Gemini G.E.L.

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This story is so LA-in-the-60s when anything could happen. There are four friends: Sidney Felsen, an accountant taking art classes; his wife Rosamund Felsen, working at the Pasadena Art Museum; Stanley Grinstein, proprietor of a forklift company and his wife Elyse Grinstein, active at the LA County Museum. That quartet, fascinated by their budding awareness of contemporary art, changed the course of history as publishers of limited edition works of art with a company they called Gemini G.E.L.

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Roy Lichtenstein, "Head," 1980
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© 1980 Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Gemini G.E.L.
Photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

Now housed in a Melrose gallery and studio designed by Frank Gehry, they are known for commissioning prints by some of the best known artists to come out of the 1960s: David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and, especially, Robert Rauschenberg. In honor of their 50th anniversary, works by those artists and many more are on view at LACMA in The Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L. through January 2.

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Richard Serra, “Transversals,” 2004
Installation view of etchings

Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, which owns a complete set of the prints, the show has been re-tooled for the galleries of the Resnick Pavilion. Nine projects from the original show are mixed with six from the collections of LACMA, Gemini and Stanley Grinstein. The emphasis is in the title: Serial. Organized here by Leslie Jones and Naoko Takahatake, this presentation offers a cogent sense of the meaning of an artist working in series. An entire suite of prints is presented by each artist on a single wall, the most surprising impact being the vertical black ink bars of Richard Serra. Seen individually, though impressive in their enormous scale and simplicity, it would be impossible to grasp the shifting borders. Presented together on a single long wall, the half-dozen prints appear to be dancing in rhythm.

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Robert Rauschenberg, "Booster," 1967
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Photo © 2016 Museum Associates/LACMA

Another wall is dedicated to Robert Rauschenberg's "Booster," (1967) involving a life-size x-ray of his own body, a print of great complexity and the largest ever accomplished at that time. Roy Lichtenstein is represented by the 1980 series made after he saw the Robert Gore Rifkind collection of German Expressionist prints that are now in LACMA's collection.

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Josef Albers, "White Line Square VIII," 1966
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

During their first years of operation, Gemini was criticized by LA artists for not supporting enough of the local community. Mostly, they imported artists from New York, convincing them with all expenses paid trips to sunny LA in the dead of winter. Gemini made a point of asking artists who had not been associated with printmaking to explore the medium. With time and money, sometimes lots both, they supported each project until the artist and the printers were satisfied, often a complex and challenging arrangement.

During the weeks or months those East Coast artists stayed here, they met and in many cases befriended LA artists, relationships that endured bi-coastally. Much of the New York-LA interchange of the 1960s and beyond, evolved out of Gemini.

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John Baldessari, "Money (with Space Between)," 1994
© John Baldessari

That changed over the decades and this show includes many works by John Baldessari who, like Ruscha, has been able to consistently find ways of playing successfully with the graphic medium.

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Tacita Dean, "LA Exuberance 1," 2016
Hand-drawn 3-color blend lithograph
© 2016 Tacita Dean and Gemini G.E.L. LLC

Recently, I was asked to write a small essay for the current show of lithographs by Tacita Dean, an English artist best known for her work with film. It seemed an odd choice for them but as I spoke with her and looked at her response — a series of white clouds on blue skies called LA Exuberance — I realized that Gemini continues to offer artists an opportunity and then support them through the difficulties of realizing an idea. The Dean show continues through October 14.

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On a different topic, Yusuf Nasir, a dancer known for working with Lady Gaga, has choreographed his first piece on the subtle line between sanity and madness, a piece called The Shout. Set to the sounds of Bjork, Adam Levine, Nina Simone and others, some 21 dancers will explore the effects of repressed emotions. Nasir told LAist that his choreography is based on the belief that "art should be based on something tangible that even the non-dancer or non-artist can understand." It is only playing this weekend at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywoood.