L.A. is on display at the big European art fair ARCOmadrid

Raymond Pettibon's "No Title (His transformation is)," 2009, pen, ink, gouache and acrylic on paper. On view in Madrid are 17 Los Angeles galleries, displaying works by more than 60 artists.
Raymond Pettibon’s “No Title (His transformation is),” 2009, pen, ink, gouache and acrylic on paper. On view in Madrid are 17 Los Angeles galleries, displaying works by more than 60 artists.
(Brian Forrest, Regen Projects)

During its 29-year history, Spain’s ARCOmadrid has grown to become not only Europe’s largest art fair but also a magnet for the contemporary art world’s elite. Every winter, top gallerists, deep-pocketed collectors, museum bigwigs and artists -- not to mention some 200,000 paying visitors -- flock to the Spanish capital for the fair’s five-day run.

Fair organizers have historically selected a “focus country” -- South Korea, Australia and India have been among those chosen since 1996 -- showcasing a nation’s artistic output and often providing breakthrough international exposure.

This year, however, ARCOmadrid gives that honor to a city: the City of Angels.

A special exhibition titled “Panorama: Los Angeles” opens to the public on Friday (the fair opened to VIP guests on Wednesday), encompassing a broad cross-section of art from 17 Los Angeles galleries, with works by more than 60 artists of every disciplinary stripe.

The show is a response to an increasing international demand for an up-to-the-minute survey of Angeleno art.

“Los Angeles is holding a spot that has been previously reserved for entire nations this year because it’s a very complete contemporary art hub,” said “Panorama” co-curator Christopher Miles. “It has everything covered: the creation, distribution and critical discussion of art. And people here are very eager to see what Los Angeles has to offer.”

Organizers say the fair’s massing of L.A. art constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection ever to be shown outside Southern California.

Toward the future

But unlike such previous Angeleno art surveys as “Los Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Artistic Capital,” shown at Paris’ Pompidou Center in 2006, or “Sunshine & Noir: Art in L.A. 1960-1997,” staged at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, “Panorama” looks toward the future, with its curators strenuously avoiding tropes about the city in an effort to capture Los Angeles in a modern aesthetic overview.

“We tried to provide a broad sampling of art practices from Los Angeles -- across different disciplines, genres, different media and also different generations,” said Miles, who with independent curator Kris Kuramitsu chose the galleries and many of the artists included in the exhibition. “But we had no agenda. We were not trying to define the city by a particular look or school, genre or ideology. Because that has been a major problem with how L.A. art has been historicized or presented in the past -- a tendency to reduce L.A. to a scene.”

In recent years, art fairs such as London’s Frieze, the Armory in New York City and Miami Art Basel have become critical components of the art world’s ecosystem, providing one-stop shopping for collectors and high-profile clearinghouses for the latest art trends.

None of those fairs, however, is curated as is ARCOmadrid. According to Christopher Grimes, a member of the fair’s selection committee this year (whose namesake Santa Monica gallery will exhibit as part of “Panorama”), such international exposure provides notable upsides for the local art scene.

Galleries on display

“The world is very aware of L.A. artists. They’re the greatest asset this city has in terms of the visual arts,” Grimes said. “But I don’t think the galleries are as well known. For us to have such a large concentration of galleries [at ARCOmadrid], it augments the breadth of knowledge about what’s going on here. People who wouldn’t necessarily have come to Los Angeles have the opportunity to go to Madrid and take the pulse of L.A. without making the trip.”

Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs worked closely with ARCOmadrid on this year’s fair, vetting dozens of curator applicants before deciding upon Miles and Kuramitsu in an effort to “create a microcosm of the gallery scene in L.A.,” said the department’s executive director, Olga Garay.

Notably, at a time when the city’s arts budget has been dramatically slashed, the department was able to allot $80,000 toward ARCOmadrid-related costs, such as the curators’ salaries, administrative costs and travel for local artists. The money came from funds the city was owed by the National Endowment for the Arts after it did not spend all of the NEA money provided for the Guadalajara International Book Fair, which the Cultural Affairs Department co-sponsored.

“The fact that the city of Los Angeles is going to be focused on and celebrated in a prestigious international arts exhibition is something you can’t even pay for,” Garay said. “You can’t buy that! If I went to ARCOmadrid and said, ‘Can I offer you money to make L.A. the first city you make guest of honor?’ they’d scoff at me! This is a welcome and appreciated acknowledgment.”

Along with the work shown in the “Panorama” exhibition pavilion -- designed by local architecture firm Johnston Marklee -- a host of satellite exhibitions featuring L.A. artworks and artists has cropped up across Madrid. One is the Getty-produced photography exhibit “Julius Schulman’s Los Angeles.”

‘A domino effect’

Another gallerist invited to ARCOmadrid, Rosamund Felsen of the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, voiced measured optimism for her gallery’s involvement in this year’s fair. But she envisioned a scenario in which L.A.'s spotlight slot at ARCOmadrid could result in a game-changer for the local art market.

“It could be like a domino effect,” Felsen said. “If several major museums and private collectors acquire work from [L.A.] galleries there, word gets around immediately. That would really do a lot for L.A.”