A Real Nose for Art

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The view looking south from The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at The Met. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023. A warm, sunny day, yesterday in New York. We woke up to a very cool temps into the 50s and by early afternoon in the mid-70s; just a beautiful day.

Out in Los Angeles, Amanda Quinn Olivar hosted a reception for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, of which she is a trustee, to celebrate the appointment of its new director Anne Helmreich. The event was held at the home her twin, Jennifer Quinn Gowey and her husband Eric Gowey.

The art scene in Los Angeles is vast in all categories. There are several major museums, many galleries and a vast collection in private hands. It reflects the history of Los Angeles which became a major world city in the 20th century because of the birth and establishment of the American film industry popularly known worldwide as Hollywood.

Movie studios in the Hollywood area from the air, as it appeared in 1922. See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been said that interest in Art and collecting began in the 1930s when the film Studios were prospering (like the iPhones today), and fortunes were being made.

It was during that decade that a young John Hay “Jock” Whitney, the New York socialite heir to two great American fortunes, along with his cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney started a film production company out there, and produced the first Technicolor film, Becky Sharp.

A scene from Becky Sharp (1935), a Jock Whitney & Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney (Pioneer Pictures) production.

Around that time Jock also purchased the film rights to a new novel written by an unknown Southern writer Margaret Mitchell, titled Gone With The Wind. He became very close socially with the producer David O. Selznick and his wife Irene Goetz Selznick, the daughter of Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The rest is history.

Jock Whitney and his wife Liz. Jock had a nose for winners.

Jock Whitney was already a major art collector at that young age (in his early 30s). But he also loved the atmosphere of early Hollywood and the world of the moguls he worked with. They in turn loved his presence since he represented the real “Society” of that era.  And he had a nose for the winners. The moguls, as they prospered, wanted that vibe and style in their own lives. Major art collections were eventually acquired over time, along with a growing interest in art. It lifted all eyebrows.

A perfect reflection of that in today’s art world is Larry Gagosian, who first started his international journey in selling posters on the sidewalks of Westwood Village in West LA. Gagosian’s story is a classic L.A. story of fame and fortune in the (not film) Arts.

Meanwhile, the recent gathering at the Goweys’ Beverly Hills home was significant by another connection: the house, featured in David Hockney’s 1968 painting is part of the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago.

David Hockney, American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), 1968. Purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Frederic G. Pick/© David Hockney

The event was attended by approximately 100 people including Amanda and Jennifer’s mother Joan Agajanian Quinn, as well as many Los Angeles-based artists such as Chaz Bojórquez, Woods Davy, Laddie John Dill, Shepard Fairey, Jim Ganzer, Yolanda Gonzales, Alex Hedison, George Herms, Charles Hill, Pamela Smith Hudson, Andy Moses, Claudia Parducci, Astrid Preston, Joey Terrill, and Elyn Zimmerman.  100 people were in attendance.

Journalist and art collector Joan Agajanian Quinn, with her twin daughters Jennifer Quinn Gowey (left) and Archives of American Art trustee Amanda Quinn Olivar (right).

Anne Helmreich spoke to the guests about The Archives of American Art collections, which “contain profound stories that will help future generations understand who we are and how we got here. As we look to the future, the Archives will continue to collect to reflect the breadth of the American experience and to develop innovative programming that connects with new audiences, powering future creativity. We are here to celebrate all the great work the Archives of American Art does in preserving artist’s stories in their own voices!”

The crowd of about 100 guests.

The Smithsonian Archives of American Art collects, preserves, and makes available primary sources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. The Archives holds the papers of American art luminaries such as the Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy DeForest, Stanley and Elyse Grinstein, Frederick Hammersley, Nancy Holt, Rockwell Kent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Roy Lichtenstein, Chiura Obata, Jackson Pollock, Leon Polk Smith, Robert Smithson, Alma Thomas, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

The Archives holds its annual gala in New York, where it presents the Archives of American Art Medal to an artist and a philanthropist and the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence to an art historian. Both awards recognize individuals who have made transformative contributions in the field of American art.

