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Late Fifties at the Ferus 


James Monte The Ferus Gallery opened its doors on March 15, 1957 with a group 

exhibition which included works by Richard Diebenkorn, Hassel Smith 
and Cliflford Still, as well as a host of younger Northern and Southern 
California artists. As Gerald Nordland, the art critic for Frontier 
Magazine at the time commented, ". . . the Syndell and Now Galleries 
have joined forces'' The Now Gallery was owned by Edward Kienholz 
and the Syndell by Walter Hopps. Both Kienholz and Hopps were 
extremely influential not only as art dealers — sales were virtually 
non-existent — but as key figures who brought together the best younger 
artists in the Southern California region as a group. Hopps, Kienholz 
and, later, in the Fall of 1958, Irving Blum and Sadye Moss were to a 
large degree responsible for promulgating the notion among patrons 
as well as artists that there indeed was a vital group of artists of the 
highest ambition who lived and worked in California. In the spring of 
1 957 it seemed necessary for both owners of the Ferus Gallery to 
establish the fact that the young abstract-expressionist painters in 
Southern California, including John Altoon, Billy Al Bengston, Craig 
Kaufifman, Edward Moses and Paul Sarkisian, were of equal artistic 
merit as the better known artists of the San Francisco Bay Region, 
including Jay De Feo, Sonia GechtolT, James Kelly and a handful of others. 

The high degree of competence exhibited by these young artists — how 
intensely they understood the lessons of the fathers of Abstract 
Expressionism— will astonish many visitors to this miniature survey 
of the early years of the Ferus Gallery. It has been my contention for the 
past few years that the second and third generations of abstract- 
expressionist artists in California compares favorably to other 
developments in this area throughout the world, and in almost every 
case is more serious, more engaging painting than any of the period 
with the exception of the best of the older generation. In arriving at this 
conclusion, which is justified by simple comparison of pictures 
completed between 1953 and 1962 by artists living on both coasts 
of the United States, as well as Europe and Japan, it appears that the 
original animus so evident in the best early works of Still, De Kooning, 
Rothko, Newman and Kline stimulated the highest later achievement 
on the West Coast rather than elsewhere in the world. It is this very 
quality of animosity, anarchy, even hatred, which animates even the 
sometimes lyric achievements of the artists within this exhibition. The 
rhetorical pictures of De Kooning's emulators, exhibited in Tenth Street 
galleries on Manhattan Island, would for the most part not have 

been accepted as student work in the better art schools on the West 
Coast in the middle and late fifties. The artist's intentions as reflected 
in his art became extremely muddled in New York and Europe in the 
fifties, while in California a kind of moral criticism was practiced by 
the best teacher-painters on the work of art students. With the students 
of Qiff'ord Still it became evident that skill in manipulating paint was 
a very real detriment to be overcome in order to reach a level where 
a student's pictures embody his existential position as accurately as is 
humanly possible. Painting was not judged in terms of innovative uses 
of structure, color or form but rather how intensely it appeared, how it 
revealed the character and morality of the artist. One can characterize 
the difi'erence on both coasts between hypothetical questions: the 
young East Coast artist working in the fifties asked of himself. "How 
can I find a combination of elements which will push painting forward 
and at the same time give me an identity?" On the West Coast the 
question would have been: "How can I find who I am through painting": 

In conclusion, it is evident that until the closing of the Ferus Gallery in 
1966, after a brief nexus with the New York based Pace Gallery, it 
exerted the very best influence on the Los Angeles art community. The 
gallery grew and changed after both Kienholz and Hopps left to 
pursue other careers. Irving Blum and Sadye Moss continued the 
tradition of the Ferus into the sixties with exhibitions of many of the 
early members of the gallery, as well as artists based in New York 
and Europe. 


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Los Angeles County Museum of Art 

Ahmanson Gallery 

November 12 through December 17, 1968 

Catalog of Works 

1 Robert Alexander 

Untitled, 1955, collage, 18 x 12" 
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Edward 

2 John Altoon 

Fay's Christmas Painting, 1958 
o/c, 72 X 645/8" 
Lent by Pasadena Art Museum 
Gift of William C. Janss 

3 Billy Al Bengston 
Untitled, 1957, o/c, 48 x 48" 
Lent by Mrs. Oscar Moss 

4 Wallace Berman 
Exhibition Photograph, 1957 
20 X 16" 
Courtesy Charles Brittin 

5 Jay De Feo 
Veronica, 1957, o/c, 11' x 42i/2" 
Lent by Irving Blum 

6 Richard Diebenkorn 
Berkeley #32, 1955, o/c, 59 x 57" 
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. 
Richard E. Sherwood 

7 Sonia Gechtoff 
The Mystery of the Hunt, 1956 
o/c, 48 x 108" 
Lent by Irving Blum 

8 Robert Irwin 
Ocean Park, 1959, o/c, 60 x 60" 
Lent by Irving Blum 

9 Craig Kauffman 
Tell Tale Heart, 1958, o/c, 68'/2 x 49 
Lent by Irving Blum 

10 James Kelly 
Untitled, 1954, o/c, 60 x 42" 
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. 
Edward Kienholz 

1 1 Edward Kienholz 
Leda and the Canadian Honker 
1957, mixed media, 241/2 x 80" 
Lent by Mrs. Mary Kienholz 

12 Frank Lobdell 

February 1959, 1959, o/c, 70 x 59" 
Collection Los Angeles County 
Museum of Art 

13 John Mason 

Spear Form, 1957, clay, 66 x 26 x 14" 
Lent by the artist. Courtesy Hansen 
Gallery, San Francisco 

14 Edward Moses 

Rafe, 1958, o/c, 72 x 70" 
Lent by Pasadena Art Museum 
Gift of Harris Newmark 

15 Kenneth Price 

Great Lime Green Ceramic 
Simulated Mountain, 1959 
earthenware, 21'/i x 20" 
Lent by Artist Studio,Venice 

16 Arthur Richer 

Clown, 1957, o/c, 20 x 16" 

Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Horace Block 

17 Richards Ruben 

Claremont #47, 1959, o/c, 80 x 72" 
Lent by Irving Blum 

18 Paul Sarkisian 

Untitled, 1956, o/c, 83 x 76" 
Lent by the artist 

19 Hassel Smith 

Untitled, 1952, o/c, 68 x 100" 
Lent by Irving Blum