LA Art Show Has Some Hidden Delights


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles has become home to three new art fairs over the past few years, including multi-national Frieze, swanky hometown hotel affair Felix, and DIY venture Spring/Break. While those events are all a couple weeks away, LA’s longest-running art fair, the LA Art Show, takes place this weekend at the city’s downtown Convention Center, showcasing more than 120 exhibitors from all over the world in its 29th edition. These younger fairs have stolen much of the limelight, making the LA Art Show seem a bit like an out-of-touch uncle, featuring artwork that may please the eye but is largely removed from relevant currents in the larger art world. However, between the weeds— and there are a lot of them — lie some surprising discoveries that are worth the effort to uncover.

On Thursday afternoon, Robert Vargas was in his booth painting a large mural titled “The World House,” inspired by a term used by Martin Luther King Jr. Vargas was selecting his subjects on site, creating a diverse, multiracial portrait of fairgoers. He took a break from his work to speak with a group of students from the Compton Early College High School, an interaction underscoring the fair’s unfussy and accessible tone. “It’s like they’re in my studio,” Vargas told Hyperallergic.

Another highlight was DIVERSEatLA, a non-commercial section featuring artwork focused on AI and memory. These included Guillermo Bert’s laser-cut sculptures of Latinx nurses, farmers, and activists who worked through COVID-19, Laleh Mehran’s entropic drawing machine, and Antuan’s hypnotizing immersive installation “Be Water” (2024). The standout was Colombian-born artist Carlos Castro Arias’s Mythstories, tapestries and sculptures that layer contemporary conspiracies with historical myths and fictions, including the Heaven’s Gate cult, Area 51, 9/11, and the rumor that drug lord Pablo Escobar created a unicorn. Arias was cagey when asked how the murals were made, echoing the works’ slippery veracity — “sometimes I say my grandmother wove them,” he said.

Street Art and Pop Surrealism were on view at several booths, much of it unmemorable, although there were a few highlights, such as the Beyond the Streets Gift Shop, which was packed with reasonably priced prints, photographs, and ephemera from Mister Cartoon, Estevan Oriol, Kenny Scharf, Rammellzee, and many others. Copro Gallery’s booth was notable for its maximalist exuberance, typified by Jim McKenzie’s 7-foot-tall sculpture “Giant Potato Face” (2023). Tokyo’s Shueisha Manga-Art Heritage presented collaborations by the late Manga artist Fujio Akatsuka and 87-year old Japanese icon Keiichi Tanaami that fused youthful/punk/sci-fi/gonzo energy with meticulous printing techniques. Their mobile tea house, which visitors could enter after taking off their shoes, felt like a sacred ritual space for teenage heshers.

At the other end of the spectrum, a small number of galleries represented the old school, with engaging presentations of Post-impressionism and classical modernism. Jane Kahan Gallery, who has been exhibiting at the fair for about 25 years, according to director Pablo Morales, specializes in textiles and tapestries made by artists, with striking examples by Picasso, Léger, Raoul Dufy, and Jean Lurçat. A 1974 tapestry by Marc Chagall, “L’Ange Passant,” was priced at $5.5 million, perhaps the most expensive work at the auction.

Strolling through the aisles on Thursday afternoon, the fair was pleasantly uncrowded, a far cry from the throngs that will no doubt be descending on the Barker Hangar and Roosevelt Hotel later this month. Asked whether he thought the new fairs would detract from this long-running institution, Vargas, who has painted onsite at the LA Art Show for a decade, replied, “The more art fairs the better — but you have to tip your hat to a fair that’s been here as long as this one has.”



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