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Interview with Stephen Cohen - Director of Photo L.A. & Art L.A.

Stephen Cohen

Between the 19 and 22 January, Los Angeles celebrates with over 70 participating galleries the 15th edition of PhotoLA, one of the most important fairs dedicated to this medium in the United States. Just one week later, about the same number of galleries will occupy the Santa Monica Auditorium again, on the occasion of the Art LA, dedicated to video, digital art, and mixed media. Both fairs are organised by Stephen Cohen, a Los Angeles-based gallerist (not the famous hedge-fund manager) committed to place this city in the art world’s map that is still very focussed on New York.

1. How would you describe the art scene in Los Angeles?
The art scene in Los Angeles is vibrant and growing. The area is home to more and more artists who choose to live and work here. Consequently, you see more and more of collectors and curators coming to Los Angeles, and to local art schools to make their next discoveries.

2. What do you consider needs to change?
More press coverage of the local art scene as well as more activity from local museums. Local collectors need to be more proactive and to pay more attention to the local scene. The art scene in LA is still largely unkown.Not many realise how great it is.

3. What do these fairs offer visitors and participant galleries? What distinguishes them from other fairs?
These fairs are a marketplace for people who want to discover and potentially purchase art from 70 galleries. They get the chance to see some of the best contemporary and new art that is being produced. In the case of Art LA, in addition to being a new fair, we can present a very good mixture of contemporary and new work from an exciting list of exhibitors. It is also a quite intimate fair of manageable size for visitors and collectors. We have about 25 galleries from Southern California, and this means that visitors will get a very good sense of what is being produced in Los Angeles.

Lalla Essaydi

4. How do you select galleries?
There is a committee that reviews applications, and there are also certain galleries that we invited on the basis of the quality and status of their artists. There is a great mix of galleries from the United States, as well as from Europe.

5. Do you expect many sales?
Sales figures were excellent last year and we expect them to be even better in 2006. The market for contemporary art is growing in leaps and bounds. There will be works priced from $500 to over $100,000; so in the end, there is something for everyone.

6. Don’t you think that the contemporary art market is overheated?
I think that certain items get a lot of attention at auctions. But there are a lot of collectors, and of various tastes, so I think that the market can still grow. There is amazing art out there to get at reasonable prices.

7. Are there too many fairs?
Probably, but it seems to be the way things are now. There has to be a natural selection over the next year or so, since there is just a finite number of good dealers and they cannot spend their year in constant motion. Perhaps the market will change, and there won’t be as many public, sedentary galleries, and more will focus on private sales and on the fairs. The fair is – in a way – an alternative to auction houses.

8. Which role does the internet play in the arts world?
The internet is a great way to discover artists and collect information. The better informed a collector is, the better he can take informed decisions about what to purchase through a gallery, at an auction or on a fair.

Interview: Raúl Martínez
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