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Don't Overlook Cultural Success of ART/LA91

December 30, 1991|BRIAN ANGEL | Angel, director of ART/LA, founded the L.A. International Art Fair in 1986. For 25 years, he has been an executive of the Andry Montgomery Group, which for nearly 100 years has organized and managed national and international cultural and trade expositions and conferences for private groups, governments, United Nation agencies and the European Community on five continents. and

As director of the L.A. Art Fair, I have received a great deal of interesting feedback since Suzanne Muchnic's piece on ART/LA91 appeared in Calendar (Nov. 25). Muchnic focused on the financial aspects of the fair, not the art, nor the art events, writing that the number of exhibitors was reduced this year and stating that attendance was down.

At a post-fair support meeting of art dealers, collectors and art community leaders, I was asked why, if the fair was facing a deficit, would Andry Montgomery Inc. continue to be involved? Three previous Art Fairs broke even. (The 1991 fair was the first to have suffered a substantial loss.)

All international art fairs take time to become established. The Los Angeles Fair is no exception, and in my seven years here, a lot of things have become even more apparent. Los Angeles is not like any other major art fair city, i.e. Cologne, Madrid, Paris, Chicago, New York. Los Angeles is spread out, diverse and young . . . tremendously young in comparison to European capitals which have had hundreds of years of arts patronage.

So as organizers, we may have misread what it takes to make an event fly in L.A. For years, we have seen the L.A. festival struggle to garner either financial or community support, despite its value to the city's cultural livelihood. The downtown theater center has finally had to close. The American Film Institute Festival, which took its own share of growth pangs, demonstrates to me that effort--and time--must be expended to establish an event of international standing.

Even though ART/LA is partly a commercial enterprise (and it is easy in a recession for media to concentrate on shortfalls and deficits), do not overlook the wealth of cultural offerings and visitors the fair brings to the city. Perhaps the line between commercialism and culturalism in this case is too fine for comfort?

If it is politically correct to wholeheartedly support a nonprofit event or institution, why, when art crosses over into the "business of art," do some find it less appropriate for their support? In this period of reduced funding for the arts, is it not time to re-examine attitudes toward the value of commercial cultural events?

Culturally, ART/LA91 brought a great deal of activity to this city. Eighteen countries were represented. Delegates came from the Moscow Fair who intend to model their now 2-year-old event on ART/LA, and a United States Information Agency group from Russia also added ART/LA91 to their travel itinerary so they could see the rich offerings of the city as well as the fair.

The Dutch government, at great expense, underwrote the ART/LA feature "New Art From the Netherlands." Curators from top museums in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Cologne were flown to the fair at the fair's expense and participated in open discussions, free to all 22,000 visitors.

We also sponsored and brought over the curated exhibit from Eastern Europe's new democracies. We introduced "Window on LA" which offered a first-time showing to an international audience of many under-known Los Angeles artists. Eleven museum groups came to see and buy, and eight museums as well as Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) were provided with booths to promote their exhibitions and membership.

But the art fair is a business, although not costing one cent to the community. We must look at its viability for the future. Our goal is to make it profitable for all involved, particularly local galleries as well as exhibitors who travel at great expense from distant countries.

Sales on site are indeed important, but (as numerous exhibitors have mentioned) it is also the relationship that is struck with collectors that is vital, as is the exposure and the exhibitions gained for new artists, the residual sales after the fair and the long-term investment of being involved with a city as exciting as Los Angeles.

As organizers, we see a great future for the city's fair. Fortunately, we are not alone. The invited curator from Cologne, Rheinhold Misselbeck, put it this way: "The L.A. Art Fair, compared even with Cologne's, is more international with more younger trends and a more exciting view of the future."

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