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L.A. art fair may rival Paris, Basel. Second outing brings better organization, more visitors

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Works from many big-name artists were conspicuously present: Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, David Smith, David Hockney, and Susan Rothenberg. Many top-name galleries were conspicuously absent: Castelli, Mary Boone, Sonnabend, Paula Cooper. But interviews with exhibitors here at the second international contemporary art fair - called ``ART/LA87'' - indicate Los Angeles is well on its way to becoming a world-class American alternative to the well-known Navy Pier exhibition in Chicago. And it may soon equal - in size, diversity, and talent - the top European-based fairs in Basel, Paris, and Cologne.

``It doesn't yet have that `buzz' that you get in Chicago or Basel,'' says William C.M. Jackson, managing director of the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, who has exhibited at 20 fairs in the last eight years. ``But the commitment I feel here this year, the quality and diversity and the organization, [mean] this will be a major fair in three to four years.''

From more than 400 galleries that applied, a panel of experts, headed by Los Angeles professionals and including patrons Marcia and Frederick Weisman, selected 170 galleries representing 54 cities and about 1,000 artists. The exhibition, at the downtown Convention Center, was complemented by 36 seminars presenting 70 international speakers on contemporary art trends and issues.

The fair opened about two months after another more commercial fair, ArtExpo Cal, and a year after its own poorly attended debut, which was blamed on competition from two museum openings: the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. All these events have been heralded as steppingstones in a general burgeoning of art savvy in Los Angeles.

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