Los Angeles

Roy Lichtenstein, Oskar Schlemmers and Irving Blum

Irving Blum Gallery

It’s hard to figure Irving Blum’s Thirties Style. This modest, intimate exhibition is too rigorous to be easily saleable, too polyglot to be a decorative showcase, and too partial (“Thirties” is secondary to “Style”) to be historically genuine. There are a couple of Lichtensteins, mixed with three “real” Things-to-Come moderne sculptures (two Oskar Schlemmers and a fantastic Déco-Constructivist head by Belling), together with some newly-minted furniture lifted from blueprints of the day. Surprisingly, the furniture, turning the gallery into a sitting room from an Astaire-Rogers movie, makes the show, partly because its un-artiness breaks the tension (I always feel uneasy around a Lichtenstein banner or one of those mock-mural prints; they tread such a thin line between seriousness and frivolity), and partly because the pieces are well done. The best piece is a maroon velveteen chair, made of three horseshoe-shaped tubes stacked on end, set atop a chrome tubular stand (designed by Blum, who, I’d say, has a flair for it), which is just high enough to float the chair, low enough to remain unobtrusive, and faired inward enough to be graceful. But the point remains, why? Blum, usually a dealer in contemporary blue chips who has picked up a couple of new artists this season (Balog, Dill), has a dose of ennui which is indicative of the plight of La Cienega in general: the promise of Los Angeles in the early sixties—the land of sunshine and space-age materials, benevolent colleges and showbiz clientele—has conspicuously tapped out. The artists are around in numbers at least, and the incidence of innovation, albeit superficial, keeps the heads working. But something is wrong at the top, maybe the galleries, maybe the institutions, maybe the lack of a solid market. Whatever, the Boulevard is no more energetic and populous than it was ten years ago, and filler exhibitions, however tasteful and charming, won’t reverse the situation.

Peter Plagens