Paris Photo Los Angeles 2013

by Matthew Conboy

Issue 51

With the exception of the Hollywood Sign and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, few places in Los Angeles are as iconic as the entrance gates to Paramount Studios. Playing off of the temporality and representational quality of photography, Paris Photo decided last year to bypass the cultural cachet of New York City for the simulacrum of Hollywood's Paramount Studio. It was here, inside three sound stages and on the New York City backlot, that Paris Photo, now in its 17th year, made a home for its inaugural American fair to exhibit and showcase photographic works ranging from historical pieces and processes to contemporary installations and digital works. While fair organizers hoped to attract 10,000 visitors during the fair’s run from April 26-28th, more than 13,500 attended although still nowhere close to the 54,000 attendees at Paris Photo last November. Noticeably smaller in footprint than its European counterpart, Paris Photo LA invited 60 galleries and 12 publishers from 14 countries compared to 128 galleries and 23 publishers from 23 countries at Paris Photo in 2012. Established galleries including Fraenkel, Gagosian, and Stephen Wirtz were paired with upstarts like Ambach & Rice and Haines. Especially telling was that half of the galleries were founded after 2000 with 21 of them opting to show only a single photographer.

Notable solo shows included Belgian photographer Filip Dujardin with his Italo Calvinoesque architectural photo montages for Highlight Gallery and Kota Ezawa's "The History of Photography Remix" that included a 40 slide projection; a dozen paper cutout light box prints of famous photographs from Ansel Adams, Cindy Sherman, and Ed Ruscha; and a stereoscope with his own novel take on landscapes portrayed in films. Chicago-based Catherine Edelman Gallery opted for a group show that included John Cyr's "Developer Trays" and Gregory Scott's "Outside the Frame" series. The "Developer Trays" were exactly that, photographs of the used and stained, but empty trays of some of the most famous photographers of the 20th Century including Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, and Aaron Siskind. Gregory Scott might well have had the most novel approach to blurring the distinction of photography and fine art. Composed of pigment prints and oil paint on panels with HD video monitors embedded within the panel, his objects maintained a detached abstraction while directly referencing works by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

The supplemental programming was especially strong with book signings each day in addition to a series of "conversations" curated by Douglas Fogle and featuring pairings of photographers as far reaching as John Divola and Richard Misrach to Alec Soth and Matthew Weiner. When John Divola remarked that “'Where you are' and 'when you are' are mechanically encoded by the camera,” at the opening “conversation,” it was difficult not to think about the setting for this scene, on the same sound stages and backlot that housed classics like Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Chinatown, or the current state of the contemporary and global art world that precipitated the growth of art fairs. The last piece of programming for Paris Photo LA was "The Screenings," a half-dozen conceptual and experimental films and videos. From Chris Marker's groundbreaking La Jetée (1962) that later inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys and Michael Snow's structural film landmark WVLNT (Wavelength [For Those Who Don't Have The Time]) (1966-67/2003) to Bruce Conner’s hypnotic Breakaway (1966) with a soundtrack from Toni Basil, these screenings offered a refreshing break from the main fair.

Although the reasonably intimate scale of Paris Photo LA was a welcome break from the mega-fairs featured during New York’s Armory Week and Miami Beach’s Art Basel, it remains to be seen whether Los Angeles can continue to support photo l.a. and Paris Photo LA within three months of each other for the foreseeable future. However, with marquee shows running concurrently at the Annenberg Space for Photography (War/Photography: Photographs of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath), J. Paul Getty Museum (Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuk Yamamoto), and LACMA (Stanley Kubrick), there was no shortage of art or photography to suit anyone’s taste.