Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960sby Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
The extraordinary story of the artists who propelled themselves to international fame in 1960s Los Angeles
Los Angeles, 1960: There was no modern art museum and there were few galleries, which is exactly what a number of daring young artists liked about it, among them Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Judy Chicago and John/b>
The extraordinary story of the artists who propelled themselves to international fame in 1960s Los Angeles
Los Angeles, 1960: There was no modern art museum and there were few galleries, which is exactly what a number of daring young artists liked about it, among them Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Judy Chicago and John Baldessari. Freedom from an established way of seeing, making, and marketing art fueled their creativity, which in turn inspired the city. Today Los Angeles has four museums dedicated to contemporary art, around one hundred galleries, and thousands of artists. Here, at last, is the book that tells the saga of how the scene came into being, why a prevailing Los Angeles permissiveness, 1960s-style, spawned countless innovations, including Andy Warhol's first exhibition, Marcel Duchamp's first retrospective, Frank Gehry's mind-bending architecture, Rudi Gernreich's topless bathing suit, Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, even the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Doors, and other purveyors of a California style. In the 1960s, Los Angeles was the epicenter of cool.
“Rebels in Paradise recounts the story of how adventurous contemporary art developed in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, and how an ‘art scene' took off in the city during the '60s. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is especially interested in the ‘scene' part--how little-known artists joined together to form a cool cohort. . . . Throughout the book we get good stories, the kind that artists often tell one another over drinks, and that they or their friends shared with Drohojowska-Philp.” Michael S. Roth, The Washington Post
“This snappy, gossipy book is…more about artists than art. This is as it should be…The People-magazine-meets-modern-art tone might be tedious if it weren't for Ms. Drohojowska-Philp's way with capsule descriptions.” Peter Plagens, The Wall Street Journal
“More Vanity Fair than standard art history, it's an affectionate, deliciously gossipy account of the decade when a convergence of renegade artists, entrepreneurs, curators, collectors and writers put Los Angeles on the art world's map. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, a longtime observer of the scene and a biographer of artist Georgia O'Keeffe ... has conducted numerous interviews and pored over oral histories, exhibition catalogs, books and magazines to compile a scrapbook-like story of the period's leading personalities .... Who knew that Eve Babitz--the 19-year-old nude who played chess with Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum--wore a size 36 DDD bra? Or that Gehry participated in a rock band of makeshift instruments by ringing a bicycle bell and pumping a toilet plunger in a pail? ... An entertaining, often insightful guide to the spirit of the scene.” Suzanne Muchnic, L.A. Times
“Brilliantly illuminated .... Drohojowska-Philp skillfully interlinks the art movement with news events and cultural milestones in film, fashion, novels, theater, and music, from Frank Gehry's architecture to the Watts riots. Having interviewed many of the participants, she introduces David Hockney and others with in-depth profiles and colorful anecdotes. Recreating an electric era when the art world made an axis shift, Drohojowska-Philp successfully paints a Day-Glo image of those days when anything seemed possible.” PW, Starred Review
“Drohojowska-Philp has done massive research to compile this generous account of a movement and its movers--not just the artists (and their biographies) but many of the personalities and celebrities and hangers-on who enjoyed the decade-long whirlpool.... Comprehensive, educative and entertaining for eye, mind, imagination and libido.” Kirkus
“Rebels in Paradise has a light, almost breezy tone, but Drohojowska-Philp delves into thornier social issues as easily as she conveys the excitement of, say, the nearly simultaneous openings of Andy Warhol's show at Ferus and Marcel Duchamp's retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum…Los Angeles was an exciting place in the '60s, and her book makes you wish you had been there.” Richard Kalina, Art in America
“Drohojowska-Philp's extensively researched, highly readable text details the skeins of tribal relationships that bound the major artists who emerged in L.A. in the 1950's, ‘60's and ‘70's: Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Bruce Nauman, Vija Celmins, John Baldessari, Ed Moses, and others, all photo-documented by the very much on-the-scene Dennis Hopper and many represented by the legendary Ferus Gallery.” Interior Design
