 1990s. The Gramercy International has found a niche as a low-budget, high-style affair known for cutting-edge art, hip participants and a funky ambience. For a $5 entry fee, visitors can check out the latest trends in art and buy an original work for as little as $100--or as much as $50,000.

In this year’s event at the historic hotel on Sunset Boulevard, 45 contemporary art dealers and print publishers will set up shop in rooms and bungalows.

Margo Leavin, known for presenting the work of prominent artists in an elegant gallery in West Hollywood, is planning a carefully orchestrated installation, making the most of an opportunity to show both adventurous and relatively conventional art in a domestic setting. Among the pieces she’ll bring is a particularly appropriate ink drawing by David Hockney, “Gregory at Chateau Marmont.”

Los Angeles dealer Stuart Regen is also planning a special installation. He intends to remove the hotel’s furniture from his room and replace it with modernist furniture that will be for sale, along with works by artists he represents.

But as has been the case in past years, many other participants will take a more casual approach, displaying their wares on beds, sofas, kitchen counters and floors, and even parking a few items in closets, sinks and bathtubs.

“I hope I get the same room I had last year,” Gordon said, referring to No. 62, on the sixth floor. “It’s a small room with a large balcony, so I moved everything out on the balcony overlooking the Sunset Strip. It was wonderful.”

Operating in “a high-impact location,” just off the elevator, Gordon did very well last year--both in sales and connections--and hopes to repeat the experience. “People made decisions very quickly because it was difficult to come back if they wanted to see everything,” she said. “They would say, ‘I’ll take that. How much?’ I was yelling prices and, if it was somebody I knew, saying, ‘I’ll bill you.’ It was a little bit like my grandpa’s grocery store.”

Gordon, who owns Newspace gallery in Hollywood, is planning to show a video installation by Joseph Santarromana and a variety of works by Jeff Price, Garrett Keith, Marcos Lutyens, Tiffanie Morrow, Jonmarc Edwards, Timothy Nolan and other artists.

Indeed, part of the fair’s charm is its informality and affordability--both for vendors and visitors. Participating dealers pay the organizers a fee of $1,000 and rent rooms priced from $180 to $800 a day.

As for the art, the emphasis is on work by young, relatively little-known artists. But this year’s fair also includes such tony establishments as Manhattan’s Marian Goodman Gallery, which shows the work of Gerhard Richter and other internationally renowned artists, as well as up-and-comers.

Goodman’s past participation in art fairs has been limited to major European events, but gallery associate director Jeannie Frielich said the gallery is coming to the Chateau Marmont because she liked what she saw there last year as a visitor. “I was really impressed with the quality of the art and the audience. A lot of museum people and serious collectors were there,” she said.

Another out-of-town-participant, Kim Montgomery, who owns Minneapolis’ Montgomery Glasoe Fine Art, said her experience in representing her artists last year at Chateau Marmont was so encouraging she opened an office in Los Angeles. “People are more open and interested in buying. They aren’t as jaded as they are in New York,” she said. Montgomery will be back at the hotel this year with a variety of work including paintings and prints by Minnesota artist Todd Norsten and drawings by 20th century masters.

Los Angeles and New York will have the largest number of dealers, but the fair offers a geographic mix. This year’s foreign contingent includes Jay Jopling and Maureen Paley of London; Patrick Painter Editions of Vancouver; Espacio Minimo of Murcia, Spain; Friedman-Guinness of Frankfurt; and Tomio Koyama of Tokyo.

About half the participants are newcomers. A certain amount of turnover is inevitable, given the economic realities of running a contemporary art gallery and the short lives of shoestring operations, but the organizers also attempt to give the fair a new look each year.

“We got 150 applications for 45 spots,” Morris said. “Our job is to keep the fair fresh by shuffling the deck of dealers.”

The big after-hours event this year at the Chateau Marmont is a performance on Saturday night by comedian Sandra Bernhard, followed by a party with music by Los Angeles rave-scene DJ Tom Allaine. The evening is being staged as a benefit for Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, a nonprofit contemporary arts center in Hollywood.

* Gramercy International Contemporary Art, Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 656-1010. Friday-Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Admission: $5. Sandra Bernhard performance, Saturday, 8 p.m. $50; tickets to the performance and party afterward cost $150. (213) 957-1777.


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