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COMMENTARY : The World Comes to L.A. . . . Sort Of : International Exhibition of Art Doesn't Quite Achieve Its Goals

March 19, 1993|CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT | TIMES ART CRITIC

Last weekend, about 40 galleries throughout Los Angeles, stretching from the beach neighborhoods through Beverly Hills and Hollywood to downtown, hosted a series of private social events and public inaugural parties for what is being billed as the L.A. International Invitational.

Dealers had invited, at their individual discretion, counterparts in Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, China, Korea and Australia to each mount an exhibition in their respective Los Angeles spaces. For the future, the possibility is open for a reciprocal show in the guest gallery's hometown.

The general notion of such a citywide exhibition isn't a bad one. An international exchange of art and of artists, many of whom came to Los Angeles for the opening events, is pragmatic and sensible for a locale that, in the last half-dozen years, has seen many of its own resident artists become prominent fixtures on the international scene.

Principally, however, the idea for the much-publicized exchange was this: Amid a protracted period of lethargy in the economically battered art market, host a special event to inject some vibrant energy into the city's gallery scene.

On Friday night, things were lively. The event got under way with two overlapping series of exhibition openings. They began in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and continued east into galleries in the area of Beverly and La Brea boulevards. The following afternoon, a third spate of openings picked up at participating galleries in Venice and Santa Monica. Lots of people turned out on both days.

In some respects the steady stream of people, periodically bunching up into full-scale crowds in one gallery or another, recalled the height of the mushrooming market boom several years back, when the Saturday gallery-crawl briefly assumed the proportions of team sport. On another level, however, this monthlong event is fundamentally different.

What is different is the at-best middling quality of almost all the 40-odd shows. I managed to see most of them during the opening marathon, and only a couple will be worth revisiting to examine without the crowds. There's a decided thinness to the L.A. International Invitational and it's worth spending a moment to figure out why.

Some galleries are simply showing artists they normally show, with a foreign hook identified. Gemini G.E.L. is displaying the striped prints it produced with French Conceptualist Daniel Buren, while James Corcoran Gallery is showing abstract objects and small monoprint-paintings by Japan's Tomoharu Murakami.

At Steve Turner Gallery, which typically shows early-Modernist art made in Los Angeles, the obvious dilemma for an internationalist event was solved by clever repackaging. "Exiles in Angeltown: European Artists in Los Angeles, 1920-1960" emphasizes the city's internationalist past, while simply grouping together individual paintings, sculptures, collages, drawings and photographs by Man Ray, Knud Merrild, Oskar Fischinger and other artists the gallery regularly shows.

At Christopher Grimes Gallery, Luciano Perna's witty spaghetti-paintings and a "fountain" of dirty pots and pans occupy the small project room in back. Perna is described as hailing from Italy, which he does--although he's long lived in Culver City and has been a regular in the L.A. art world for several years.

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Most common, however, is a different kind of exhibition altogether. It's what one artist perceptively described as a "suitcase show." Lots of foreign dealers brought the art they could fit into a suitcase--actually or metaphorically--or, perhaps, that could be slipped in as excess baggage.

Burnett Miller Gallery is hosting three artists from London's Laure Genillard Gallery, and their work is very simply made, utilizing a few pieces of ordinary lumber, or paint applied directly on the walls, or light shone into the room with the aid of an overhead projector. At Sue Spaid Gallery, the Belgian team of Wastijn and Deschuymer present laser color prints of laboratory mice, push-pinned to the walls, which can be seen with cardboard 3-D glasses.

Unframed drawings and a videotape at Ruth Bloom Gallery, flowers pressed into the skylight at Kim Light Gallery, curtains dividing the space into a maze at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, "sculptures" and "paintings" made from ordinary books laid out on the floor or nailed to the wall at Thomas Solomon's Garage--given such rudimentary, inexpensive or easily transportable materials, it's plain that keeping expenses down was a chief concern of the participants. (Foreign dealers were required to pick up shipping and transportation costs, while host dealers paid for advertising, opening parties and related exhibition expenses.)

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