“From the opening chapter. . . [Rebels in Paradise] defines that legendary space as the epicenter of SoCal cool. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, who has written about the scene for decades, works in all the key figures, from the artists John Baldessari, Ed Kieholz, and Ed Ruscha to the crucial dealer Irving Blum, a seemingly omnipresent Dennis Hopper, and countless supporting collectors. This action-packed tome is the perfect preparation for next fall's Pacific Standard Time festival of museum shows celebrating the Southland art scene in the postwar years.” Art + Auction
“An entertaining page-turner, and I couldn't set it down. Drohojowska-Philp wanted to make sure these stories were not lost, and thanks to her research and smooth narrative, an earlier time is effectively brought to life. Anyone wishing to write a period history should read this book to see how it is meant to be done.” James Croak, ArtNet
“An affectionate account of how artists such as Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and David Hockney transformed the city by igniting a quest for artistic freedom that spread from L.A. to all of America. Drohojowska-Philp's new book is filled with art history that provides thoughtful insight into Marcel Duchamp's first retrospective, Andy Warhol's first exposition, even the Doors and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider. Plus, Rebels in Paradise takes a page from TMZ and includes the juicy gossip of the artists' sex lives, love affairs and crumbling marriages.” Joe Lapin, LA Weekly
“Hunter's vivid and breezy drive through the brimming LA art scene of the Sixties will come as a revelation to those who as yet know nothing of that marvelous era, but perhaps even more so to those who figure they knew pretty much knew it all. As one of the latter, I kept on being visited by hunh! and ha! moments as Hunter merrily connected dots and filled in back story, generously lavishing both wide context and wry insight.” Lawrence Weschler, author of Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees
“You should read Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's Rebels in Paradise if you are interested in the art scene in Los Angeles in the Sixties, or if you are interested in any art scene for that matter (since they are all too mystifyingly similar). Ms. Drohojowska-Philp fleshes out the blank spaces, the back stories, the black stories and the vendettas accurately, but with benign confidence. In another tone, this would be an exposé. In Hunter's tone, it is well-meant reminder that the legend was, well, just that.” Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar and The Invisible Dragon
“Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's breezy, fast-paced new book Rebels in Paradise brings to life many of the main characters in [Los Angeles'] art history, including Billy Al Bengston, Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Larry Bell, Craig Kaufman, Dennis Hopper and Robert Irwin, among others…The accounts veer toward the gossipy, moving from intriguing detail to surprising revelation, without quite being lurid or lascivious. Indeed, despite the often humorous anecdotal accounts of the private lives of artists, curators and girlfriends, the book conjures both the sweep of history and its vicissitudes while grounding all of the stories in very specific places, from Brentwood to Pasadena, from the hills of Topanga to the beaches of Malibu in a way that makes you see parts of the city anew.” Holly Willis, KCET.org
Hunter's vivid and breezy drive through the brimming LA art scene of the Sixties will come as a revelation to those who as yet know nothing of that marvelous era, but perhaps even more so to those who figure they knew pretty much knew it all. As one of the latter, I kept on being visited by hunh! and ha! moments as Hunter merrily connected dots and filled in back story, generously lavishing both wide context and wry insight.
A freelance art critic and biographer (Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, 2004)surveys 1960s Los Angeles—its artists, art, museums, collectors, social movements, sexual mores, gender politics, drugs and dissipation.
Drohojowska-Philp has done massive research to compile this generous account of a movement and its movers—not just the artists (and their biographies) but many of the personalities and celebrities and hangers-on who enjoyed the decade-long whirlpool. She begins with two significant figures: Andy Warhol, who got his first breaks in L.A. before moving to New York (later, the author tells about his 1968 shooting), and actor/collector/artist Dennis Hopper, one of the earliest to interest himself in—and promote—the revolutionary art. The author quickly examines Ferus, the first L.A. gallery to feature the works of emerging experimental local artists, and establishes it as a powerful magnet—not just for the artists but also for her narrative, which continually returns to it. Founded by Walter Hopps and Ed Kienholz in the late '50s, Ferus quickly drew in Craig Kauffman, Al Bengston, Robert Irwin and others whose works were just too unusual for traditional galleries. Oddly, Drohojowska-Philp shows very few images of individual works early in the narrative (more appear later), but does offer photographs of the principal players. The author demonstrates clearly how Ferus and the art and artists changed as the '60s progressed through the early years, to the Watts Riots and to theEasy Rider era of the late '60s. Sometimes, she offers more about the artists' sex lives than their works, but readers may accept this as a thoughtful gift, not a distraction.
