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L.A. Art Show 2014: Hodgepodge on steroids

Barbra Streisand browses through the impressive collection of Van Gogh paintings at the L.A. Art Show 2014.
Barbra Streisand browses through the impressive collection of Van Gogh paintings at the L.A. Art Show 2014.
Photo by Charley Gallay

L.A. Art Show 2014


The L.A. Art Show premiere kicked off with special appearances by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Tom LaBonge, and actor/director and art ambassador, Tim Robbins. Positioned as a patron reception, the fete was bespotted with art that was framed, unframed and plated. Exhibits ranged from the tired to the titillating, from the established bravura of post-Impressionistic masters to the pretentious tepidity of unimpressive misters. The opening of the 19th annual L.A. Art Show gala party also featured eclectic food fare such as Pink’s Hot Dogs and Rasta Tacos along with generous offerings from Lawry’s Carvery and Magnolia Bakery. The centerpiece of culinary delights came from Chef John Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant. Indeed, many folks seemed to be more interested in what was cooking than in what was being served in the art booths.

Overheard by one art patron, "Standing in line for free parsnips and polenta among all this art makes me feel like I'm in a hoity-toity soup kitchen." But most others pushed and shoved politely to the front of the lines to enjoy the free food and beverage, with wines supplied by Union des Grands, Crus de Bordeaux and Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux. Just to make sure patrons truly enjoyed themselves, in case the art disappointed, there was also plenty of stations for Calavera Tequila, Chivas Regal, and Deep Eddy Vodka. As bellies filled, eyes opened to the works of art which surrounded the L.A. Convention Center, South Halls J & K. The event showcases, celebrates and benefits the Bordeaux-Los Angeles 50-year partnership, which further pays homage to Councilmember LaBonge for his selfless art and culture advocacy for the Sister Cities of Los Angeles.

Hordes of Beverly Hills galleries presented opulent frames around mostly average art. Ideally, art shows should present some daring stuff. Otherwise, one could simply go to a museum to see safe and acceptable art. This experience was a step up from browsing through Aaron Brothers and a big step down from eyeing exhilarating new art. Risk-taking apparently took a rest right after the gallery owners hung up a lenticular Barbie piece that magically transforms from an American-flagged swimmer to a topless trollop -- all as you saunter past the aisle display. That's hardly enough to encourage serious art collectors into that gallery. So, on walks the collector, desperately searching for something stunning, revolting, controversial. Unfortunately, the closest to stunning was seeing a Chinese starlet in a cheongsam that was two sizes too small, while revulsion and controversy was served out by two different food vendors, who will, like the Chinese starlet, go unnamed.

What could have been magical was really just mostly mundane. There was a little of this and a lot of that, which in toto felt like a hodgepodge collection that missed more than it hit. For a real excursion into the art of Los Angeles, by contrast, one need only go downtown and explore the galleries where artists are building out new vistas of expression and imagination. If you’re looking, however, to cover a wall with something pricey and guaranteed artistic because of the sumptuous frames and notable names, then the L.A. Art Show is the place to go. Okay, the Van Gogh Museum Editions was present at the show -- and it's hard to just glance at paintings like Sunflowers (1889), Almond Blossoms (1890), Boulevard de Clichy (1887), The Harvest (1888), and Wheatfield under Thunderclouds (1890) -- all of which made their U.S. debut. So that was rather special -- but also well beyond the reach of most of the patrons, with the exception of Barbra Streisand who hung out in the gallery for awhile with smartphone in hand and knitted beret crowning her essence. At the neighboring L.A. Jewelry, Antique and Design Show, Diane Keaton did her best Annie Hall while browsing through the Monterey Garage booth. And clothing designer who hit her stride in the 80s, Sue Wong, had a classic and beautiful presence. Meanwhile, where was that art ambassador, Tim Robbins, anyway?

One shining and brilliant component to the show were some of the sculptures that were peppered about. Cindy Jackson's SuperMan with a bulging package proved he was evidently a man of steel, albeit posed on his knees, no doubt victimized by the Kryptonite I had in my pocket. Part of her Not Quite Salvation series, that "piece" got plenty of attention -- or envy, mostly from women who smiled coquettishly and then took selfies in the most embarrassing positions imaginable. Children pointing at the son of Jor-El's supermanhood made many patrons uncomfortable -- so that makes it art, right? Also impressive was Jim Rennert's towering homage to the Everyman, a piece entitled Think Big. Cindy Jackson additionally had her more obvious statement piece, Always Wanting Never Enough on display, wrestling and writhing figures patterned in Gucci and Vuitton: who will win? Maybe the artist!

Looking deeper and further into the recesses, one could also find interesting technique at work, like the meticulously and precisely painted glass reproductions of classic comic book covers by Michael Suchta. His art expresses the world in layers (typically six when it comes to comic books). By adding one layer of glass atop another and visualizing dimensionally how the image breaks apart, he effectively and quite arrestingly creates depth that transcends what traditional painting portrays. His art was displayed in the same gallery, Bruce Lurie, that represents the self-proclaimed King of Pop Art, Cuban artist, Nelson De La Nuez, whose work is widely popular and expressed on licensed goods, from suitcases and shirts to iPhone cases and handbags.

The most fun of the L.A. Art Show was the festive Chinatown After Party, adorned with lanterns and awash with revelers anticipating the coming Lunar New Year. The art was among the rainbow arch of people, where cultures clashed and were quite thrilled doing so. All the galleries on Chung King Road were open later than usual, making the Asian art scene integrated and mainstreamed, thanks to the cross-cultural mix of patrons.

So when the L.A. Art Show comes to town next year, or even before that, if you’re looking for that inspired piece of art, take a trip to the industrial corridor of downtown Los Angeles. Check out The Mistake Room and the warehouse quartered Night Gallery, founded by artist Davida Nemeroff and partner Mieke Marple. And walk Gallery Row along Main Street and Spring Street any ol' time. Leave the rest to those looking for free froufrou food and drink. Maybe it's impossible for the L.A. Art Show to find an identity inside the Convention Center -- a conventional place to booth art. Maybe leading edge and bleeding edge art can't be boothed. That's why warehouses make such perfect places for art galleries that are all about exploring and expanding. There's something about art contained in a Convention Center that cheapens it, makes it feel like you're a buyer at a trade show. It was like being in an oversized ballroom salon at a hotel, where the art is blowing out on sale. Context is everything. Even the Van Gogh masterpieces, like many of the patrons who came for the food, seemed to be screaming to be let out.

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