22 February, 2011

23 Feb - The Ferus Gallery

LAUNCHPROJECTS - Last week I had the remarkable opportunity to meet Irving Blum. Internationally renown art dealer and the force behind Los Angeles' legendary Ferus Gallery, Blum was a pioneer in the promotion of the post-war artists of the 1960's on both coasts - discovering and championing artists such as Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Bell, Ken Price, Robert Irwin, Ed Kienholz, Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.

Last night I decided to watch the documentary The Cool School to learn more about the Ferus Gallery and Blum's tremendous impact both in Los Angeles and New York at that time. The Cool School uncovers and interviews virtually all of the artists, friends, collectors, and minds behind Ferus to explore how this short-lived gallery forever transformed the Los Angeles art scene. As the documentary describes, "the gallery managed to do for art in Los Angeles what the museums previously could not. Even though their modalities were as disparate as assemblage art, abstract expressionism and Pop, Ferus artists shared ideas, goals, workspaces and a lasting vision."

The concepts and motivation behind both the success and closure of Ferus is further described by Blum in a 1977 interview with Paul Cummings. Blum describes that even with the excitement and rush of Ferus' exhibitions and openings, "there just wasn’t a heck of a lot of activity. There wasn’t a lot of movement, there really wasn’t. And the awful thing about selling out there, especially at the beginning, was that there was simply no pressure. So if somebody said, well, if you told somebody the price of a painting, they would say to you, “Fine, all right, let me think about it.” You’d say, “All right.” And they would think about it for a month, or two, or three and be relatively sure that when they came back into the gallery, that thing would still be there... And virtually every time out, it was still there. So they could take as much time as they liked to consider buying whatever it was they had in their head to do. Whereas in New York, if you see something and it’s really terrific, and if you say to the dealer, “Well, let me think about it,” the dealer will generally say, “Well, certainly, take 48 hours. I have other interests, I have other people coming in to look.” And you know that that’s true. In California, it simply wasn’t true. I couldn’t say, “Look, I can only give you 24 hours.” They would laugh! They would say, “Who else would buy that, for God’s sake?” And you couldn’t answer. And they’d be right, you know".

When Cummings questioned Blum what he had learned over decades of dealing emerging and established art on both coasts, Blum responded that "if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have had other thoughts about doing the gallery business. I probably would have gone ahead and done it in any case, but at least I would have had a sounder base from which to operate. I would have known that it would have taken me six or seven years just to get even for example. That was something I had no idea of at the very beginning. And I would have understood that showing younger people or unknown people takes forever and is largely a thankless, difficult, expensive matter."

Our conversation followed the thread of both the documentary and the interview. He was extraordinarily generous and forthcoming about his experiences and his insights resonate deeply as we consider LAUNCHPROJECTS' current endeavors and what we ultimately aspire to accomplish. Blum's energy and enthusiasm for the art world continues to be contagious, his charm exhilarating. Transformation, passion, and honest examination of time and place is clearly a foundation to sustained growth and continued relevance in this capricious and mercurial world of art.

Images: Irving Blum, The Ferus Gallery Storefront, The Ferus gang, 1962. L-R, Ed Kienholz, Allen Lynch, Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John Altoon