Comprehensive, educative and entertaining for eye, mind, imagination and libido.
The New York Times
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 9.28(w) x 6.52(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
1963: Andy and Marcel
The seven-foot Elvis in the Ferus Gallery window was startling, even by Los Angeles standards. In the gallery's back room, paintings of Elizabeth Taylor, with her outsized red lips and slashes of bright blue eye shadow, greeted visitors. Andy Warhol was fixated on celebrities and it wouldn't be long before he would become one himself.
A feeling of excitement charged the balmy evening air outside, and North La Cienega Boulevard traffic slowed as drivers gawked at the scene. Inside, stylishly coifed women in sleeveless dresses mingled with Los Angeles artists, awkward young men outfitted in thrift-store splendor. Warhol entered the filled-to-capacity gallery wearing a carnation in the lapel of his Brooks Brothers blazer.
In 1963 Los Angeles became a mecca for those who rejected the old and embraced the new in art, film, fashion, and music. For many artists, the city's tenuous attachment to history and tradition translated as openness to fresh ideas. Warhol's show contributed to the dawning realization that Los Angeles itself could be the next big thing.
Warhol was nervous as his exhibition opened on the evening of September 30. He had had just two previous exhibitions, the first held the previous summer at Ferus. Though Warhol today is considered the quintessential New York artist, he received his first break in Los Angeles when the suave—some would say fawning—Irving Blum and the perspicacious but flighty Walter Hopps took a chance on the young artist. Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans, thirty-two to be exact, each painstakingly lettered with the appropriate flavor, were arranged on a shelf that girdled the walls, turning the gallery into a grocery store of sorts. Hopps's wife, Shirley, recalled, "It was one of those times when we knew we were onto something."1
Not everyone agreed. The show was ridiculed in a Los Angeles Times cartoon of two barefoot beatniks in the "Farout Art Gallery" looking at the paintings of soup cans and musing, "Frankly, the cream of asparagus does nothing for me, but the terrifying intensity of the chicken noodle gives me a real Zen feeling." Nearby, David Stuart mocked Ferus by arranging a pyramid of Campbell's soup in the window of his gallery with a sign: "Get the real thing for only 29 cents a can."2
Blum convinced some collectors to purchase Warhol's soup-can paintings for $100 apiece. After a chat with art critic John Coplans, one of the first to recognize the importance of serial imagery, Blum agreed that Warhol's everyday Pop art signaled the end of the individual masterpiece; he was determined that the pictures remain together as a set. He persuaded collectors to return the half-dozen soup-can paintings that he had managed to sell. Then he asked Warhol if he could buy all of them on a layaway plan: $1,000 for the entire set to be paid over the next year.3
Warhol didn't need the money. For years, he had been one of the most successful illustrators in New York City, known for his shoe drawings for I. Miller, easily making around $50,000 a year. But this was different. This was art. Warhol was sufficiently pleased to agree to the deal and sign up for another show with Ferus. He also silk-screened four portraits of the energetic entrepreneurial owner.
What a difference a year could make in the 1960s, a decade of seismic shifts. In August 1962, Warhol, working with studio assistant Gerard Malanga, abandoned the paintbrush for the silk screen. His first silk-screened canvas was turquoise and covered by rows of Troy Donahue head shots, each face of the Hollywood heartthrob framed in a yearbook-style oval. Four months later, due to an unexpected gap in her schedule, Eleanor Ward gave Warhol his first New York show at the Stable Gallery, where Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly had had their first shows. It sold out.
Pop was gaining momentum as a movement of sorts by the time Warhol, to save on shipping, sent a roll of silvered canvas to Ferus with instructions to cut out as many images of Elvis as needed. Shirley Hopps remembered that Warhol sent no directions so she, Blum, and the gallery artists spent an evening cutting them into twos or threes in a rather haphazard manner, not unlike the assembly line technique at Warhol's East Forty-seventh Street studio, the Factory, in New York.
To get to the opening, Warhol and Malanga, along with Taylor Mead and Wynn Chamberlain, drove across country for three days in a station wagon with a mattress in the back and the radio blaring songs by Leslie Gore, the Ronettes, and Bobby Vinton. Everything along the highway looked like Pop art to them. "We were seeing the future and we knew it for sure," Warhol observed.4
They never suspected that Los Angeles could be booked. Because of the World Series, most hotels were full so Warhol called actors Dennis Hopper and his wife Brooke Hayward. She, in turn, called her father in New York, producer Leland Hayward, and convinced him to give them his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Los Angeles started to look promising.
