There were a number of “fine art” galleries in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, but when it came to contemporary art with a future, “there were really only two”: Irving Blum’s Ferus (on the La Cienega corridor), and Virginia Dwan’s storefront in Westwood, the DWAN GALLERY.*
Dwan and Blum had the instinct and the wherewithal—a lucky combination (Dwan happens to be one of eighteen heirs to the 3M fortune)—and they led the way at a time when there were literally only a dozen collectors of contemporary art in the city.**
LOS ANGELES TO NEW YORK: DWAN GALLERY, 1959–1971, a long-overdue exhibition devoted to Dwan’s gallery years in the two cities, was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and is curated by James Meyer. (Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at LACMA, is the coordinating curator of the Los Angeles presentation.)
Franz Kline’s Torres, Warhol’s Brillo Box, and Ed Kienholz’s Back Seat Dodge ’38—works that Los Angeles saw for the first time at Dwan Gallery—are among the 120 works by fifty-two artists in the show.
The exhibition also showcases Dwan’s monumental third act: her direct personal and material support of land art and its artists, including such earthworks as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative—for which Dwan purchased the necessary acreage at $125. per.
LOS ANGELES TO NEW YORK: DWAN GALLERY, 1959–1971, through September 10, 2017.
LACMA, RESNICK PAVILION, Los Angeles.
James Meyer, with Paige Rozanski and Virginia Dwan, Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971 (Washington DC: National Gallery of Art/Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016).
Germano Celant, Virginia Dwan and Dwan Gallery (Milan: Skira, 2016).
Robert Polsky, “Virginia Dwan and Earthworks,” in The Art Prophets: The Artists, Dealers, and Tastemakers Who Shook the Art World (New York: Other Press, 2011).
*Quote: Virginia Dwan, from March 14, 2017 talk at LACMA’s Bing Theater with Dwan, Meyer, and Barron.
**Among the twelve local collectors were the subjects of David Hockney’s iconic 1968 painting American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), and Walter Hopps, the eccentric director of the Pasadema Art Museum.