The Archives of American Art team: Director Anne Helmreich, Trustee Amanda Quinn Olivar, Associate Director for Advancement Jenny Williams, and Gerald and Bente Buck West Coast Collector Matthew Simms.
Anne Helmreich, Amanda Quinn Olivar,  Jenny Williams, Joan Agajanian Quinn, Jennifer Quinn Gowey, and Matthew Simms.
Amanda Quinn Olivar, Nancy Grinstein of Gemini G.E.L., art collector William Escalera, and Ellen Grinstein Perliter of Gemini G.E.L.
Amanda Quinn Olivar, Amanda Fairey, artist Shepard Fairey, and artist Andy Moses.
Artists Elyn Zimmerman and Woods Davy.
Smithsonian Regional Council Members Patric Verrone and Maiya Williams Verrone, with Amanda Quinn Olivar.
Artist Corrine Chiax, Allen Edwards, Jane Kennedy, and artist Charles Christopher Hill.
Artist Astrid Preston, with her husband Howard Preston, and artist Elyn Zimmerman.
Anne Blecksmith (Huntington Library) and Kathleen Saloman (Getty Research Institute).
Joan Agajanian Quinn with artist Connor Tingley and Shepard Fairey.
Jennifer Quinn Gowey, Joan Agajanian Quinn, artist Alex Hedison, and Amanda Quinn Olivar.
Howard Landau, writer Susan Morgan, artist Thomas Lawson, and Ellen Landau (Andrew W. Mellow Professor Emerita at Case Western Reserve University).
Michael Hausknost (Smithsonian Regional Council member), Patee McGuire, Maiya Williams Verrone, and Patric Verrone.
Amanda Quinn Olivar, Helen Berlant, artist Gwynn Murrill, and comedian Kate Berlant.
Pietro Alexander of Spy Projects Gallery, with Noriko Fujinami of Robert Graham Estate.
Archives of American Art Director Anne Helmreich with artist Laddie John Dill.
Gallerist Frank Loyd and Joan Agajanian Quinn.
Artists Claudia Parducci and Doug Edge.
Noriko Fujinami, artist Corinne Chaix, Amanda Quinn Olivar, artist Woods Davy, and Frank Lloyd.
Jennifer Quinn Gowey, with husband Eric Gowey and Marci and Kenneth Freed.
Anne Helmreich, Dennis Carr (The Huntington Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art), Jenny L. Williams (Associate Director for Advancement at the Archives of American Art), artist Andy Moses, Ellen Grinstein Perliter, Amanda Quinn Olivar, Pietro Alexander, artist Claudia Parducci, Louise Ganzer, and artist Jim Ganzer.
Curator Endy Bernal and artist Yolanda Gonzalez.
Artist Joey Terrill (right).
Artists Chaz Bojórquez and Shepard Fairey.
Vishnu Dass, Director of the The Steven Arnold Museum and Archives.
Art critic and curator Peter Frank with Anne Helmreich.
Art dealer Molly Barnes with artist Pamela Smith Hudson (front); Blake Koh, Allen Edwards, and Brian Hudson (back).
Kate Berlant, Amanda Quinn Olivar, Helen Berlant, and Gwynn Murill.
Vishnu Dass with artist Connor Tingley.
Kate Berlant and Helen Berlant standing with Tony Berlant artwork.

Meanwhile back in New York, my friend Iris Cantor, the peripatetic philanthropist, invited me to see Van Gogh’s Cypresses at The Met. This is the first exhibition to focus on the trees — among the most famous in the history of art — immortalized in signature images by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Iconic pictures as Wheat Field with Cypresses and The Starry Night take their place as the centerpiece in a presentation that affords an unprecedented perspective on a motif that is synonymous with the artist’s fiercely original power of expression. 

Some 40 works illuminate the extent of his fascination with the region’s distinctive flamelike evergreens as they successively sparked, fueled, and stoked his imagination over the course of two years in the South of France —  from his initial sightings of the “tall and dark” trees in Arles, to realizing their full, evocative potential (“as I see them”) at the asylum in Saint-Rémy.

The Starry Night surrounded at Van Gogh’s Cypresses at The Met.

Juxtaposing landmark paintings with precious drawings and illustrated letters—many rarely, if ever, lent or exhibited together—this tightly conceived thematic exhibition made possible by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, offers an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate anew some of Van Gogh’s most celebrated works in a context that reveals the backstory of their invention for the first time.

Additional support for this wonderful exhibition is provided by the Janice H. Levin Fund, Katharine Rayner, and the Aaron I. Fleischman and Lin Lougheed Fund.The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Photographs by Alan Shaffer & Erin Katgely.

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