Warhol had met Hopper in New York through Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler. Warhol once said, "Henry gave me all of my ideas" and made a film consisting only of Geldzahler smoking a cigar for ninety minutes. Impressed by this duo, Hopper immediately bought one of Warhol's double silk screens of the Mona Lisa and invited him to come with Geldzahler to the soundstage to watch his guest-star performance on the TV show The Defenders. Not long after, Hopper flew to New York and went with Hopps and Blum to the studio of Roy Lichtenstein, where he immediately bought the artist's comic book–style sunset painting for $750. "Everybody was talking about the return to reality," Hopper recalled. "This is our reality—the comic books and soup cans, man."5
Lean and edgy in appearance, Hopper was drawn to advanced art from the day he saw his first Jackson Pollock painting at the home of actor Vincent Price, who had used his profits from scary movies to amass an impressive collection. "When I saw that, I got it immediately," Hopper said.6 His instincts would prove impeccable. A former poor boy from Dodge City, Kansas, Hopper was the only collector to wind up with one of Warhol's soup-can paintings because, in an effort to save $25, he managed to buy one for $75 from the Westwood gallery owned by Virginia Dwan.
The daughter of Margaret Sullavan, Brooke Hayward was a classic beauty. As Hollywood royalty, she should have been out of Hopper's league. Hayward had grown up in Greenwich, Connecticut, with Henry Fonda's children and had even been kicked out of Girl Scouts with her friend Jane. But Dennis Hopper was more than just another actor. He was wildly creative, and his charisma was undeniable in movies such as Giant. Together, the Hoppers were considered glittering examples of the new Hollywood, perfect hosts for a party for Warhol and friends. The very night of the artist's arrival, they invited the Ferus contingent and other young actors to their West Hollywood home at 1712 North Crescent Heights, where they had moved after losing their mansion in the 1961 fires that destroyed their Bel Air neighborhood. Their Mediterranean-style home was bohemian and furnished with circus posters, a Mexican clown sculpture, and Hopper's own collages. The Mona Lisa silk screen hung next to the Lichtenstein sunset. Warhol met Hopper's colleagues Robert Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, and Sal Mineo, who was Hopper's costar in Rebel Without a Cause, as well as actors Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Fonda, who looked like a "preppy mathematician," and Troy Donahue. Joints were passed and people danced. Artist Craig Kauffman was a little shocked by the Warhol crowd. "They were all giggling and pouring sugar on the backs of each other's hands. I thought this was a little far-out."7 Whether or not this was really sugar, Kauffman never discovered.
"This party was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me," Warhol said.8 He only regretted that he had left his Bolex movie camera in his hotel room. Warhol embraced everything about Los Angeles that tended to irritate the intellectual, the cultured, or the well-bred. "Vacant, vacuous Hollywood was everything I ever wanted to mold my life into. Plastic. White-on-white. I wanted to live my life at the level of the script of The Carpetbaggers."9
The opening on September 30, 1963, was less star-studded than his party, but Warhol was philosophical. "Anyway, movies were pure fun, art was work."10 Still, he was amazed by the impact of all the Elvises in the front room and the Liz Taylors in the back, as he'd never seen them all together. He made a four-minute movie of his installation. Los Angeles rising art stars attended the opening, some of whom were involved in their own versions of Pop: Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, and Billy Al Bengston, as well as those developing their own versions of what, in a few years, would be termed "Minimalism": Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, and Robert Irwin.
