ArtLA President Stephen Cohen Says His Fair Will Regroup


With evidence of an economic turnaround still in question at the start of a new year, one Los Angeles art fair has decided to pull up stakes. The sixth edition of the artLA fair, scheduled for January 21-24 in Santa Monica, announced cancellation on December 30. But art fair president and photography gallery owner Stephen Cohen says that the interruption is only temporary.

“I didn’t want to just do artLA, the sixth one, just to say, ‘here’s artLA,'” said Cohen. “I felt that it couldn’t be done in the short amount of time. So our sixth year will be next year.” LEFT: STEPHEN COHEN. PHOTO BY TED VAN CLEVE

Cohen cites a combination of factors behind the decision to put the fair on “hiatus,” saying first and foremost that the “economy can’t be underestimated.” There were fewer galleries participating in the fairs at Miami in December, owing to closures and hesitation, Cohen observed. (In fact, the number of galleries at Art Basel Miami Beach 2009 grew from 265 to 270, although the number of participating satellite fairs fell from 22 to 16.) And while the Euro is strong, Cohen says that European prices are geared toward that stronger figure—meaning European galleries lose when they lower prices to account for the dollar.

Logistics also presented a significant obstacle when, by late 2009, Cohen still lacked firm plans for a venue. The Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hanger, where the 5th edition of artLA was staged, did not reduce rental and buildout prices for the scaled-back fair Cohen had in mind. And although late in November he finally lined up back-to-back January weekend dates for artLA and Photo LA at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, he felt it came too late to ask galleries to commit to artLA.

As artLA suspends operations, another Los Angeles art fair is opening its doors: Art Los Angeles Contemporary, under the administration of former artLA director Tim Fleming.

The new fair, which was formally announced back in September, may yet serve as the scrappy counter to the Fine Art Dealers Association L.A. Art Show—which takes place the same weekend that artLA would have. Cohen, however, says there will be room for artLA’s return.

Yesterday, Art Los Angeles Contemporary representatives participated in a ceremony at the REDCAT theater, where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Tom LaBonge kicked off the beginning of Los Angeles Arts Month. As an L.A. Arts Month committee member, Art Los Angeles Contemporary joined other plastic and performing arts organizations to note the second-annual initiative and inaugurate a number of tentpole initiatives taking place in January. One of those is “Via,” a suite of four temporary public projects installed by Mexican contemporary artists for the Los Angeles Nomadic Division. The first such project by LAND, a nonprofit organization directed by former Whitney Museum curator Shamim Momin, one of those four projects will be staged at a Pacific Design Center lobby, concurrent with Art Los Angeles Contemporary.

Cohen says that the emergence of this fair—which he calls “essentially a rip-off of artLA”—was another reason for postponing artLA. Nearly half of the exhibitors at Art Los Angeles Contemporary showed at artLA last year, when Fleming still served as the director of artLA. (LEFT: TIM FLEMING. PHOTO BY JESSICA HAYE)

“He was telling people I sold the fair to him,” alleged Cohen. “That he was taking over artLA. None of those things were true. I didn’t know about him saying those things until very late in the game.”

Tim Fleming did not immediately return calls for comment.

“A lot of the people who did [artLA] will come back,” Cohen said. “There are a lot of galleries out there in the ocean. More galleries from China, Asia, Korea, and the Middle East. We’re going to make an effort that takes a longer time.”