My catching fleeting exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum continues, with an absorbing look at the legendary Dwan Gallery, that celebrated the avante garde first in L.A. and then in New York during the art consciousness raising years of the 1960s.
Founded by Virginia Dwan, fresh out of UCLA and blessed with a love of art and an inheritance, she opened a storefront in Westwood. Not only was it a few miles away from the then established gallery row, on La Cienega Boulevard, but more significantly it was artistically very much off the beaten track.
As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, the exhibits at the Dwan featured pop, minimalist and conceptual art that challenged the staid critics of the day and the conventional collectors.
Among the young and bushy tailed artists displayed were many who in time would become quite celebrated. These included Edward Kienholz, Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Think of seeing for the first time Andy Warhol’s brillo soapboxes and Claes Oldenburg’s playful sculptures.
Their creations might not have sold well then as they would in later years. But they certainly stirred the art scene and beyond in those days, such as when Dwan rolled out Kienholz’s grungy assemblage know as Back Seat Dodge 38. Talk about a timepiece.
Featured in the LACMA exhibit today, it is just topical fun, as it was meant to be when first seen, a found and fabricated tableau of backseat sex. But in 1964 it sparked public and legal allegations of obscenity, drawing the attention of the LAPD, which took on the mantle of critic.
The exhibit persevered, but only after much debate and publicity, and with agreement it could be displayed, though with the back car door closed, to be only opened upon an adult’s request of a museum guard, and then not in front of anyone under age.
For that alone the exhibit is worth seeing. But this is also on display a wealth of paintings, sculpture, films and drawing by challenging artists of a half-century ago. For me, it was a diverting trip back in time.
Of local interest, Dwan had a beach house in Malibu, where then struggling select artists, young men to be sure, could stay at least until their works sold, which could be a very long time.
As the lyrics of a popular song echoed, “they were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end.”