For years to come back, L.A. artists groused and laughed concerning the evening French artist Yves Klein debuted his movie “Monotone Symphony” on the Dwan Gallery in Westwood. It was June 1961, and Klein, within the midst of his first West Coast solo present on the gallery, was excited to share this new work. It documented a efficiency he’d just lately executed in Paris, by which nude feminine performers rolled themselves throughout a large piece of paper coated in blue paint and laid out on the ground. As the ladies painted and rolled, members of a small orchestra performed single notes for prolonged intervals of time. The expertise was an excessive amount of for some. Artist John Altoon walked out.
“It caused a furor,” Virginia Dwan recalled in a 1984 oral historical past. Dwan, who had opened her eponymous gallery two years earlier than, had gotten used to this habits from native artists, who had been possessive of their small artwork scene.
“In Los Angeles, I felt that I had to defend just about everything I showed to everyone.” Nevertheless it was value it. She beloved Klein’s artwork, and wished it to be seen. The works “really pulled me in and absorbed me in their intensity,” she mentioned within the oral historical past.
“I think that was what was so remarkable about her,” recalled Rosamund Felsen, who attended Dwan Gallery’s exhibitions within the early Sixties and went on to open her personal celebrated L.A. gallery in 1978. “It wasn’t about her at all. It was about what could be accomplished that had never really been accomplished before, because she knew that these artists had new ideas.”
Virginia Dwan, whose gallery in Los Angeles after which New York supported a number of the most experimental artists of the twentieth century, died Sept. 5 from pancreatic most cancers at 90.
Born in Minneapolis in 1931, Dwan had her first formative expertise with artwork as a teen. On the prodding of her mom, she went to the Walker Artwork Middle to see engravings by Wanda Gág, a comical kids’s ebook illustrator. She acquired pulled into the early American Modernism of John Marin and Joseph Stella as a substitute. The expertise left her speechless and “full of fascination,” she later recalled. After highschool, she and her mom moved to Los Angeles so Dwan may attend UCLA. At first, she studied artwork, however the division at the moment was averse to fashionable artwork, so she felt misplaced. She modified her main to psychology.
In 1950, she married psychology graduate scholar Peter Fischer, and one month after her nineteenth birthday, she gave start to her daughter, Candace. When she turned 21, a household lawyer traveled to Los Angeles to clarify the phrases of her inheritance. Her father, who had died in 1944 from coronary heart failure after a bout of pneumonia, was the son of John Dwan, a co-founder of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., which turned the multinational conglomerate 3M. Her inheritance made her rich.
She divorced in 1953, took a go away of absence from college, left Candace along with her mom, and traveled to Europe and New York to see artwork. When she returned, she started frequenting Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills, speaking artwork and consuming espresso. When she instructed him that she wished to start out her personal gallery, he requested, “How much money do you want to lose?”
The remark put her off the concept till she married UCLA medical scholar Philippe Vadim Kondratief in 1958. Kondratief, whose mom ran a gallery in Chilly Spring Harbor, N.Y., inspired her curiosity in artwork. In 1959, she opened the Dwan Gallery out of a Westwood storefront.
By the point her gallery opened, Walter Hopps and artist Ed Kienholz had began Ferus Gallery, the one different gallery within the metropolis devoted solely to new artwork by younger artists. Ferus opened on La Cienega Boulevard, becoming a member of different galleries within the space and starting a modest artwork scene. Dwan had opened in Westwood on goal — Kondratief was in class there, and it was adjoining to rich Bel-Air and Beverly Hills — but it surely nonetheless left her on the surface, all of the extra so as a result of Ferus’ proprietors noticed her as competitors. “I felt very threatened by her situation at the time,” mentioned seller Irving Blum, who joined Ferus in 1958, in a 1977 oral historical past.
“We write often, all of us, about the importance of Walter Hopps and the Ferus Gallery,” mentioned Richard Koshalek, the president of Artwork Middle and former director of the Museum of Modern Artwork. “But we always forget to mention Virginia Dwan.”
In its early years, Dwan Gallery confirmed some native artists, most notably Kienholz (who left Ferus’ roster in 1962), however, extra considerably, it introduced New York and European artists to Los Angeles, introducing them to the town and its artists. Dwan, who mentioned she had no clear thought what she was doing when the gallery opened, began touring to New York to go to artists’ studios. She learn artwork magazines voraciously. She started visiting Paris as effectively, the place she met artists related to the newly shaped Nouveau Réalisme motion, a response towards the romanticism of summary portray. The very day she first noticed Yves Klein’s work, she organized an L.A. present with him.
“She was already extremely adventurous and ready for everything,” her daughter mentioned. “It was a lot of fun at moments, being her daughter, because the artists were doing pretty wild things.”
Artist Niki de Saint Phalle did one in all her shoot performances — taking pictures bullets at canvases coated with paint-filled plastic and plaster objects — within the hills above Dwan’s Malibu Colony dwelling. The ensuing portray, explosive with shade, was put in alongside Dwan’s swimming pool, subsequent to a cannon made by Saint Phalle’s associate, artist Jean Tinguely. Lots of the artists had been additionally joyful to entertain their gallerist’s younger daughter: Robert Rauschenberg, who had his first West Coast present at Dwan Gallery in 1962, taught Candace how one can switch photos; the wily, pop-adjacent painter Larry Rivers gave her drawing classes and French Nouveau Réaliste Martial Raysse traded one in all his work for one in all Candace’s.
In 1964, quickly after her marriage with Kondratief ended, Dwan determined to lease an house in New York Metropolis. “It seemed to be the moment to displace myself and see how I felt about it,” she mentioned. She left her gallery director, John Weber, in command of the L.A. house.
