REPORT: Los Angeles

Ten Years of Tarfest

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The start of every fall season in Los Angeles brings the excitement of big-name artists having their shows at the big-name galleries around the city. For the past 10 years, the fall has also brought TarFest, an annual juried exhibition of rising talent–and possibly tomorrow’s big names–to a well-known stretch of the Miracle Mile where the La Brea Tar Pits meet the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “It started as a film, music and art festival, each on its own day,” recalls James Panozzo, who has maintained the vision of TarFest over the past decade. “Now, ideally, it’s about coming together and how we can make it the most impactful… and give recognition to early talent.”

In the beginning, this ideal was supported by reaching out to respected voices from various disciples in the art world to jury the open call exhibitions, including art critics Molly Barnes, Holly Myers, and Peter Frank; curators, such as Sinead Finnerty-Pyne at the Armory Center for the Arts; and artists Kathy Gallegos, Leora Lutz, and Shane Guffogg. Since 2007, TarFest has partnered with its neighbor, LACMA, to jury the event. This year that tradition continues, as TarFest celebrated its anniversary by taking a look through its own history, with the curatorial assistance of Holly Harrison, Curatorial Administrator of Contemporary Art at LACMA. “First of all, Howard Fox (2008) and Rita Gonzalez (2009) had curated TarFest before,” says Harrison. “I knew I had some big shoes to fill.”

Harrison also had big decisions to make, sorting through work from over 200 artists who had participated over nine years. The anniversary roster showcased the range of talent that have shown with the annual event, from painters such as Todd Carpenter, Jennifer Faist, Jorge Oswaldo and Andy Moses to mixed media artists such as Hollis Cooper and Tm Gratkowski, photographers like Mei Xian Qiu, and installation artists such as Brad Howe and Meeson Pae Yang, their materials ranging from traditional to digital, from raw earth to concrete.

While TarFest puts the spotlight on the artists, for Panozzo it is also about fostering the growth of the larger art community in the Miracle Mile district. “I think [TarFest] is incredibly important, with its focus on emerging and established LA artists, and for this area,” Harrison says, “It’s hard to be around James and not be affected by the passion he has for building the art community.”

In addition to the gallery show, TarFest culminates with a weekend music festival featuring live painting by artists including Johnny Rodriguez and Greg Simkins at the La Brea Tar Pits Park, accompanied this year by a spectacular SoCal sunset. With its multi-disciplinary schedule and free festival, TarFest opens the door to a wider audience. “I really appreciated James’ commitment to “launching” artists” exposure to a larger audience,” notes artist Tm Gratkowski, who also showed in 2008. “I think this is what TarFest does best. It bridges the gap between creative disciplines and the larger public audience, outside of the usual art crowds.”