A mecca for designers, gallerists and independent publishers, Art Los Angeles Contemporary also produces a newspaper

By Christina Campodonico

Art fairs are typically events where the primary objective is to see art and be seen appreciating and collecting it, but visitors to this week’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) can also pick up some first-rate reading material.

Happening Thursday through Sunday at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, the seventh annual gathering of artists, designers, gallerists and independent publishers contemplates art as much as it observes it. That’s because in addition to showcases, talks and live performances, ALAC produces its very own annual art newspaper.

The second issue of ALAC’s Art Los Angeles Reader features writing by established and emerging L.A.-area arts writers that discusses the state of the city’s contemporary art scene, its history and critical issues looking into the future.
The publication is more than just a companion catalogue for the fair, notes ALAC Director Tim Fleming. Fleming’s editorial team, now headed by visual arts writer Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, has been experimenting with ways to cover the fair for a few years, starting with a companion website called The Journal.
“The paper is an evolution of what we’ve been working on with [Rosenthal],” says Fleming. “When we started The Journal we felt like we were all by ourselves in Los Angeles. All the events that we did weren’t getting talked about in the media. We started the weekend with ourselves writing from on the ground about the fair, VIP tours and performances. Then we realized over the years that maybe we could do more.”

A trip to the Superscript conference on contemporary arts journalism and criticism at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis inspired Fleming to reconsider the role of writing at an art fair.

“What’s a writer’s place in this network, this temporary sort of event that we’re creating? What does it mean for the fair to work with writers, who would typically be writing critically about the art fair?” Fleming muses.

Rosenthal was one of ALAC’s original reporters on the ground and pitched Fleming her idea to start a publication with a freer form and a longer timeline that could live beyond the fair’s close — essentially, using ALAC’s resources as a jumping off point for more in-depth writings about art and Los Angeles. For inspiration they looked to Frieze magazine, which has affiliated art fairs in New York and London, but wanted to create a publication that diverged completely from the fair in terms of content and had an independent editorial voice.
Fleming’s primary directive for Rosenthal: “I want the paper to be everything that the fair can’t be,” he recalls.
“One of the things that makes this publication unique is that it’s very centered on the writer’s voice or the artist’s voice. In my editing process I’ve really just tried to let that be what stands out, so each of the writers have a very different tone and approach that’s very idiosyncratic and very them,” Rosenthal says.

“One of the distinguishing things that I want for the Reader [is that] it would allow a broader understanding of art as cultural production, and that means thinking of art’s role in the world and not just as it functions in terms of its own history,” she says.
This year’s Art Los Angeles Reader focuses on Southern California and its architectures, from the L.A. River to the Inglewood oil field. Articles include reflections by chief MOCA curator Helen Molesworth and The Underground Museum’s Karon Davis, an interview with artist Amy Yao and visual artwork by Math Bass and Lauren Davis Fisher. There are also essays by high-profile art writers such as Catherine Wagley (LA Weekly), Kate Wolf (Los Angeles Review of Books), and Jonathan Griffin (Frieze).
Art Los Angeles Contemporary’s independent publishers section in Barker Hangar, curated by Primary Information’s Miriam Katzeff, offers plenty of additional reading material, with authors and publishing houses and bookstores selling hundreds of new and recently reissued titles.
“Typically art fairs have one or two book fairs with big distributors. In this case, we opted to go right to the source. The difference is that we have publishers that have a handful of titles; they’re almost works of art,” Fleming says.
While ALAC offers plenty of temptation to bury your head in a good (and most likely very beautiful) book, there are lots of reasons for visitors to look around. Presenting artwork at the fair are 80 galleries from Culver City to Korea, including West L.A.’s Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Cherry and Martin, Anat Ebgi, China Art Objects Galleries and Blum & Poe.
New to this year’s ALAC is a section called “Freeways” that’s dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming artistic talent and new galleries such as L.A.’s Greene Exhibitions and Smart Objects.
“This year we’re diving a little deeper into the artist culture of Los Angeles and what it means to be an artist. This art fair isn’t just for collectors; it’s for everybody,” Fleming says.
Artist Alison O’Daniel and Compton’s Centennial High School marching band will kick off the fair Thursday night with a performance that reconstructs a song in real time based on the band’s marching formations, the speed of the song and the space constraints of Barker Hangar.

Curator Marc LeBlanc’s artist-driven program of lectures, “Conversations with Myself,” promises to stoke the flames of critical thinking. A conversation led by writer-curator and jack-of-all-trades creative Neville Wakefield happens Friday, a discussion with experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger about his life’s work happens Saturday, and on Sunday artist A.L. Steiner and writer Kevin McGarry (T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Artforum, Art Agenda) talk about truth and art.

What ties all this diverse programming together, says Fleming, is the fair’s focus on Los Angeles.
“It has a very local backbone,” he says. “It’s really a digestible fair. You have an up-close-and-personal experience with the gallery and the fair. One third [of the galleries] are in Los Angeles. … We spend a lot of time thinking about L.A.”
It’s a sentiment that Rosenthal’s introduction to the Art Los Angeles Reader echoes:  “In the pages that follow, the architectures of Los Angeles feature as a character. And like the most fascinating characters, they don’t always follow orders. Sometimes, L.A. conspires with and sometimes it antagonizes the artists, writers and thinkers collected here. Certainly, it never agrees to a role as a set, an extra, or even purely a muse.”

“Art Los Angeles Contemporary” opens from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, and continues through Jan. 31 at Barker Hangar, 3021 Airport Ave., Ste. 203, Santa Monica. Tickets are $24 to $60. For full event schedule, visit artlosangelesfair.com.