There’s a lot happening this weekend. One of the most important items is the fifth coming of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary, our city’s contemporary art fair and—really—the only art happening in that world worth your time in town. It’s a good marker of what is happening locally and beyond in art and is definitely something to seek out.
On the heels of a big Artsy preview and just days away from its opening, we spoke with the man behind the fair, Tim Fleming. Fleming is the fair’s founder and director and built the show out of an enthusiasm for art being made in this city and a need to show it off. He and his team have built the ALAC into something huge and something that will only get bigger and bigger. Thus, enjoy a quick chat we had with him over the phone on Friday where he details what to expect this year and points out a few surprises you may not be aware of.
I’m excited we could get this going. Hopefully it won’t take too long, as I know you guys are busy right now.
We’re in hectic mode but it’s a good moment to stop to chat about [the fair].
Totally! Rolling from that, this is the fifth year of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary, which is wonderful. It is the contemporary art fair in Los Angeles and is absolutely unrivaled. How did the project get started? What do you think it says about the current climate of art in LA?
That is a very good question and I will see if it an not do my classic answer.
Pause for laughter on both ends.
It hits on a number off different things. One, the fair started from my being obsessed with art fairs when I lived in Chicago as an art student. I worked for the then company that ran Art Chicago and helped organize an alternative spaces art fair called The Stray Show and became obsessed with working with a small group of people to make something and having thousands and thousands of people stream through to see a consolidated version of whatever the fair was showing off.
I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, where I had a fun time as an art student working in the for-profit-but-make-no-money project space and learning about what it means to run a gallery, at least in that context. When I got to here, I wanted to get to know the city, since I didn’t go to school in Southern California. I was going to galleries and enjoying myself. I basically decided to have conversations with local galleries about doing an art fair and, through those conversations, it started to work.
It’s interesting for a place like Los Angeles, where the city is so disjointed but we have so many galleries and so much art being made here and so many incredible artists here because of affordable rent. Galleries are popping up every year, exporting artwork all around the world. I thought we should see if an art fair could work and people said yes and it had a real LA focus, an LA backbone to feature LA galleries. It was just that—on purpose—for the first few years. The big shift this year—which may not seem that significant—is noticeably less LA galleries, maybe been only a third being LA. The addition of new galleries from Berlin and Dubai and all over the world will resonate, for sure.
That’s crazy that ALAC has become such a thing that people from all over want in on something here in LA.
Absolutely. Of course it relates to “LA having a moment” in art, whether it was a couple of years ago with galleries from New York moving here to our market or the variety of things that have made us an amazing town for years, which we have known for so long. It’s a city of content in terms of art production and so many artists making great, great work. That’s where it all started, this idea that we can play a part of it by putting it all in one room. Now in year five, we didn’t necessarily expect it but it does feel like a very interesting milestone. In the beginning, it was a place to learn about contemporary work here and educate the city in what we are trying to do. Now? It has shifted this city to being a place where you can buy artwork. It’s nice.
It is. Getting into the space and exhibiting at the Barker Hangar, how was that connection made? What is so special about the space that has kept you guys from moving away? Or would you consider moving it?
The Barker Hangar is just cool. It’s an old airplane hangar, not to sound silly. The space is also an amazing place to build since there are no columns. It’s on the Westside and close to interesting hotels (which I wish were next door). I would say that it’s a dream to build there and it’s the only venue suitable for what we are trying to do: it’s a big open space with a floor that is very democratic in the sense that there are galleries that show who are barely a year old.
A lot of fairs have criteria regarding age and how established a gallery is—but we don’t really play that rule. If we think that the work is progressive and the gallery really wants to be there and that we can support a gallery that will be in business in the future, then they belong there. Younger galleries paired next to galleries that are twenty five, thirty years old builds a conversation between the established and new which makes our fair very unique.
Next weekend is a particularly busy weekend in LA art since there is the Art Book Fair and many openings: there is a lot going on. I know you’ll be spending a lot of time at your fair but is there anything else you’ll try to check out that weekend?
Well, the LA Art Book fair thrills. Last year I got to go as an exhausted art tourist and I was blown away. For Printed Matter, who have been in our fair for years and have become friends, to produce their world class event in our city blew me away. It is a destination I will be at, for sure.
Really?? I love her work.
She’s rented a one bedroom mid-Wilshire apartment and turned it into an exhibition space. It’s a project called Signs that change buildings. That should be great. 1301PE has been her gallerist and big supporters of the fair for years.
Fiona’s work is so special and it feels like you don’t see it enough. Fantastic news, indeed! Is there anything you are particularly excited about or that you are personally really excited to share?
Well, we always try to keep ourselves in check. For example, we collaborated with The Getty, Pacific Standard Time, and LAXART to recreate Judy Chicago’s Disappearing Environments, which is a direct comment on consumerism and buying artwork since the piece disappears, making it hard to acquire. This year, it’s really exciting to have Dave Hickey, the infamous art critic, do a talk with us. He’ll be taking with David Pagel from the LA Times about his new book. We’ll see! I don’t have all the details of all that will unfold but it’s really exciting to have someone who I read quite a bit of while in school.
In terms of what’s next, any projects or happenings in the fair that we should be on the lookout for?
Absolutely. We’ll see how this comes together but it has been a very interesting run for us. Like I said, it’s been a shift: we’ve wanted it from the beginning to work. And, by working, we need galleries to bring great work and sell it and LA to get excited which then gets the international art tourists and community to show up. It’s feeling like we are in full stride here.
Is there room for more? Yes. This is all that we’ve done in the past five years. We work all year round for four days. It’s been amazing. Working on an annual basis, it’s time to add more to the mix, whether that is doing programs and talks during the year or shifting the recipe even more dramatically next year. We have all kinds of ideas ahead of us. They just aren’t quite ready to reveal yet: we definitely have more coming up for these next twelve months, to have more of a presence as a company.
The Art Los Angeles Contemporary is running January 31 through February 2 with an opening on January 30. You can learn about events here and visitor information here. Learn more about Fiona Connor’s January 31 and February 1 show here.