“Maven of Modernism”

Norton Simon Museum
411 West Colorado Boulevard
April 7, 2017–September 25, 2017

Diego Rivera, Blue Boy with the Banana, 1931, oil on canvas, 36 x 22".

Galka Scheyer thought blue was a mystical color. Her Richard Neutra–designed house, built in 1934, still stands in Hollywood on Blue Heights Drive. Her poodle was named Blue Blue. And when it came time to brand her favorite quartet of modernist painters—Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky—she went with the Blue Four.

The name caught. “Prophetess of the Blue Four,” proclaimed a November 1925 San Francisco Examiner article marking their West Coast debut. Dozens more shows would follow. A Jewish German heiress in exile since the Weimar years, Scheyer found California more receptive to her blau Bauhaus taste than chilly New York City. From Oakland to LA, she bought, sold, and boosted the likes of Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso, and Edward Weston.

Scheyer’s appetite for azure guided her collecting, too. A single blue bar anchors the churning black rectangles of Klee’s Possibilities at Sea, 1932. Blue Four? Try the watercolor Blue Shore, 1938, a birthday gift from Feininger. When Scheyer bought a painting from Diego Rivera, it had to be Blue Boy with the Banana, 1931. These are featured among more than a hundred paintings and photographs, ten vitrines of letters and ephemera, and (inexplicably) a single limestone sculpture in “Maven of Modernism” (the Norton Simon’s try at pithy branding).

Highlighting Cubists to caricaturists, Fauves to Group f/64, this portion of the Galka Scheyer bequest evinces a bohemian eccentricity tempered by good weather—and by good design. Indeed, the real finds amid the maven and her men are the exhibition announcements, business cards, and letterhead, all emblazoned by four blue lines like skinny modernist pillars: the logo of the Blue Four. Scheyer thought blue was a mystical color. It shows.

Travis Diehl