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Fringe Festival : THE FRINGE: MORE OF A MISS THAN A HIT : ART : From a First-Rate Show to Amateur Hour

October 07, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer and The monthlong Fringe Festival, a mammoth undertaking that in effect was the local component of the Los Angeles Festival, ended Sunday after presenting 450 events (roughly half were theatrical productions) by 500 artists at 210 sites. Was the Festival a hit or a miss? Eight critics who covered the Fringe answer that question. and

If you took a cross section of all the visual arts activities going on in greater Los Angeles at any one time and published a list of them, you would have something resembling the visual arts section of the Fringe Festival. The catalogue includes a smattering of exhibitions at museums, universities, high schools and community centers; gaggles of artwork hanging around lobbies, cafes, bookstores and displayed on sidewalks; performances, tours, auctions and receptions. About the only elements missing are mainline commercial galleries and parking lot sales.

It says here, on page 3, that the catalogue "is a wonderful survey of the dynamism of the arts in Los Angeles today." It isn't. It's just a roster of organizations and individuals who paid a fee to be listed. With no quality control and no thread of conceptual, aesthetic or organizational continuity, the Fringe is only a publicity mechanism.

So why should we take it seriously? Beats me, except that the festival is sponsored by the city's Cultural Affairs Department, it has well-intentioned supporters and it seems such a waste of money and effort.

The catalogue also says that the Fringe is a "truly populist festival." Would that it were; at least that would clear up some of the confusion. Then the public would know that any hobbyist can join the Fringe--and plan accordingly. As it stood this year, a Fringe viewer could end up at a first-rate exhibition or amateur hour. The range of quality might be forgivable if events had some other connection, but no. Most catalogued items are just listings of things that would be going on without the festival or programs developed willy-nilly.

Ironically, while professional standards at some venues lent a tentative credence to the Fringe's visual arts program, they also muddied the "populist" description. Yet you can't blame well-established institutions for wanting to be part of the excitement. Ostracized from the infinitely classier Los Angeles (Performing Arts) Festival, their choice was the Fringe or nothing.

Next time, the visual arts may be part of the main attraction. In the meantime, the Fringe must get a grip on itself, shape an identity, set some standards (not necessarily elite) and stick to them. We do not need, nor can we afford, a rerun of this year's embarrassment.

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