The short, slight Warhol had a congenital skin condition that he covered with pale makeup. He wore an outlandish silvery white toupee atop his own mousy brown hair, which he had been losing since 1953. His pasty face and skinny frame contrasted dramatically with the virile physiques of the L.A. artists in their twenties, all of them golden and muscular from surfing, swimming, or simply driving around in convertibles. He was slightly awed by their backslapping, cajoling, and sarcastic humor and though he was quite obviously gay, he felt completely at ease in their macho company, an artist among artists. They embraced his art as though it were both welcome and inevitable. Ruscha immediately felt "a great kinship. . . . It was like a logical departure from the kind of painting that was happening at that time."11 Warhol, in turn, supported their totally synthetic aesthetic. "The artificial fascinates me, the bright and shiny."12
Sales were brisk. In just one year, the general populace on both coasts seemed to have embraced Pop art. A columnist for the Los Angeles Times called for "Pop decorating" by suspending colored Life Savers on strings in doorways or using painted egg cartons as wall reliefs. On the other hand, Los Angeles Times art critic Henry Seldis called it "non-art" and declared that "questions of aesthetic quality have been declared irrelevant by pop art impresarios." Warhol found this irritating. Citing that year's blockbuster film Cleopatra, he retorted, "I always have to laugh, though, when I think of how Hollywood called Pop art a put-on! Hollywood ?? I mean, when you look at the kind of movies they were making then—those were supposed to be real ???"13
Warhol longed for acceptance by anyone associated with the film industry, and Hollywood inspired him to make movies of his own. He had previously filmed friends in the act of kissing, but during his time in Los Angeles, he and his entourage started filming their first movie with a plot, of sorts, in the bathroom of their suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Taylor Mead played Tarzan, and Naomi Levine, a friend visiting from New York, played Jane. Warhol continued to film at the home of Beat assemblage artist Wallace Berman, who acted in it along with his young son Tosh, artists Claes and Patty Oldenburg, and Hopper. Like some sort of avant-garde progressive dinner, the filmmaking continued at Watts Towers and then at the home of actor-producer John Houseman with actor-writer Jack Larson, who had played Jimmy Olsen on television's Adventures of Superman. Levine stripped off her clothes and jumped into their pool while Mead tried to climb a tree. The movie, with its opening shot of the freeway exit ramp for the suburb of Tarzana, was released the following year as Tarzan and Jane, Regained . . . Sort Of. "The Hollywood we were driving to that fall of '63 was in limbo," recalled Warhol. "The Old Hollywood was finished and the new Hollywood hadn't started yet."14
As if movie stars and warm weather were not balm enough, Warhol also met Marcel Duchamp, the Dada artist whose work provided the art historical validation for Pop. On October 7, 1963, the gala opening for a retrospective of Duchamp was held at the Pasadena Art Museum (PAM), a Chinese-style mansion with an ornate arched doorway and dragons poised on its green tile roof. The absurdity of the venue appealed to Duchamp, the man who was famous for painting a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and giving it a French title, L.H.O.O.Q., phonetically translated as "She has a hot ass."
Duchamp is the most influential of the artists associated with the Dada movement, which arose throughout Europe as an acerbic response to World War I political chicanery. He claimed that anything could be art if an artist said so. After a decade of shocking the bourgeoisie with such claims, in 1921 he withdrew from the art world to devote himself to the game of chess. This contrary action only accelerated widespread interest in his art and ideas in the 1960s as young artists everywhere began questioning the dominance of Abstract Expressionist painting in galleries and art magazines.
It was not simple perversity that led Duchamp to agree to his first-ever retrospective in the conservative province of Pasadena, a prosperous city east of Los Angeles with lovely 1920s buildings and tree-lined boulevards. It was the perseverance of Walter Hopps, cofounder of Ferus, who had become the museum's curator. Hopps had been introduced to modern art by Walter and Louise Arensberg, Duchamp's major patrons.
During the early decades of the twentieth century, the Arensbergs had amassed one of the world's largest single collections of art by Duchamp and used him as the conduit for buying work by Constantine Brancus?i, Man Ray, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and other modern artists. For health and financial reasons, they had moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1927. They maintained their relationship with Duchamp by post, regularly buying work by him and his peers and hanging it from floor to ceiling on the walls of their Italianate Hillside Avenue home. At the outset of World War II, they aided Duchamp's immigration to the United States from his native France. Duchamp visited his patrons in 1936, 1949, and 1950 and described Southern California "as a white spot in a gloomy world."15
This feeling was not due to a welcoming atmosphere for his type of art. When dealer Julien Levy rented a gallery on Sunset Boulevard in 1941 to exhibit Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, along with pieces by Salvador Dalí and others, the actor John Barrymore got so drunk at the opening, he unzipped his pants and unceremoniously urinated on a work by Surrealist Max Ernst.
When Hopps had visited the Arensbergs' home as a teenager on a high school field trip in 1949, he had experienced a coup de foudre. He asked so many questions, the Arensbergs invited him to come back, which he did often, sitting in their library, reading books about modern art, and asking yet more questions. Walter Arensberg, who dedicated much of his time trying to prove that Francis Bacon wrote works attributed to William Shakespeare, recognized the tall, gawky teenager's budding eccentricity.
That connection secured the retrospective. Hopps would write later, "The fact that I grew up with their collection, and considered it to be my basic art education, seems to have something to do with this coup."16
In 1962, Hopps, then thirty, flew to New York to meet the septuagenarian Duchamp at the apartment of William Copley, the wealthy adopted son of the owner of Copley Press in San Diego, who was an arts patron and Surrealist painter familiar with Hopps's role at Ferus. Duchamp was astonished by Hopps's familiarity with his work and agreed to the show without restrictions.
Duchamp doubtless enjoyed staging his retrospective far from Manhattan, the center of the art world. Half a century had passed since his Cubist painting Nude Descending a Staircase had been the scandal of the 1913 Armory Show, which introduced European modern art to New York. By 1963, the once scandalous Cubists and Dadaists were categorized as movements in art history. Duchamp told MoMA curator William Seitz: "My 'Nude' [Descending a Staircase] is dead, completely dead."17
Though Duchamp believed the weight of art history oppressed cultural controversy, he resurrected his outlaw reputation in Pasadena. For the exhibition poster, Duchamp recycled a 1923 placard stating "Wanted/$2000 Reward" and inserted photographs of himself along with a long list of possible aliases. In his own scratchy handwriting, he penned the name of the museum and the show's title: "by or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose SÉlavy." That pun on the French observation of life and love, "Eros, c'est la vie," was the pseudonym that Duchamp had adopted for a series of costumed photographs of him taken by Man Ray.
A week before the opening, Duchamp and his wife Alexina, known as "Teeny," who was married previously to Henri Matisse's son, the art dealer Pierre Matisse, stayed at Pasadena's Hotel Green. Every morning, Duchamp would stride through the ornate Moorish lobby and amble five blocks east, inhaling air scented with the blossoms of nearby orange groves, until he reached the Pasadena Art Museum, where he would spend the first hour of his day speaking in French to the gardener, who recited verse by Surrealist poet Paul Éluard.
The Duchamps had flown from New York to Los Angeles on the same plane as the dashing dark-haired Copley and the flamboyant young British Pop artist Richard Hamilton, who described himself as the only Duchamp scholar who had never seen an actual Duchamp. For Hamilton, like many of the young artists embracing Pop art, Duchamp was an ideal.
Duchamp's art and life exemplified rebellion against the establishment though, at seventy-six, he stood erect and slender, with immaculate clothes and manners and the angular features and sleek hair of a matinee idol. He had lived in New York since World War II but still epitomized French reserve.
Hopps, who was never very practical about money, spent double the exhibition budget of $12,000. Instead of creating a new catalog, Hopps tore out the relevant sections of Robert Lebel's authoritative new book on Duchamp, added his own handwritten marginalia, mimeographed the pages, and stapled them together.
The Arensbergs had given their collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1954 after decades of futile and frustrating negotiations with first the L.A. County Museum of History, Science and Art and then with UCLA. At Duchamp's urging, many of the larger pieces were shipped back to Los Angeles while numerous ready-mades were re-created for the show. Most of the younger generation of Los Angeles artists and collectors had never seen any of the work before.
The installation was not without its challenges. Since many of the gallery walls were covered with brown burlap, Hopps and his preparator Hal Glicksman designed a series of zigzag panels covered in the same color used on Duchamp's Green Box. They stood them in the center of the galleries to support Duchamp's 1912 Cubist paintings. Other galleries contained his optical experiments and his ready-mades. These were everyday objects that the artist had transformed into his own sculpture simply by renaming and reorienting them, such as the upturned urinal titled Fountain that had caused a scandal when shown in 1917 under his pseudonym R. Mutt. Duchamp had signed a bottle rack and given it to Robert Rauschenberg, who loaned it to the show. Another gallery was dedicated to chess with a regulation set on display as well as the pocket-sized boards that the artist had designed for his own use. The old Chinese mansion contained 114 pieces that established Duchamp as the unwitting pioneer of Pop art.
