Issue #217  7/13/2015
Paris Photo LA Renewed for 2016, But Why?

By Alex Novak

The latest edition of the West Coast version of Paris Photo had few major name photography galleries, in contrast to the recent photo london show, which managed to scoop up more than a few top dealers and galleries (see: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article-view.php/228/216/1424/0/0/10). Yes, Hamilton's and Flower's were still exhibiting, but few other galleries would be considered major name players.

Paris Photo LA
Paris Photo LA

This was the third edition of the Los Angeles fair and reportedly the third year of a three-year contract with Paramount Studios. Few dealers have reported good sales at this show in the past, although the venue is a stunning one. There have been reasonably large audiences attending, albeit attendees who leave their wallets in their pockets. This year was no exception, leaving many to ponder if that contract would be renewed or not, especially since the entire Paris Photo top management who bought into this boondoggle has been replaced this year. The Paris Photo website currently indicates that the group is still planning to have a 2016 show at Paramount Studios from April 29-May1. Whether or not this is just a one-year extension or a longer term contract is still not public.

As in the past, most of the exhibitors were somewhat lower-end contemporary galleries. Gone this year were Fraenkel Gallery, Rose Gallery, Howard Greenberg, Bruce Silverstein and other major name dealers, some of whom preferred to try out (or at least visit) the photo london fair instead (for the London show story, click here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article-view.php/228/216/1424).

When Paris Photo decided to try to launch a show—and a primarily contemporary one at that—in L.A., some of us in the business felt they had misunderstood the market here.

In the past photo la had done extraordinarily well, even rivaling Paris Photo itself and AIPAD in New York at its peak. But after a series of missteps for well over a decade, photo la's star lost its international luster, and its market was fragmented by the newer Classic Photographs Los Angeles. Paris Photo obviously thought the time was ripe for a move to try to launch a show in what it thought was the perfect market for a contemporary photography fair: Los Angeles. But what their people didn't understand was that while L.A. was a decent, if strange, market for contemporary paintings and other contemporary artwork, it has always been an odd market for contemporary photography. It has actually been kinder to vintage, traditional and more "mainstream" contemporary work, such as that shown at Rose Gallery, Peter Fetterman and other Bergamot Station galleries.

Worse, Paris Photo's people hadn't realized that the overall U.S. art market had changed dramatically in recent decades. With so many--some would say, TOO many--art and photography fairs vying for attention, Los Angeles had lost its ability (as did Chicago) to become a destination that could draw people nationally, let alone internationally.

With three major established art fairs in New York and Miami, and AIPAD's vastly superior and more interesting photography fair in New York just weeks before Paris Photo LA's extravaganza, it was virtually impossible to draw that big international audience needed to make the fair a financial success for its non-book store exhibitors.

Paris Photo has had to sell and rotate in largely new players each year to replace those galleries who made few or even no sales and dropped out. Some galleries did continue to do the show in the hopes that the fair would grow its audience and sales, or that their exhibit in LA would give them a leg up in Paris to get into that well-respected show.

Frankly, Paris Photo might have been better off to launch a general photography fair in Miami during Art Week there. But Paris Photo's people have always been reluctant to make such decisions if they felt that adding a show just might help their bigger art fair brethren, such as Art Basil or Frieze, instead of their own FIAC show. It was just one of the many reasons they blew photo london when they attempted to take it over several years ago. Not understanding the nuances and timing of your market is a cardinal sin in the art business. The new owners of photo london seem to understand this well, and appear to be reviving that show's prospects.

We will now have to see if Paris Photo organization has learned some lessons or not. Its core show is still the one to beat, although recent years have shown that the past people in charge at Paris Photo had a stone deafness about diversity of exhibitors and the distinctions between photography and art markets. Will the new management team be a breathe of fresh air? Or will they too make the same mistakes? Stay tuned.