New York Times art critic Holland Cotter reviews "Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s" by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp in Sunday's Book Review, mostly favorably but with a substantial ding for leaving out the Watts art scene of the time. In the main it's another recommendation for 'Rebels' as a valuable work on Los Angeles history. From the review:
The story starts in 1955, when Los Angeles was a boomtown thanks to movies and the aerospace industry, but a cultural backwater. There were plenty of homegrown artists, but few galleries and no modern art museum. Into this bare terrain came a couple of driven personalities. One of them, Walter Hopps, preppy and bespectacled, was a college dropout and art addict. The other, Edward Kienholz, was a bearish farm boy-artist with a peppery temperament. On the surface, their alliance was an unlikely one — Mr. Peepers meets Bigfoot — but it worked.
Both wanted to get some art action going in the city, and in 1957 they pooled their meager resources to open the Ferus Gallery. Initially conceived as a showcase for local talent, Ferus expanded its scope after an early shift in personnel. Kienholz bailed; he really didn’t want to run a business. Hopps, a person of pathologically impractical habits, didn’t know how to. So when an amiable former actor and New York transplant named Irving Blum turned up and bought out Kienholz’s share, he became the gallery’s functional director and made its range of artists bicoastal.
These three men are recurrent figures in Drohojowska-Philp’s narrative, which pans back and forth in time. Around them, or around Ferus, circulated a constellation of figures who would become the city’s first glamorous art stars, among them John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Ed Moses, Ken Price and a young Oklahoman, Ed Ruscha. The Ferus scene, as described in the book, started out fairly relaxed and mildly countercultural. Even its hardest-working members put in serious surfing time. After all, why worry about shows and sales if there was no market? In line with this laid-back affect, everyone made a big thing of not caring about what was going on with art in Manhattan, though in fact, many Los Angeles artists in the ’50s were fixated on Abstract Expressionism. Some of the Ferus artists were too, but what distinguished them was that they managed to work that style out of their systems and come up with something new.
Hopps went on to organize the first U.S. show of Pop art, at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962, and the same year the Ferus Gallery gave Andy Warhol his first commercial show (of Campbell's Soup can paintings.)
Also in Sunday's NYT: Caitlin Flanagan reviews two new novels for girls: "One of the manifold ways our culture fails girls is in its refusal to honor or even acknowledge their deep interest in romance."
Photo: Walter Hopps at right in 1959 photo by Charles Brittin, J. Paul Getty Trust in New York Times