For the second time in a week, Los Angeles was the place to be for denizens of the modern art world. Dealers, collectors, and artists arrived from New York and Europe. The dinner held before the opening was hosted by patrician art collector and museum board president Robert Rowan and his wife Carolyn and attended by trustees and old-guard arts patrons. However, it was the party after the opening that was remembered by anyone who scored a coveted invitation.
That landmark fete was held in the ballrooms of the nineteenth-century Hotel Green. The black-tie dress code meant another trip to the thrift store for artists Larry Bell and Billy Al Bengston, both of whom had more dash than cash. Craig Kauffman, son of L.A. County Superior Court judge Kurtz Kauffman, didn't have to scavenge. Ed Ruscha imported an attractive girlfriend from his hometown of Oklahoma City, and the couple looked like they were ready for their Hollywood close-up. Julian Wasser, a contract photographer for Time magazine, snapped Bengston and Hopper clowning with Warhol in front of Duchamp's 1914 Network of Stoppages.
Warhol was in black tie but Taylor Mead was denied entrance for wearing Wynn Chamberlain's sweater, which was so large it came down to his knees. Hopps sorted it out but then Wasser pushed past them to get a photograph of Duchamp, which prompted Mead to start screaming, "How dare you! How dare you!" Warhol dryly observed, "The idea that anybody had the right to be anywhere and do anything, no matter who they were and how they were dressed, was a big thing in the sixties."18
When Duchamp realized that Mead was an underground actor and poet, he cordially invited him to his table. But Mead soon took off dancing with Patty Oldenburg. She and Claes Oldenburg were living in Los Angeles for a year while creating performances and sewing the giant soft sculptures of everyday objects that Claes showed at the Dwan Gallery. Warhol was left to spend time talking to Duchamp and drinking too much champagne, which meant pulling over to the side of the road on several occasions on the drive home. "In California, in the cool night air, you even felt healthy when you puked—it was so different from New York."19
Hundreds of artists and hipsters and hangers-on overindulged in pink champagne into the late hours. Duchamp's old running mate Man Ray had moved from Los Angeles back to Paris, but a few other old friends came to the affair, including Beatrice Wood, a seventy-year-old ceramist whose purported love affair with Duchamp and writer Henri-Pierre RochÉ was the basis for the 1962 film Jules et Jim. She exhausted three much younger partners by dancing all night long at the party, claiming that chocolate and young men were the secrets to her longevity. (The day before, she had hosted a luncheon for Duchamp at her home in Ojai, wearing Indian robes and serving food on her own golden lusterware.)
Hopper, predisposed to being the life of the party, recalled, "I stole the sign that said 'Hotel Green' with a finger pointing. When I saw it, I recognized that it's the same shaped finger as from Duchamp's painting Tu M'. I got some wire cutters and went to get it. He signed the finger with 'Marcel Duchamp, Pasadena, 1963.' So Hopper and Hopps made the last ready-made!"20 (This "Signed Sign" sold for $362,500 at a Christie's auction on November 11, 2010.)
Getting Duchamp's signature quickly caught on. Joe Goode pulled the pink cloth from one of the dining tables and asked Duchamp to sign it. He happily obliged. Hopper recalled, "We all signed it. Andy signed it as 'Andy Pie'; Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Kenny Price."21 Goode, who was subletting an apartment from Hopps, later managed to convince him to accept the souvenir in exchange for two months of back rent.
In an interview with Los Angeles Times art critic Henry Seldes, Duchamp said he wanted to avoid being "the victim of the integration of the artist into society." He saw the direction of contemporary art as "very dangerous," because it had become fashionable, while he believed that "great art can only come out of conditions of resistance."22
Such resistance in the realm of contemporary art was about to disappear altogether, and even Duchamp dropped his Gallic reserve to admit, "Life begins at 70. This show is fun. It gives me a wonderful feeling."23
That wonderful feeling was borne out in the following few days when he and Teeny were transported to Las Vegas by Copley, who had operated a gallery in Los Angeles in 1947 to show Surrealist and Dadaists such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Joseph Cornell, whose boxes were priced then at seventy-five dollars. Sales were so scarce, the gallery survived only six months.
