Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I recently participated in the 18th annual Los Angeles Asian & Tribal Art Show. It is produced by the Caskey Lees organization and held in mid November at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. There were approximately 60 dealers present, offering classic Asian material from Japan, China, Korea, and India, as well of tribal, textile, and pre-Columbian art.

Tribal Art dealers present were LA Tribal members: John Strusinski, Ron Normandeau, Joshua Dimondstein, Philip Garaway, Fily Keita, Jerry Solomon, myself of course, as well as Michael Hamson, Georgia Chrischilles, Aarin Richard, Tom Murray, Zena Kurzick, Craig De Lora, Peter Boyd, and M B Abram. Carpets and textiles were well-represented by John Ruddy, Casey Waller, Ron Hort, Noel Glenn, and Jeff Appleby. My apologies to any others I may have missed.

Once again, UCLA’s Fowler Museum was the beneficiary of the opening night proceeds. They also had a silent auction to raise funds for their Textile support group.

As usual, the show produced mixed results. First, the bad news:

Most of the dealers I spoke with were reasonably nervous about the poor economic news and how it might affect sales at the show. Frankly, regardless of how well the economy is doing, dealers tend to mope about this subject and rarely find any reasons to be optimistic about big sales at any of these shows! It’s just part of the pre-show drama.

However, the slow economy was clearly a factor and sales were down for the majority of dealers, including myself. Most of the buyers did seem hesitant to make any serious purchases under this economic cloud. There isn’t much we can do about this right now, except hang in there until things get back on track.

Also, it has been my view for some time, that the high end market for tribal art in LA is anemic, so it can be difficult to just blame the economy on poor sales. Most of my important sales are made outside of the LA area. I am still not sure why this is the case. LA is one of the wealthiest communities in the world. Most of these people collect art, yet very few seriously collect tribal art or appear to have any interest in doing so. The older collectors in LA are not very active and few younger collectors have stepped up. There are plenty of reliable resources for high quality tribal art in the LA area, but the local collectors rarely take advantage of this situation.

I was disappointed (again) with the Fowler Museum’s participation. This is premier tribal arts institution in Los Angeles and I would expect a more enthusiastic relationship with our local tribal art show. I have been to openings at the Fowler and many hundreds of people attend, yet I rarely see any of those people at our event. Sure, some of the staff comes through and perhaps a few others that may have heard about the show via the Fowler, but virtually no one I talked to on opening night had any connection to that museum. I don’t understand why the Fowler would not take advantage of this relationship and beat the drum to get their troops to the opening. They get a big chunk of the money that comes in that night and it gives their people a rare opportunity to view and purchase authentic tribal artifacts, that likely will be donated or loaned to that museum!

The last point is the venue, which I have mentioned before. The Santa Monica Civic is a tired old building and was not designed to hold quality art shows. I am surprised that the City of Santa Monica has no plans to tear that building down and replace it with a modern and more interesting architectural structure that would draw larger crowds. They have literally improved or re-built every single other building in the nearby Civic Center complex, but for some reason have ignored this out-dated blight right next door. There doesn’t seem to be any viable alternative for now, but it is my hope that the City will eventually address this issue.

The good news:

The current PR firm (AGK Media Group) and Art & Living Magazine (which was one of the co-sponsors of the show) made a huge effort to bring in new people to the opening and over the weekend. I believe we had 400 to 500 people on opening night, the largest attendance I can recall. There were considerably more people on Saturday, as well. I had so many new people, as well as the regulars, come into my booth that I couldn’t take a break all Friday evening and most of the day on Saturday. And more importantly, most of the sales I did make were to new buyers.

As a positive side note, the opening was catered for the first time by a local restaurant, Mercedes Grill, which just happens to be my one of my regular hangs. Great food and drinks were provided, but unfortunately they had not anticipated the larger crowd so there wasn’t much to go around after the first hour or so.

I like the overall mix and look of this show and it really seems to be hitting its stride. There is a nice variety (and price ranges) of material for sale and I am always happy to see more tribal art at this venue. The displays and material are not on the level of the San Francisco Tribal show, but it seems to be improving each year. The show has potential and I look forward to doing it again next year, especially if the economy is in better shape and the PR people can continue to bring in new faces.

Lastly, I want to put in a good word for the show producers and their team who work tirelessly to organize these events. Not everyone appreciates the amount of hard work and months of prep it takes to make this all happen. It is a thankless job trying to please everyone and get all of the details worked out before opening.

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