Promoting the Modern
Last updated: June 7, 2020
It is easy to forget that Los Angeles didn't have an art museum until the mid-1960s. Movies were big business, but art was marginalized, distrusted. Nevertheless, a few indefatigable characters tried to bring word of modern art to Southern California in the early twentieth century.
A Tale of Two Art Dealers by Darcy Tell
In the late fifties, the outlines of the Los Angeles art world were narrow by anybody’s standard. Unlike many regional cities of equivalent wealth, the city still lacked an independent encyclopedic museum. Contemporary art was mistrusted. The public ignored it, and conservatives—most vocally, government officials and figurative or “Sunday” painters—demonized it. Even so, an art market existed but just barely.
The Surrealist Bungalow: William N. Copley and the Copley Galleries (1948-49) by Jonathan Griffin
“No one in their right mind would have considered trying to open a Surrealist gallery in the California environment, which, of course, is what we decided to do late one whiskied evening,” wrote the artist and collector William Copley. “In the white haze of the morning after, we were both too proud to perish the thought.” It is fortunate for us that they didn’t. The Copley Galleries, founded by Copley and his brother-in-law, operated in Beverly Hills for just six months in 1948 and 1949. It may have been a spectacular failure, but it was also the inadvertent seed of one of the most important collections of Surrealist art in the United States.
The Art Lover: Galka Scheyer’s Higher Calling by Darcy Tell
In 1920s Germany, Galka Scheyer began championing recent painting by artists she dubbed The Blue Four: Alexej Jawlensky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, and Wassily Kandinsky. A decade later, Scheyer was settled in Los Angeles, a Weimar Auntie Mame tirelessly promoting modern art and its capacity to alter lives and transform attitudes. Her collection, the first important collection of German modernism in Southern California, is now known around the world.
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