This weekend, Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) sets up shop at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar, with a worldwide roundup and locally focused selection of 70 galleries featuring artists who are defining what’s happening in art right now.

When Director Tim Fleming and I chatted by phone recently, he pointed out the fair is celebrating its fifth year, and has continued expanding from one to two and now, three days. He says he can’t imagine a more perfect match between purpose and place.

Barbara Kasten's 'Studio Construct 135, 2011' (Courtesy of Gallery Luisotti)

Barbara Kasten’s ‘Studio Construct 135, 2011′
(Courtesy of Gallery Luisotti)

“I’d met the owner of Barker Hangar and loved the space. Since arriving in L.A. about nine years ago, I’d drive around the city looking for the perfect venue. But it all came back to the Barker. It’s just ideal to build an art fair in this venue, a big, beautiful, open 40,000-square-foot space that is 40 feet high with no columns. It helps that great hotels are nearby, and that art tourists get the opportunity to spend time in Santa Monica.”

The idea behind ALAC is different from other art fairs, Fleming says.

“L.A. has become a real art destination for collectors and we strive to make the environment accessible to the galleries. We’re different from other fairs in that there’s a less hierarchical system, less need for a gallery to have a long track record. We have galleries that are barely a year old showing alongside galleries that have been established for more than 25 years.

“With a mix of one-third L.A.-based galleries and two-thirds from the rest of the world, the fair is a cross-section of what’s happening right now in contemporary art. Of course it’s an event for the public to look at and learn about contemporary art, but it’s also a great place for museums to check out work by up-and-coming artists they may want in their collections and for both experienced and new collectors to buy art.”

Collector Stanley Hollander says the fair has grown increasingly attractive to collectors. “Los Angeles is not the same city it was even five years ago. Art sprawls all across the city. This is a beacon event in a single location and collectors are lining up to attend. You can find work for a few hundred dollars up to many thousands of dollars. It’s the kind of event where I can discover and seek out work by a particular artist ahead of the curve.”

One new gallery that Fleming is excited about is Hollywood-based Tif Sigfrids, who recently exhibited a series of six microscopically small portrait paintings by Joe Sola. Displayed on a tiny white box that replicated the gallery space, they were painted with acupuncture needles. To see them, you had to peer into the gallerist’s ear where she carried the exhibition.

Also participating is Bergamot Station-based Gallery Luisotti, specializing in contemporary photography. On display at ALAC will be prints by artist Barbara Kasten, who assembles abstract interior environments with glass, mirrors, Plexiglas, mesh and other materials, and then photographs the interplay of light and shadow to create moody, black, white and gray images.

“The criteria for inclusion in our fair,” Fleming explained, “are works that are typically brand new or least from the last five years or so, although we’re not super strict. The galleries we select are supporting artists doing very progressive, out-of-the-box work, that’s not necessarily even salable, such as video, sound work, and of course paintings, sculpture and photography. It’s work that is constantly challenging and redefining what it means to be contemporary.”

As for the influence of the market on art, Fleming concludes, “To stay in business, galleries do shape their programs based on the marketplace. But at the same time ALAC works hard to bring in galleries that really believe in the work they’re showing, that help to develop artists’ careers and are trying to make statements. We like to add to and help redefine the notion of what the art world can be by not following the rules of other art fairs.”

Art Los Angeles Contemporary opens tonight, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. and runs through Sunday. Find out more at www.artlosangelesfair.com.

 

If you build it

 

Closing Jan. 30 at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, a moving new documentary called “If You Build It” tells the story of two dedicated designers, whose off-the-grid ethos brings them to the poorest town in rural North Carolina to create a hands-on, goals-based design curriculum at the local high school.

How will a dying town’s next generation respond when Matthew Miller and Emily Pilloton come to town promising to give them a way to construct a future for themselves and their community?

As the film begins, it’s not possible to imagine the creativity that ultimately comes out of these students and how they will envision, design and build a beautiful farmers market pavilion that will help revive and transform their local economy.

With an economy in shambles and stricken by a disastrous flood, the town’s young people have nowhere to go but away if they hope to find a career. Miller and Pilloton’s goal is to explore the town’s needs and find design solutions that emerge from the environment, while giving the students creative and practical skills that will last a lifetime.

Although blessed with a principal whose forward-thinking passion for his town made it possible to bring this unique working couple to his high school, school board politics and the principal’s firing put the project at risk. Aided only by grant money to fund their ambitious program, the duo takes on the task of running their Studio H curriculum without salaries.

It’s truly touching and inspiring to watch these students grow. For those who think there’s no hope for education, this film may change your mind.

Find out more at www.ifyoubuilditmovie.com.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.