Whether it's the charm of his candor, the confidence exuded by his high pitch, his witty intonation or simply his overall prosody, it's hard to say, but there's something about Irving Blum that captivates his audience (large or small, intimate conversation or public forum).
I've heard the legendary dealer speak on numerous occasions, but he has yet to disappoint. Blum more than exceeded expectations last night, speaking with museum director Elsa Longhauser before a packed house of prominent art world kith and kin at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. He spoke with the greatest of eloquence and fond reminiscence as he described his gallivanting about the 1950's art world -- where New York was the center, Leo Castelli was king, and Abstract Expressionism was revered above all else -- flowing effortlessly from one anecdote to the next: this one about Jasper (as in Johns), Roy (Lichtenstein, that is) or Andy (Warhol, of course!). As Blum paints a picture with his words, one can almost imagine themselves there with him at Barney's Beanery giving Kienholz $500 for his share of Ferus or at Johns's studio convincing him to show his ale cans and other small sculptures alongside Schwitters' collages.
After nearly an hour of storytelling, the floor was opened to the audience and the standard, "Who are you looking at now?" question was posed. In typical Irving fashion, he launched into another autobiographical narrative, this time about picking his son up from Betty Asher's home. When he asked what she'd discussed with his son, she responded, "the art world." Surprised, he inquired further and she explained that Jason had told her that if she was looking for younger artists not to buy work from his dad. Irving chuckled retelling the story and admitted that Jason had originally heard the words from him and repeated them. In fact, Blum still holds the belief that it's the younger dealers who have their finger on the pulse because they have the most direct contact with the younger artists. Then came Blum's brilliant summation, "You're locked into your own time. I was locked into my time and you are locked into this time, and good for you!"
Blum acknowledged that the Los Angeles art scene evolved tremendously and is far more exciting than even in his day. Without a doubt, the future of the Los Angeles art scene has never looked so bright. Good for us, indeed.