Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Art Set: Blum & Poe: Super-Sized

by Charlie Scheips

I first met art dealer Tim Blum twenty years ago when I was organizing the Los Angeles contemporary art fair — known then as Art/LA. Tim, who was then in his mid-20s and who already spoke fluent Japanese, was preparing to move to Tokyo to work as an art dealer. We became fast friends before he finally left for Japan.

Tokyo was then one of the hottest art markets in the world — due to Japan’s then insatiable taste for modern and contemporary art as well as a for the thriving art and cultural scene. Soon after Tim settled in Tokyo, the English company for whom I worked on Art/LA sent me to explore the possibility of putting on a contemporary art fair in Tokyo.

Tim Blum and Jeff Poe.
I happened, by chance, to fly over with Timothy and Barbara Leary and James Grauerholz. They were all traveling to Tokyo to open a temporary nightclub named for William S. Burroughs whom Grauerholz worked closely with. It turned out that glass master Dale Chihuly was also in Tokyo for an exhibition — so I had some amusing friends to play with over the two weeks I was there.

Tim met me at the Okura Hotel on the first day of my arrival. After attending some meetings with me that day, Tim suggested I fire my translator and let him fill in. Besides a busy schedule of seeing most of the prominent dealers, curators and collectors in Tokyo, we also made visits to Osaka and Kyoto. It was an amazing time — made all the more productive (and fun!) thanks to Tim’s language skills and his knowledge of the country.

There had already been a stock market crash in 1987 but at that time the art market continued to flourish, if only briefly. Beginning in 1990, cracks from the fall out of the stock market’s plunge began to surface globally. Our Tokyo art fair was cancelled. I quit the art fair business and moved back to New York in 1991. Tim’s friend Jeff Poe, who was working as the director of the Kim Light Gallery in Los Angeles, was looking for a new endeavor after that gallery, along with dozens of others, closed. Tim came back to California in May 1993 to marry his girlfriend Maria whom he had known for several years. They married in a beautiful ceremony in Santa Barbara. I managed to catch Maria’s garter that night.

Tim returned permanently to Los Angeles from Japan on his birthday on August 5, 1994. A month later, he and Jeff Poe teamed up to open a small 800 square foot space tucked in the back corner of an art gallery complex in Santa Monica off Colorado Boulevard. It was there that Blum & Poe planted the seeds of what has become one of the most influential galleries, first in LA and then in rapid succession — the country and the world.

Thanks to Tim’s experience, he became friendly with two of the most important artists to emerge from Japan during the 1990s — Takashi Murakami and Yoshito Nara. Blum & Poe first introduced these artists to America.

The Gallery weathered the difficult economic times of those early years by managing to represent an increasingly influential roster of artists, most at the start of their careers. This included Dave Muller, Mark Grotjahn, Sharon Lockhart and Anya Gallaccio as well as Murakami and Nara. Today, in addition to these artists, Blum & Poe’s roster includes Chiho Aoshima, Jennifer Bornstein, Slater Bradley, Nigel Cooke, Carroll Dunham, Sam Durant, Tim Hawkinson, Julian Hoeber, Matt Johnson, Friedrich Kunath, Florian Maier-Aichen, Victor Man, Hirsch Perlman, Dirk Skreber, Keith Tyson, Lee Ufan and Chris Vasell.

In 2003, Blum & Poe moved up a 5,000 square foot space on La Cienega near the Interstate 10 freeway. They also backed the opening of Mandrake, a former gay bar down the street, keeping the old name but transforming it into a meeting place for the culturally hip — with daily guest deejays and art-oriented happenings.
Because of the international success of the gallery’s artists, Tim and Jeff often have to split their duties by traveling separately to museum and gallery shows the world over.

Last Spring, I witnessed this first hand when Nara’s opened at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea took place on the same night as Florian Maier-Aichen’s at the 303 Gallery a few blocks south. Tim and Jeff shuttled between the two galleries during the openings and then Tim and I joined the Nara dinner and Jeff went off to the Maier-Aichen celebration.

I have been amazed at how well Tim and Jeff have managed their extremely successful partnership — and stayed friends too. It’s part “good cop” and “bad cop” but it is also part Laurel and Hardy — although each could play either of those four roles depending on the day and hour.
BLUM & POE at 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd.
It came as no surprise to me, even during this past year or so of doom and gloom, that Blum & Poe went ahead with their ambitious plan to renovate and open a new 21,000 square foot gallery just across the street from their La Cienega quarters.

The new Blum & Poe opened last Thursday evening. A private champagne reception and dinner celebrated it — with 19 of Blum & Poe’s 23 artists traveling in from all over the world to attend. Hammer Museum director Annie Philbin, and curators Douglas Fogle, Ali Subotnick and Anne Ellegood were there as well as Masami Shiraishi from SCAI, the Bathhouse Tokyo gallery. Fellow LA dealers included Cliff Benjamin, Michael Kohn as well as New Yorker’s Marc Glimcher of Pace/Wildenstein and art advisor Stefano Basilco. Also spotted among the crowd were a throng of collectors including Nicolas Berggruen, David and Linda Gersh, Blake Byrne and Darren Starr as well as Hollywood’s Tobey Maguire and Jack Black.
I am certain that the next chapter of the gallery’s life will continue to astonish us as their stable of influential artists flourish under Tim and Jeff’s innovative and savvy care.

Bravo! Blum & Poe!
Takashi Murakami and friend. Slater Bradley. Tim Blum, Takashi Murakami, and Maria Blum.
Alex Hayden, Ed Moses, and Justine Bateman. Ari Wiseman and Lara Schnitger.
Dirk Skreber and Nigel Cooke. Ed Moses, Elsa Longhauser, and Tim Blum.
Mark Glimscher and Michael Kohn. Susan and David Gersh. Randall and Ana Haworth.
Kim McCarty with Bill and Elsa Longhauser. Joe Rosenburg and Adam Kanter.
Rodney Farrow. Sam Durant, Kelly Eginton, and Ana Gallaccio.
Estelle Parvos. Jeff Poe, Jack Black, and Tim Blum.
Cliff Benjamin and Erin Kermanikian. Vera Neykov and Luca De Laurentiis. Tracy and Maria Blum.
Jeff Poe, Stephanie Hin, and Florian Meiar. Ry Rockeln.
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