The small plane had a curved seating area where collectors Betty Asher and Betty and Monte Factor took turns with Hamilton and Hopps in sitting next to Duchamp. After checking in at the Desert Inn, they dined at the Stardust Lounge, where Marcel and Teeny were treated to long-legged showgirls performing a risquÉ version of the Folies Bergère. A photograph of the event reveals everyone smiling broadly, apart from the Duchamps, who looked stunned. The group then drove downtown to see towering neon signs and glowing casinos, evidence of American extravagance beyond even their expectations.
When the others started gambling, Duchamp returned to his role of archvoyeur. Though he was fascinated by games and had devised a system of gambling in the 1920s that allowed him to break even during his stay at Monte Carlo, he refused to play. When Hopps pleaded with him to demonstrate the system, Duchamp slyly responded, "Wouldn't you rather win?"24
Duchamp saved his gamesmanship for chess. After they returned to Pasadena, he visited PAM on October 18, 1963, to play on the board set up in his own exhibition. The event was to prove the truth of Man Ray's observation that "there was more Surrealism rampant in Hollywood than all the Surrealists could invent in a lifetime."25
Eve Babitz, a curvaceous nineteen-year-old, was Walter Hopps's girlfriend, a fact that he was trying to keep from the notice of his wife Shirley. He had refused to invite Babitz to the museum opening or the grand party. When Babitz got a call from photographer Julian Wasser inviting her to play chess with Duchamp she leaped at the opportunity for revenge. "I was going to be pissed off for the rest of my life or pay them back," she said.26
Duchamp was dressed for the chess match in a dark suit and a straw hat that he had acquired in Las Vegas. At nine in the morning, the museum was not yet open to the public, and Duchamp seemed unruffled when Wasser set up his equipment and told Babitz to remove her blue artist's smock. Nearby stood two large sheets of glass containing Duchamp's play on sexual frustration, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. Babitz had just started taking birth control pills so her 36 DD breasts were larger than usual. "I thought they should be photographed really . . . for immortality," she said later.27 Duchamp seemed more impressed by the fact that Babitz was the goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky, whose Firebird Suite he and Beatrice Wood had seen in Paris in 1910.
Babitz's lackluster chess didn't discourage Wasser from shooting roll after roll of film. Babitz, who later became a successful writer, knew the photographs would be a triumph, something that Hopps would look at for years. "I always wanted him to remember me that way," she said.28
Babitz was hungover and perspiring under the hot lights, but she felt it was all worthwhile when her unsuspecting lover walked in. The nude Babitz coolly greeted him, "Hello, Walter." He turned ashen and dashed into his office. Raised voices could be heard. Babitz recalled, "It made him return my phone calls, which is what I wanted out of life."29 (Their affair resumed the following week when he flew with her to San Francisco to see the debut of The Beard, Beat poet Michael McClure's play about Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid.)
While Wasser took dozens of photographs, the one that became a celebrated poster depicts Babitz seated on a wooden chair and leaning her elbows on the table so that her breasts dangle and her hair hides her face; Duchamp, with a neutral expression, holds a cigar and focuses on the board. For Duchamp, it was completely unplanned and therefore a perfect coda to his retrospective.
The back-to-back receptions in honor of Warhol and Duchamp invigorated the feisty Los Angeles art scene. Warhol said, "For a while there in the early sixties, it looked like a real solid art scene was developing in California. Even Henry Geldzahler felt he had to make a trip out once a year to check on what was happening."30 A few months later, one of the city's few progressive critics, Jules Langsner, wrote in Art in America, "In the space of a half-dozen years, the state of the Los Angeles art community has changed from the nuts who diet on nutburgers to a living and vital center of increasing importance."31
A lively consensus emerged that these shows represented some sort of shift in terms of the city's viability as a contemporary art center. Duchamp scholar Dickran Tashjian said, "The L.A. artists, who were outsiders, saw the success of Duchamp, who was an outsider, and thought, 'Hey, if this guy can do it, so can we.' "32
Encouragement from a rising star such as Warhol gave a boost to the artists who believed that their own unique contributions deserved to be recognized in New York and Europe. Most of those artists showed at Ferus, the first gallery in Los Angeles to capture the zeitgeist.
Excerpted from Rebels In Paradise by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
Copyright 2011 by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
Published in 2011 by Henry Holt and Company
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is the author of Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, considered the most definitive biography of the popular artist. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is a journalist and art critic for Artnet, ARTnews and the Los Angeles Times.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews