Ferus Gallery: Between the Folds

Ferus Gallery: Between the Folds
October 7 – November 19, 2017

October 7, 6-8 pm

Public Conversation & Book Signing: 
The Dream Colony: A Life in Art by Walter Hopps

October 29th, 6-7 pm

with Anne Doran & Deborah Treisman
moderated by Greg Allen

Ferus Gallery: Between the Folds unfurls the iconic graphic history of Los Angeles’ storied gallery: the Ferus. Organized by Alden Projects™ on the 60th anniversary of Ferus’ founding, this exhibition brings together 66 Ferus Gallery exhibition posters, including many never previously reproduced and many from Irving Blum Gallery, the name under which Ferus (1957-1967) continued from 1967 through 1973. In addition to mapping the full arc of Ferus’ historic exhibition program, these intimately scaled invitation posters are nevertheless the stuff of art and art history, unfolding the gallery’s distinctive artistic, but also deliberate publicity strategies. Characteristically folded in four, these posters sometimes channel the unique voices and the particular sensibilities of the artists; between the folds of these canny printed vehicles, these surprising, original detachments also materialize the gallery’s surplus ambitions during the gallery’s distinct eras, setting Ferus apart from anything that came before it in California. 

Not another mythology of the “Cool School,” this is the first exhibition to focus comprehensively on Ferus’ poster program and publicity apparatus, unpacking Ferus’ nexus with Artforum, Hollywood, and Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. Along with ephemera from California artists from the 1960s, highlights include one of the most iconic posters of post-War art: Andy Warhol’s soup can poster Pepper Pot (1962), printed on fine, deckled paper and issued for the artist’s very first gallery exhibition of Pop paintings in July 1962; this occurs not in New York, but at Ferus, where its nexus with Hollywood was a big draw for the artist. (Item: the value of a single Warhol soup can poster today far exceeds the amount Warhol received at the time for the entire series of the original 32 soup can paintings—Irving Blum paid Warhol $1,000 for the lot; MoMA paid Blum $15 million for them in 1996). Another rare Pop icon here is Roy Lichtenstein’s Sock poster (1963), printed on heavy paper, mimicking the eponymous painting included in the artist’s sold-out April 1963 exhibition at Ferus: the graphic shock of a Ben-day blue sock on a white ground accompanied by Ferus’ characteristically elegant, minimalist typography. Warhol and Lichtenstein both exhibited early and repeatedly at Ferus, which issued multiple signal Pop posters for each. Different from ephemera made by other galleries, these consistently ingenious posters doubled as advertisements for art about advertisements (and popular culture) so that the status of these printed signs cannot be neatly detached from the art they also advertise. And like wolves in sheep’s clothing, Ed Ruscha’s five posters for Ferus and Blum (1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969) here at Alden Projects™ smuggle art through these unexpected vehicles: the surplus, supposedly non-art spaces of advertising posters to surprise the viewer.  

Ephemera mattered at Ferus. Founded by curator Walter Hopps and artist Ed Kienholz in March 1957, the “Ferus” honorific was designed to commemorate an unknown artist named James Farris who shot himself; the peculiar variant spelling of the gallery’s name got transposed, however, when Robert Alexander (a.k.a. “Baza”), the collage artist and poet who executed the gallery’s earliest typography, proposed “F-e-r-u-s” instead. Why? “Because it has more strength typographically,” Hopps remembers. Hopps’ response? “Let’s do it.” [1] And thus, the gallery’s founding identity was composed with an ephemeral sensibility and by a typographic twist of fate.

The arc of Ferus’ exhibition program divides into two phases: the gallery’s first phase (1957-59) in which the earliest printed matter, by Robert Alexander, consists of letterpress printed graphics—frequently in fluid, lowercase typefaces—printed on different kinds of fragile papers, one with tipped-in photographs. All reflect the early space’s intimacy, which was more like an artist’s studio. Included here at Alden Projects™ are a number of never previously reproduced graphics from the gallery’s first phase (under the direction of Hopps and Kienholz). Alexander also created distinctive letterpress graphics for Hopps’ previous gallery, Syndell Studio (1954-56).[2]

Around the beginning of 1959, a new poster format inaugurates the arrival of the gallery’s second phase, or “New Ferus,” beginning when Irving Blum enters, and the gallery moves into a smaller, but slick new space. “It had a gray-white Formica-tile floor, perfect white walls,” Hopps remembers, “and one beautiful big wall that would slide out, dividing the gallery into smaller and a larger space, so that you could do one big show or two smaller ones. Irving was going to be the official director of the gallery.”[3] Included at Alden Projects™ is an elegant, formal invitation card printed in all-caps: “YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO ATTEND THE RECEPTION FOR THE INITIAL EXHIBIT IN THE NEW FERUS GALLERY. MONDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 15, 1958.” This card also announces a new graphic turn away from Alexander’s Beat design sensibility—he had typically employed lowercase typefaces—towards a more consistent, professionalized format, relying instead on uppercase letters. Also present at Alden Projects™ is the first poster to announce the new Ferus line-up. Printed in gray all-cap letters on an approximately 10 x 13” sheet, folded in four, the show’s title is writ large across the page: “FERUS.” Perhaps tellingly, the new serif typeface is very close to the look and generous proportions of the one also announcing Vogue magazine’s logo. (Non-identical, however, it is somewhere between Caslon and Bodoni/Didot.)[4] Printed in black letters below, new Ferus artists are listed: John Altoon, B.A. Bengston, J. De Feo, Richard Diebenkorn, Sonia Gechtoff, Robert Irwin, Craig Kaufman, Frank Lobdell, Edward Moses y Branco, David Park, Arthur Richer, and Hassel Smith with the show spanning from “December 16, ’58 until January 10, ’59.”

Blum, a former actor whose elocution classes left him speaking like Cary Grant, and a former employee at the New York design firm, Knoll was trained in modern design and in selling modern luxury. Hopps, a brilliant autodidact and art historian who met Duchamp as a 15-year old in California, was an early exponent of inviting artists to create exhibition posters, and a fair number did at Ferus before and after his departure. Blum directed the production of many Ferus’ posters, and maintained the Vogue-like typeface and general format of Ferus posters issued by his eponymous gallery through 1973. [5] Typically, these designs comprise a single, centered  icon above also centered, all-cap letters printed on better paper, and nearly always folded in four.

While Hopps remained associated with Ferus through 1962—he left to become a curator at the Pasadena Museum of Art where he curated the massively influential Duchamp retrospective in 1963—the gallery also mounted historical exhibitions, including ones by Joseph Cornell and Giorgio Morandi. For the making of the Morandi poster in 1961, Hopps recalls: “We had designed a new look for the announcements at the new Ferus—we printed them on fine paper…But for this show, Irving screwed up. We’d chosen a Morandi drawing that we were going to print in line cut on the announcement, that he hadn’t had photographed. (Baza wasn’t doing our announcements anymore, by this time, he was living in Venice…). I was furious.” To cut to the chase, Hopps traced the contours of a Morandi drawing himself to be quickly printed in line cut. This Morandi poster is on view at Alden Projects™, but viewers take note: it represents Walter Hopps’ drawing of bottles (and not Morandi’s) printed in red. Hopps imagined the ramifications: “So one day, somebody somewhere in the world, a graduate student or expert, is going to go nuts trying to find the Morandi drawing I produced, because it isn’t exactly the same as the original; there are slight variations.” [6]

Both Hopps and Blum had a fine-tuned interest in posters and graphic splash. Hopps organized the first American exhibition of Pop in 1962 (at the Pasadena Museum), inviting the young Ed Ruscha to create the intentionally loud and colorful, typographic boxing style poster for the historic show, New Painting of Common Objects, in which Ruscha also participated. After Hopps left Ferus, Blum minded the Ferus poster program, frequently using photographs by Dennis Hopper and jazz and celebrity photographer, William Claxton. Blum also parlayed the look, feel, and brazen attitude of Ferus posters into multiple full-page advertisements in Artforum. In 1963, for example, Blum there advertised Warhol’s second show at the gallery by featuring a full-page photograph of…himself (photo credit: William Claxton). Its layout is consistent with the graphic look of a number of posters featuring photographic portraits of the artists—and discretely deploying, of course, the Ferus typeface in all-caps—this highly unconventional advertisement depicts not the artist, but the dealer, Irving Blum at a vernissage looking dapper: over his tie, a custom t-shirt festooned with a silkscreened portrait by Warhol of the actor, Troy Donahue; (the real-life Troy Donahue attended the actual opening).

This exhibition also explores the nexus of Ferus’ publicity apparatus and Artforum; many Ferus-related advertisements published in the magazine are exhibited in vitrines. Both the gallery and the magazine were each reciprocal partners in the other’s early success in Los Angeles. Ferus artists were frequently featured and written about. As then Artforum Editor, Philip Leider put it: “it seemed that every month we had a Ferus guy on the cover and every month the stuff we were writing was on Ferus Gallery.” [7] The web of this connection was enabled by the fact that Artforum kept an office literally upstairs from the gallery (Ferus’ West Hollywood address was 723 North La Cienega Blvd. and Artforum’s 723 ½) where from around 1963, the magazine moved all of its editorial offices in 1964 when it relocated from San Francisco to focus on Los Angeles and New York). So when Philip Leider published a review of Ed Ruscha’s first book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations in September 1963, it was hot off the press and easily discovered.[8]

The genesis of how the gallery and magazine’s strategic interests got folded together is remembered here by Leider: “So one night, when we were all in my house on Mason Street, Hopps, Blum, and me and Coplans, we laid out the battle plan. We were going to make a case for the artists that we liked in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Basically we set up a war room, and we were now going to proceed to elevate the artists, and the ideas of art, that were important to us. Walter was going to be the museum guy and Irving was going to be the dealer, I was going to be the editor, and…John was going to be the critic. And no matter what else we did, the consistent thing we were going to do was that we were going to push the people like Kenny Price, we were going to push people like Billy Al Bengston, we were going to push people like Robert Irwin.”[9]

Widely remembered is Ed Ruscha’s September 1966 Artforum cover for the special Surrealism issue (a.k.a. Surrealism Soaped and Scrubbed), but less well known is the fact that one of the two best-paid employees at Artforum early on was Ed Ruscha,[10] whose occupational training in Los Angeles included working as a printer’s devil. The artist produced the magazine’s layout from 1965-67 under the pseudonym, “Eddie Russia,” but he also contributed a series of high jinks advertisements to Artforum using his proper name. In the September 1964 issue, Ruscha placed a full-page photographic spread featuring an alluring blonde wearing a swooping, V-neck dress, with pendulant earrings, holding a “CHEVRON NATIONAL CREDIT CARD”—a gasoline station credit card—that simply reads “EDWARD J. RUSCHA/FERUS GALLERY.”[11] (This was an oblique reference to the leitmotif of gasoline stations in his recent work, including paintings soon to be exhibited at Ferus in October 1964.)

But Ruscha wasn’t the only Ferus artist to place encrypted “artist’s advertisements” in Artforum in the blockbuster Summer 1967 “Special (Sculpture) Issue” (Larry Bell on the cover), Kenneth Price stationed a perplexing, double-paged, photographic spread; loaded with what we almost never see in Artforum—lots of empty, white space splashed across both pages. Above a sculptural fragment (evoking a tomb?), the caption reads as follows: “KENNETH PRICE 1935 – 2017 A.D.”[12] (Production credit for this issue: Eddie Russia.) 

Ruscha’s three posters with Ferus and two with Irving Blum each reflect the artist’s discrete charm and keen interest in the particular reproductive space of the exhibition poster; all stray from Ferus’ typographic conventions. The poster for the artist’s third show in 1965, for example, features a painting of a surreal hybrid of a bird and a pencil. Set against a black ground, the bird’s beak appears to enact the process of writing out the exhibition’s details onto a white, sheet of paper: “Edward Ruscha at the Ferus Gallery from Tuesday November 16th, 1965.” No address is given for this announcement-within-an-announcement. 

Printed in very small, but unknown quantities and sent through the mail, or given away at the gallery, Ferus’ original publicity stood out from most other posters from the era, but also reflected a new audience for contemporary art. “Surprisingly, there’s a real tradition of art collecting in California,” Walter Hopps recalls, “and the pioneers in the field were almost all from the movie world.”[13] Ferus’ nexus with Hollywood is announced frequently in the gallery’s publicity program. Dennis Hopper, a close friend of the gallery, contributed photographs for many posters, including the one on the poster for Ruscha’s Ferus show, opening October 20, 1964. “The Double Standard photograph of mine,” Hopper recalled, “which I took in 1961 was Ed’s announcement for his 1964 show of paintings of Standard gas stations, one of which I bought, I think, for $780.” Just below Hopper’s photograph and printed in an early, Op-like typeface is a graphic signal printed in green, honking the artist’s name: (“RUSCHA” and nothing more) and is the unmistakable art of Ed Ruscha. In light of Ruscha’s own photographic engagement with gasoline stations, the selection of Hopper’s photograph instead to announce Ruscha’s show is intriguing. Apart from the fact that Hopper’s photo is striking, however, Ruscha was likely to have also appreciated the advertising copy printed in the billboard over the Standard gasoline station which reads: “Smart Women Cook with Gas in Balanced Power Homes,” slyly eliding the artist’s own interest in signs, wordplay, gasoline stations, and small fires—all evident in his then-current works.[14] Unnoted on this poster, Hopper’s credit is otherwise present on other Ferus posters, including the black and white portrait of Roy Lichtenstein of the artist for Lichtenstein’s November 1964 poster (following just after Ruscha’s) in which Lichtenstein is casually seated on the floor next to one of his works, wearing high tops, a subject he also painted). 

Probably the final poster issued by Ferus is the square self-portrait of Andy Warhol lithographed on silver paper to announce the artist’s 1966 exhibition, presumably a nod to the Silver Clouds (e.g. mylar balloons) then on view at the gallery. Together with another rarity at Alden Projects™: an unregistered poster with an unconventional design announcing a general appearance by Warhol and the Velvet Underground at Ferus. Printed to look like an enlarged newspaper, this poster re-purposes (and blows up) an actual, earlier advertisement culled from the pages of a downtown New York newspaper, announcing a prior appearance by Warhol and the Velvets on St. Marks Place in New York. Amended only slightly, this poster adds the following adjustment: “At the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.” Warhol travelled to Los Angeles with the Velvet Underground, who had been scheduled to perform for two weeks (May 3-18) at The Trip on the Sunset Strip, but the engagement was cut short due to obscenity. No actual performance by the Velvet Underground at Ferus has been previously registered. It seems likely, therefore, that this poster was conceived at the Factory before heading West.[15]

This exhibition curated by Todd Alden looks at the history of Ferus through the looking glass: between the folds of its ambitious poster and publicity programs. The nexus of Ferus with Artforum—which quit Los Angeles for New York in 1967—is also examined, showing how the folds of each intertwine with the other. After a brief but quickly abandoned merger of Ferus with Pace Gallery in Los Angeles—it was boldly announced on the back cover of Artforum in September 1966 (cover by Ed Ruscha)—Ferus closed in early 1967. Irving Blum continued local operations at a nearby address under his own name, producing an impressive series of posters through 1973. Notable among these: Ruscha’s cheeky announcement for the exhibition of his January 1968 exhibition at Irving Blum Gallery, where he showed the painting, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-68) behind a velvet rope. Arriving in the form of a Western Union telegram, the artist’s poster announces: “Los Angeles Fire Marshall says he will attend STOP See the most controversial painting to be shown in Los Angeles in our time STOP.” Making a humorous parody of the relationship of scandal and publicity in art (“stop!”), this poster demonstrates that exhibition posters (i.e. supplements of art) are also sometimes completely inseparable from the art itself. 

Blum issued more dazzling posters, including those by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Stella, Kelly, Judd, Morris, Flavin, and Balog. To see this gang—all by Leo Castelli’s artists—hanging together today at Alden Projects™, we grasp immediately how Irving Blum Gallery’s publicity program functioned as if it were satellite transmissions from Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. But the precession of Castelli’s own nexus with Ferus begins before the first Ferus poster was printed and folded. Reflecting on the splash that Warhol’s soup can poster made, Hopps recalls: “We made a spectacular announcement for that show. I loved the way Castelli did his folded-poster announcements, so for the Warhol show we used eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch stock [sic] and printed one of the soup cans on it; those are collectors items now.”[16] 

© Todd Alden 2017

[1] Walter Hopps with Deborah Treisman and Anne Doran The Dream Colony: A Life in Art (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017), p. 68.
[2] Alexander ran a press at Syndell Studio with Wallace Berman called Stone Brothers Printing. As it happens, both Hopps and Alexander contributed to the printing of Berman’s first issue of Semina (1957), around the same time as Berman’s one-person exhibition at Ferus (1957). A few of Robert Alexander’s daring designs for Syndell are reproduced in Kristine McKenna’s, The Ferus Gallery: A Place to Begin (Göttingen: Steidl, 2009). Alexander exhibited collage poems at Ed Kienholz’s Now Gallery in 1955 and went on to found the Temple of Man, a center for poetry, jazz, and art in Venice, California.
[3] Hopps et. al., p. 86.
[4] Alden Projects™ thanks Garret Linn helping us grapple with New Ferus’ typeface.
[5] McKenna indicates, however, that Irving Blum Gallery continued to operate, however, through 1976.
[6] Hopps et. al., p. 99.  
[7] Amy Newman, Challenging Art: Artforum 1962-1974 (New York: SOHO Press, 2000), p. 118). 
[8] Philip Leider, “Books,” Artforum, Vol II. No. 3, September 1963, p. 57. Ruscha’s second book was also speedily covered by the magazine in an interview of Ruscha appearing in February 1965. Cf. John Coplans, “Concerning ‘Various Small Fires’: Ed Ruscha Discusses His Perplexing Publications,” in Artforum, III, No. 5, 1965, pp. 24-25.
[9] Op. Cit., p. 116.
[10] According to Charles Cowles, as cited in Op. Cit., p. 125.
[11] Artforum, Vol V. No. 5, January 1967, n.p. Thanks to Jeremy Sanders, at 6 Decades Books for pointing this one out.
[12] Artforum, Vol V. No. 10, June (Summer), 1967, n.p.
[13] Hopps et. al., p. 105.
[14] In addition to paintings of gasoline stations, Ruscha’s second book, Various Small Fires was unveiled on the occasion of the October 20th, 1964 opening at Ferus.
[15] Warhol’s silver self-portrait poster for Ferus was printed in New York by Total Color. Total Color had also printed Warhol’s Flowers [1964] created to announce Warhol’s first exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.  Alden Projects™ thanks Jeff Gold at Record Mecca for sharing his expertise about the Velvet Underground “at Ferus Gallery” poster. Thanks also to Lee Kaplan at Arcana for his keep appreciation of Ferus posters.
[16]Op. Cit., p. 122.