Going to ART PLATFORM was like visiting 1000 epic exhibitions at the same time. At its core, the event is an art fair, which means that there are tons of galleries from all over the world that each have their own booth in which to showcase a small selection of their artists’ work. To the fan, like you or me, it’s a brilliant way to see works of art from all over the world without having to leave our hometowns; to the serious collector it’s the primo spot within the primary market (meaning art sold directly from an artist or gallery vs. a third-party at an auction) to see pieces in person without hopping on a private jet to counter someone’s offer–although you could.
For this year’s outing, I was asked by the gorgeous, talented, and wickedly smart art advisor Julie R. Novakoff to lead one of the special docent tours. So, after being super stoked on the idea and screaming YES!!! like I always do, I began to panic and pace in circles. What do I do? How do I do it? And what if I suck, stink, or just plain fail? I assume it was all of the same emotions that many of the artists whose work was up on the walls of the grounds also face –all the self-doubt that’s necessary in the circle of life.
To counter my nerves, I asked the secret league of Los Angeles art critics about how they approached leading tours.
Find an artist you know and do one of your interviews with them in front of the crowd.
Phew, major stress-relief. I started figuring it out from there, and kept in close contact with Julie about maps of the Barker Hangar where ART PLATFORM was taking place. Then the second great comforting news came in, Co/Lab, the separate exhibit of artist-run spaces was also going to happen this year! Another major relaxer, since I consider a majority of the people who run these kinds of places to be close friends.
Artist-run spaces are exactly what they sound like–galleries run by artists. Usually, what this means is that they will show more experimental works, since their focus is geared towards an artists’ ambitions rather than something easily understandable and sellable. You could also refer to these kinds of places as indie-galleries, the art underground, or FABAs [For Artists, By Artists].
The Co/Lab section of Art Platform was positioned in the back of the grounds and mapped out like a maze with low ceilings. I referred to it as The Rabbit Hole on my tours and would try to get everyone excited on the idea of trekking with me through the tight twists and turns in much the same way they would be if we were in the Amazonian jungle, except without the mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, and creepy crawlies.
In the intimate setting of Co/Lab (aka The Rabbit Hole), we got to talk with almost every artist and gallery owner. Hell, we even got to race around remote control cars with the head of William Kaminsky (artist and co-owner of Control Room Gallery) on top of them. It was a pleasurable way of entering into an overwhelming hall of incredibly amazing works, I think mainly due to the fact that all of the Co/Lab exhibitors are granted their spaces for free, as opposed to the galleries on the main grounds of ART PLATFORM who have to pay to display. This made for a more relaxed and playful environment, even though there were still spaces from countries like Australia, Japan, and England that had to ship all their artwork over, which is actually quite an expensive and difficult feat. (There are actually people known as art handlers whose sole responsibility it is to make sure artworks arrive to locations safely and are installed correctly. Aand if you’ve ever shipped anything you know how much of a headache that can be, let alone when it involves fragile things like glass, porcelain, and even lightly glued pieces of paper.)
By the time we made it out of The Rabbit Hole, roughly an hour had passed.
I would then collect my group together and begin walking down the pathways of the main portion of ART PLATFORM. Where, all the heavy hitters were — from the art star Damien Hirst’s editions company named Other Criteria to Marine Contemporary located in Venice Beach, CA.
It was interesting to see what each person on the tour was attracted to because they all had different sensibilities. Some of my awesome groups loved works on paper, while others only liked photography. It was my little sign of proof that art is totally subjective.
All of the gallery owners were openly warm and receptive to us and would often show us works not visible to the general public. You see, each booth had a small back room area where they could store extra paintings and prints they didn’t have enough space to display on the walls. So, we were lucky, like in the case of Zemack Contemporary, to see some really cool pieces that the average person at the fair would’ve never gotten to see. And when artists I had interviewed were around, like James Georgopoulos who was showing at Guy Hepner Gallery, we got a really special treat.
James was displaying a new body of work in which he hand paints thousands of monochromatic tiny squares (translation: each square was only one color) to form a large pixelated image. He had us all take out our cell phones to take a picture of the piece, which allowed us to see a much sharper image of the work due to the camera’s compression of the pixels. The piece was already awesome without knowing about this, but James enhanced the experience by including us in on his secret.
Now, I must admit that on each tour I too had a secret weapon…FRIENDS! I love my friends and without them I’d feel a bit lost. So, in my two rounds of touring excellent groups of participants, who I actually now view as friends too, we had quite the conversation going. On the first round, Jon Bernad joined us and took pictures of us walking around the grounds as a performance piece. It was like having our own private paparazzi. And then for the second round, the painter Shelley Holcomb joined us and was able to explain a lot of the technical aspects behind pieces.
The tour, of course, would not have been complete without a grand finale! So, our final stop was at Rachael Lee Hovnanian’s installation named “The Mud Pie Cafe.”
“The Mud Pie Cafe” looked like a retro-modern American diner [think a really clean Johnny Rockets], with four barstools set up at a counter. On the back wall were two windows that had hi-resolution screens depicting an exterior scene of farmland, and then on top of one of the bar stools was a screen displaying a man’s face. The idea was that although it looked like a classic diner, it was actually set in the future. A time when you no longer actually needed to go to a physical destination to enjoy it.
Anyways, the experience of “The Mud Pie Cafe” went as follows. You would sit down and one of two waitresses claiming to be sisters would great you in their Southern doll accents by saying something like
Hey honey! Welcome to Macadocious, Texas.
Their presence immediately put a smile on everyone’s face and then they’d ask you what you wanted to eat. If you decided to order the apple pie, the girls would tell you about how fresh it was, how the apples were picked that morning, and the recipe was a family secret. However, you got a big surprise when they served an apple pie in the form of a gelatin cube.
After talking with Rachael earlier in the day, I was confident that the food was safe to eat, but it took some convincing to get the people on my tour to go along with it so I’d always take the first bite.
The whole of the experience was such great fun! The girls never broke character, which was incredible because at least one of them wasn’t even from the South (that’s top secret by the way). I went by their booth about 100 times because I was just in love with the whole concept and general joy exuding from the place. It was like I became a regular and we’d jokingly flirt in front of everyone.
It was sad to part ways with the groups I had guided around the grounds. I wanted to stay with them the entire time and luckily most of us have stayed in touch. A bunch of them even came to the opening reception of the exhibit I curated at CURIO Studio & Collection a week after.
I love art. I really really love it. However, it took me about two years of some deep diving to figure out that it’s also a business and that as much I love to look at pieces, artists need to sell them so that they can make more. I know our economy is still in the shitter, but I really believe that as our focus on personal aesthetics grow, so will art. I mean, how many of us have Facebook pages where we, or someone else, posts photos of us and the rooms we live in. When this kind of thing first started happening during the initial Internet boom we saw people like Martha Stewart and whole designer at-home movement become really popular. So, now that we can acquire cool bed sheets and rad desks, we can also start to acquire art. So, my message is to please don’t be intimidated by galleries. Many of them won’t put prices next to works, which can make them seem unobtainable, but the thing is you’ll actually be surprised to find that the pieces you love may not be as expensive as you think.