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Hope Springs Eternal for International : Art: The festival's participants--despite slow sales and mixed reviews--are ready for the 1997 event.

August 18, 1995|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Sales of artworks were sluggish at the L.A. International Biennial Invitational and reviews of the exhibitions were mixed, but participating dealers are fired up to do it again. Even before the citywide collaborative venture that began in mid-July officially winds up this weekend, dealers who have hosted International shows are talking about a bigger and better sequel in 1997.

"There definitely will be a next time," says William Turner, president of the Santa Monica/Venice Art Dealers Assn., which organized the event. Inaugurated in 1993 to energize the ailing gallery scene, the International has been considerably more vigorous the second time around. While 50 local galleries have displayed art from foreign countries, a World Wide Web site has distributed information about the event, and museums have hosted panel discussions on collecting, curating and new technology.

Even former doubters have turned into believers. "I was very reluctant to participate," says Rosamund Felsen, who did so mainly to support the effort of her colleagues at Bergamot Station, an arts complex in Santa Monica. But her show of Russian artist Ilya Kabakov was a critical and popular success, and she's up for another International.

"I certainly will be more positive next time," she says. "My Kabakov show brought in a lot of Russians. I've also had lots of Asians who are interested in the International and in collecting. There's no question that the International brought in enormous crowds of people."

The nature of future Internationals is open to question, Turner says. "Some of things we are looking at are creative ways to be involved with the Internet. We might have a computer terminal in each gallery and participating museum as a way of communicating about what we are doing."

In the meantime, the International will maintain its Web site, offering segments from this year's panel discussions and exhibitions and seeking ideas for the future.

Local dealers also will strategize about attracting more major galleries from abroad as collaborators. "The quality can always be improved," Turner says.

Among other changes viewers might see in 1997 are an expanded schedule of related programs and the initiation of a transportation system using shuttle buses, taxis or limousines to take visitors from one group of galleries to another.

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Such things are costly, but dealer Robert Berman says the 1997 International will solicit more sponsorship. Absolut vodka provided $50,000 this year, while several other sponsors contributed a total of about $30,000, bringing the total to about $80,000.

Like most participants, Berman--whose International show featured works by French artist Patrick Raynaud--says he only made a few sales but he isn't disappointed. "We aren't in this for the money. It's for the greater good," he says.

Such enthusiasm might seem improbable in the middle of August, when some dealers are about to close their doors for a short vacation before the fall onslaught. But participants say that results of the International--public response, heightened visibility and collegial relationships--have been worth the effort and expense of transporting artworks, advertising and entertaining.

Huge crowds turned out for the first round of openings, including an estimated 10,000 at Bergamot Station on July 14. Since then, dealers have welcomed many first-time local visitors, immigrants and foreign travelers.

Word of the International also is spreading in Europe, according to Patrick Bongers, owner of Galerie Louis Carre & Cie in Paris, who organized a show of French artist Herve di Rosa's paintings and works on paper at Louis Stern Fine Arts on Melrose Avenue. "When I returned to Paris after the opening, many people asked me about it," he says. The European gallery scene tends to be dead during the summer, so it's a good time for the art crowd to visit Los Angeles, he says.

Making his second International appearance at Stern's gallery, Bongers says this year's event is much more substantial and better organized than its predecessor.

No one claims that the International has paid off in financial terms, but most dealers report sales of a few works from their exhibitions. In some cases, clients who came in to see the International bought works by more familiar artists from the galleries' back rooms.

Spin-offs of the International will be seen in future exhibitions. Los Angeles artist Judy Fiskin's photography caught the eye of Helene de Franchis while she was installing a show of Italian art at the Patricia Faure Gallery at Bergamot Station, so De Franchis has arranged to exhibit Fiskin's work next year at Studio la Citta, her gallery in Verona, Italy.

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