With all of the chatter in recent years about a new awakening of a vital art scene in Los Angeles — the city traditionally considered to lag behind New York and London in art world relevance — Santa Monica must share a good chunk of the credit. With its plethora of galleries and its 30-plus gallery cluster at Bergamot Station (a former train station the city now reserves for art galleries) Santa Monica stands out in the Los Angeles scene.

Now, back-to-back photographic art and contemporary art expositions are planned at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Photo L.A. is scheduled for noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, January 21st to 23rd, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $20 for a one-day pass or $30 for a three-day pass. Lectures are $10 each to attend, and participation in seminars is $70 (which includes a three-day pass). A preview reception gala, to benefit the Photographic Arts Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, January 20th. Preview tickets are $50.

Art L.A. is scheduled for noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, January 28th to 30th, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Tickets are $15 for a one-day pass or $25 for a three-day pass. Tickets to a critics panel, “Art Criticism Today: How Accessibility and Technology Are Influencing Art Writing,” scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, January 30th, are $10.

A preview reception, that will benefit the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) Contemporaries program, is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, January 27th. Preview tickets are $50.

This is the 14th year of Photo L.A., but Art L.A. is making its debut. What makes Art L.A. different than many other art shows is simply its focus on contemporary art, artists who are alive and hot today, rather than artwork from deep in the past, says show organizer Stephen Cohen.

Cohen cites Ed Ruscha as one of the contemporary artists most responsible for putting Los Angeles on the art world map, as well as the recent boom in galleries.

“Just a few years ago, Bergamot Station hardly existed, Downtown [art scene] hardly existed,” says Cohen. “There’s been an explosion of galleries and an interest from collectors in buying regional L.A. art.”

Photo L.A. shows both past and present prints from photography’s invention in the 1800s to the present.

Photo L.A. also includes elements of documentary photography and photojournalism.

A special exhibit by the medical humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders will show a selection of documentary photographs spanning 20 years of the group’s involvement in Afghanistan. The photographs are a testament to the ongoing suffering of the Afghan people, the group says. Doctors Without Borders closed all of its medical programs in Afghanistan in June 2004 after the assassination of five of its aid workers.

“We wanted to raise awareness about what the work that this group is doing,” says Cohen.

“A lot of what has become art photography was initially intended to be photojournalism or documentary photography at first,” he adds. “A good is example is the work of Walker Evans, who documented poverty for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s.

“It’s original purpose was documentary, but now the photography is considered art.”

Along with its displays of works from about 80 galleries, Photo L.A. will feature auxiliary lectures by renowned photographers, including Alec Soth, John Humble, Bill Owens and Mona Kuhn. Art L.A. will feature exhibits of contemporary art works by about 50 galleries.

Information, (323) 937-5525.

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