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The Paris Photo art fair comes to Los Angeles: Photography's new aim

This showing of new and vintage photographs is a big draw in Paris. It tries its fortunes in L.A., exploring Hollywood themes.

April 26, 2013|Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times

The photograph is almost famous: a shot by Kevin Winter of actress Jennifer Lawrence that caught her just as she stumbled on her way to receive an Oscar this year.

The small drawings hanging beneath are less familiar: delicate images by P.E. Sharpe of a sparse figure, stripped of the voluminous Dior dress, in different positions as she recovers from her fall.

It amounts to a strangely intimate meditation on our obsession with celebrity culture, made stranger by its location: The art installation hangs in a soundstage at the Paramount Studios as part of the new art fair Paris Photo Los Angeles, which runs this weekend.

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It's the first U.S. spinoff of Paris Photo, widely considered the world's most prestigious photography fair. Instead of a typical convention center setting, the new event consists of 60 galleries and a dozen bookshops filling three soundstages and several fake buildings on the New York back lot (brownstones and loft buildings used in "Friends" and "Seinfeld") with displays of photographs and photo-based work.

Organizers encouraged galleries to think about Hollywood as a theme, inviting into the mix works that explore connections between photography and film as well as the fine — often airbrushed — line between fiction and reality.

New York dealer James Danziger, who commissioned the Jennifer Lawrence installation (priced at $20,000 for the group), brought other works ranging from Warhol Polaroids to recent Old Masters-style portraits by Hendrik Kerstens. Danziger has not participated in a fair in California since the '90s, when L.A.'s longest-running photography fair, Photo L.A., was more robust.

"Los Angeles is the graveyard for art fairs," Danziger said. But he said he was quick to sign up this time when Paris Photo's West Coast venue was announced.

"Paris Photo [in France] has become the No. 1 photographic art fair in the world," he said. "It just remains to be seen if the public and collectors here will warm to it."

Even the fair director sounded cautious. "I hope we draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people," said Julien Frydman, noting that the Paris event, with twice the number of exhibitors, drew 54,000 visitors last year. "We don't want to be boastful. We are learning, and what's important is that the quality of the fair be recognized."

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Most work in the fair reflects the galleries' normal exhibition programs, whether they focus on documentary photography or take an edgier conceptual approach. But Frydman is clearly betting on the novelty of an art fair set against the backdrop of a movie studio to draw crowds and spark interesting artist talks, part of a program organized by former Hammer curator Douglas Fogle.

"We are not promoting the film industry," Frydman said. "We are questioning the meaning of images. We're trying to make the fair into a place where you think about the relationship between still and moving images."

While setting up their booths Thursday morning, many dealers seemed to be having fun with the concept, or at least enjoying the fair's indoor-outdoor flow on a sunny day. Some were hanging out and smoking on their New York-style brownstone stoops.

"Usually a fair takes place in convention centers that make you feel you could be anywhere in the world," said Charlie Kitchings of the L.A. gallery Ambach and Rice, a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. "But here we are so clearly in New York — the perfect L.A. meta-experience."

Ambach and Rice is showing work by Martina Sauter, who combines film stills with her own staged photographs taken in her studio in Düsseldorf, Germany. One image shows a snowy mountain landscape juxtaposed with the grainy image of a wood door, only the landscape is really wallpaper in her studio and the door image came from the TV show "Twin Peaks."

Fraenkel Gallery of San Francisco brought a range of gallery artists from Diane Arbus to Katy Grannan, but showcased front and center three large 1993 prints by Hiroshi Sugimoto of historic movie theaters — rich in architecture but empty of content. By exposing his film for the length of the movies, Sugimoto famously produced images of theaters in which the screens form a bright, white blank.

Gallerist Marc Selwyn of Los Angeles decided to bring only images of other images, like an amusing 1973/2000 William Wegman photograph of his dog Man Ray sitting on a crate watching TV, with the TV set on a couch, and a 1986 Robert Heinecken montage that pairs shots of two women broadcasters, Barbara Walters and Faith Daniels. In this booth, the medium is the message.

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