She opened an East Coast iteration of Dwan Gallery on 57th Avenue in 1965, making her the primary seller with areas working in each cities. She inaugurated her New York gallery with Kienholz’s “Barney’s Beanery,” a life-size duplicate of the West Hollywood watering gap. It was a daring alternative: Not solely was the artist barely identified past L.A., however the set up intricately referenced a spot largely acquainted to Angelenos.
The “Beanery” was nonetheless on view the day artist William Anastasi got here to see Dwan. Anastasi had been in search of a gallery, carting round slides and tape recordings of his new sound work. First, he’d gone to Leo Castelli, among the many most revered New York sellers. Castelli’s director, Ivan Karp, mentioned the work was sensible however “not for Leo.” Then Anastasi went to Tempo Gallery, the place seller Arnie Glimcher mentioned, “This isn’t right for us,” however talked about a brand new gallery up the road. Anastasi had by no means heard of Dwan , however was floored by Kienholz’s set up, which included an audio recording of exercise on the famed L.A. bar. He hadn’t identified anybody else was working with audio.
Dwan checked out his work — minimal, discovered object assemblages that hung from the ceiling and emitted sounds — and supplied Anastasi the third present at her New York house. She had opened in New York with solely two exhibits lined up, since most of the artists she exhibited in L.A. already had East Coast illustration.
As she sought out new artists, Dwan’s program shifted — first towards Minimalism, newly gaining prominence in New York, then Conceptualism and Land Artwork. The shift occurred organically. “The artists recommended each other, and they were connected by their ideas,” mentioned Candace.
In 1966, throughout her New York and Los Angeles galleries, Dwan confirmed white cubes by Sol Lewitt; playful, boxy pedestals by Robert Morris; metal constructions by Kenneth Snelson; and cast-resin spheres by DeWain Valentine. She turned the primary gallerist to actively assist Land Artists on the time, and her 1968 present “Earthworks” marked the primary time that time period was extensively used. “There were whole new movements that were under the surface, but she brought them forth,” mentioned artist Dove Bradshaw, who’s married to Anastasi. “The artists themselves were creating new works for her space.”
Dwan closed the Los Angeles gallery in 1967, focusing all her power and assets on New York. Artist Charles Ross — who first confirmed his prisms, acrylic shapes crammed with distilled water that refract mild and forged shade spectrums on the partitions, at Dwan Gallery in 1968 — recalled the power on the New York gallery: “There used to be artists in her office all the time. Everybody dropped by because it was kind of a continuous conversation going on about art and ideas.”
In fall 1969, Dwan bought the sq. mile of desert that might turn into dwelling to Michael Heizer’s defining earthwork “Double Negative.” She helped Robert Smithson safe the 20-year lease he wanted for “Spiral Jetty” within the Nice Salt Lake in 1970. In 1971, she offered preliminary assist for Charles Ross’ “Star Axis,” an 11-story earthwork, a naked-eye observatory designed to make the geometry of the celebs really feel near Earth.
When she introduced her determination to shut the gallery in 1971, Carl Andre wrote to her: “I feel like a New England hill town which has been told by the Textron Corporation that the plant is being moved South.” In interviews, Dwan mentioned she felt burnt out. “She gave an awful lot of herself,” mentioned Candace, including that her mom had completed what she got down to do. “She had already, in a sense, made her gesture.”
After the gallery closed, Dwan took up scuba diving and enrolled in certification classes on the YMCA. “We were both taking off on a new path, which involved a different kind of spending of the time,” mentioned singer-songwriter Judy Collins, who met Dwan within the late Nineteen Seventies when each ladies had been rebuilding their careers. “That took contemplation; it took silence.”
Dwan by no means stopped supporting artists. She funded Walter De Maria’s “35-pole Lightning Field,” a precursor to “The Lightning Field” set up in New Mexico, in addition to work by LaMonte Younger, Marian Zazeela and Philip Glass. In 1985, she approached MOCA about donating Heizer’s “Double Negative” to the museum. “We had a lot of opposition on the board,” mentioned Koshalek, then the museum’s director. He did purchase the work and credited Dwan with imagining this type of artwork in an institutional assortment. “That was her.”
Dwan additionally returned to creating her personal inventive work, one thing she had initially deserted as an undergraduate. She made filmed portraits of artists Carl Andre, John Cage and Mark di Suvero. She spent years photographing army cemeteries throughout the nation, an effort to convey the devastation of battle, publishing them in a ebook known as “Flowers “in 2017. Dwan also took up painting, making one series from tree rubbings. “They are really beautiful,” mentioned Candace, who inspired her mom to exhibit them. Dwan refused, saying she didn’t “want to interfere with the work of the gallery. She wanted that to remain completely untouched or unaffected by anything that she did,” Candace mentioned.
The closest she got here to placing her personal art work into the world was with the Dwan Gentle Sanctuary, opened in Montezuma, N.M. in 1996, a spot for contemplation based mostly on Dwan’s imaginative and prescient, and designed by architect Laban Wingert. Ross designed 12 photo voltaic prisms for the apses.
“I think she was probably as happy with the light sanctuary as she was with anything else she ever did,” mentioned Collins, who sang on the opening.
In 2013, Dwan donated 250 works from her assortment to the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork, an establishment she selected for a couple of causes, as her longtime assortment supervisor Anne Kovach defined. The gallery is free; it doesn’t deaccession work; and it could preserve her assortment collectively. The 2017 exhibition “Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959-1971” opened on the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork after which traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork. The present sparked a reappraisal of her contribution, which had too not often been credited in historic accounts of postwar artwork actions.
“I don’t think that the art world treated her fairly,” mentioned artist Di Suvero, who first confirmed along with her in Los Angeles. “She could look at work that would’ve been refused by many other art cognoscenti. She had an ability to show people, to help people, and somebody like that, in this greedy society, is very rare.”