A Retrospective on a Monumental Gallery

By Faktorovich, Anna | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

A Retrospective on a Monumental Gallery


Faktorovich, Anna, Pennsylvania Literary Journal


A Retrospective on a Monumental Gallery James Meyer. Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959-1971. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-42510-8. Current Affairs. 408pp. Cloth: $60.00.

The first thing I noticed was that this book was printed in Italy unlike many of the other art gallery collections I reviewed previously. The quality difference is apparent from the inside flap which includes a simple pencil drawing of a face through a kind of a broken mirror with multiple repetitions. It's smudged and I hesitated to touch the page out of a subconscious fear that the remains of the graphite will rub off on it. Another detail that stands out is the inclusion of dates for upcoming National Gallery of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibitions in 2016-17, which are essential because the book is an invitation to honor the contributions of Virginia Dwan's personal collection that sponsored the great American and European artists that she featured. The press release summarizes this collection as containing: "abstract expressionism, neo-Dada, and pop," as well as "minimalism and conceptualism," and "earthworks." The book does not simply reproduce the works Dwan championed, but rather details the story and significance of her life and achievements beyond the peak decades of her galleries. The book is written by the deputy director and chief curator of the Dia Art Foundation, so it shows sympathy and a deep understand of the craft of art curation. The book was prompted by Dwan's gift of 250 works from this collection to the publisher, National Gallery of Art, in 2013. Curiously, the book also includes a 44-page memoir by Virginia Dwan, called, "Writings." The biography and collection history is accompanied with an extremely detailed chronology of curator and the history of all major works and places that the gallery touched. It would be difficult to imagine a more scholarly representa- tion of the history of a gallery.

Dwan started the gallery at twenty-eight after inheriting a fortune at twenty-one from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, and married a medical student whose mother owned a gallery in Long Island. She ran it for over a decade before closing it to public viewing.

The book strays into the history of art in general when it explains Dwan's inspirations and sources for her artistic decisions. For example, Fig. 10 is of a series of giant, wall-sized black canvas paintings, "Installation View" by Ad Reinhardt, at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles from February 1962, and Fig. 11, under it, is "Suprematist Works" by Kazimir Malevich, Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10, Petrograd, from 1915. …

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