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Assemblage In California:
Works from the Late 50'S and Early 60'S
by John, Walter Hopps, Philip Leider & Hal Glicksman Coplans
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Cool School:
How L.A. Learned to Love Modern Art"

Art lovers, this is for you. New York art lovers, not so much. Los Angeles art lovers, rejoice! The subtitle is, after all, "How L.A. Learned To Love Modern Art.

It isn't that there weren't any artists in and around Los Angeles in the '50's and 60's, a time of Beatniks and Bohemians. It's when "Left Coast" and "Modern Art" were two parts of an oxymoron to the snobbish art worlds of New York, Paris, London and all those in the upper ozone layer. More to the point, it's not where a collector would go to look for provenance. Provisions, maybe, but not such a thing as a painting's provenance.

Accordingly, the gallery scene was not what you'd call a thriving industry, cottage, store-front, or out the rear door of a Hudson kind. The talent, on the other hand, was another story. Some brilliant and underfed artists were doing things that may have been influenced by preceding schools but were more inclined to break away from the past, putting together a whole new take on forms of expression. These revolutionaries were forming the vanguard of a new style while worrying a little about their next meal.

And then along came a couple of guys who liked the idea of an art gallery for these local practitioners. In the beginning the lively entrepreneur Walter Hopps and his partner Irving Blum chose to represent a large collection of artists to exhibit in their minimal Ferus Gallery, giving a bunch of creative individualists a common alliance. Included in the rarified air of their coterie were painters, sculptors, mixed mediarites and, even, an architect or two (Frank Gehry, most notably).

It took a while for the collecting public to pick up on what was going on here, but a movement was certainly afoot. Visionary and original, presentations by Ed Ruscha (ru-shay), Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, John Altoon, Robert Irwin, Martin Ramirez and others were making a name for L.A.'s newfound culture, and collectors began to see cool investments in their output. Bringing in the highly regarded Frenchman Marcel Duchamp for a retrospective, and the furor over the daring Ed Kienholz's "Back Seat Dodge '38" sculpture widened Ferus's fame, turning it into a household term among the cognoscenti. When Hopps brought in Andy Warhol for a display of tomato cans, Los Angeles "pop" art began to be taken seriously by those who once laughed; obscure names rose out of the shadows of the unsold; and new galleries opened around the city. The art scene would never be the same.

With plenty of interviews, historical perspective narrated by Jeff Bridges, and some period footage, filmmakers Morgan Neville and Kristine McKenna look back on the swelling tide of fame and fortune on Melrose Avenue, in a story of discovery and pioneering in the land of not-so-make-believe. It has the honkytonk airyness of a prior era and is drawn out and repetitive in places, but it's a cultural record for those who care about more than the latest Ben Stiller movie.

"Cool School" is an eye opener for the snooty territorial class. It's an art history lessen with a fade in and fade out, leaving a splash of pride behind. It makes the case that there's more than basket weaving and freeway driving going on in the seedbed of originality we know as the Great Basin of L.A. We owe 'em, and tip the hat to Ferus.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The artists of the Ferus Gallery, circa late 50's.
So cool it puts individualists in a chorus line.

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