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Los Angeles Printing Firm Finds Art in Collaboration

November 01, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

Most artists like to work alone. But an average day at Gemini G.E.L. print workshop and publishers finds a collaborative team of five working together on one man or woman's creation.

For 22 years, the Melrose Avenue establishment has united some of contemporary art's most prominent artists with skilled printers and other craftsmen and artisans trained to make multiple editions of an artist's original design.

"Gemini G.E.L.: Art and Collaboration," an exhibition running today through Jan. 3 at the County Museum of Art, documents the achievements of the local print workshop with more than 160 graphics and other artworks by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelley, Roy Lichtenstein, Sam Francis, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Ed Ruscha, Willem de Kooning, Claes Oldenburg, Susan Rothenberg and Jonathan Borofsky. The show was organized by Washington's National Gallery of Art.

"In the '60s, it was still sort of novel for an artist to collaborate," said County Museum of Art curator Bruce Davis, who oversaw the exhibit's local installation, "but now, the process is quite acceptable and Gemini played an important part in that.

"When an artist comes to Gemini, the whole facility is at their disposal." Davis explained. "They can feel comfortable working there. The attitude was 'you (the artist) decide what you'll create, and we (the artisans) will come up with the means of putting that into action.' Gemini has been extraordinarily successful with that."

"We go overboard at really being low-key and low-profile to tell the artists that no one is looking over their shoulder or waiting for them to make a scratch on an etching plate," added Stanley Grinstein, who co-founded Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) with fellow businessman and art aficionado Sidney Felsen, and Kenneth Tyler, a master printer who now manages a print workshop in New York.

The activities at Gemini also helped to make Los Angeles an international art center, Davis said. Its founders regularly invite prominent out-of-town as well as local artists (Borofsky, Diebenkorn, Francis and Ed Kienholz among them) to work at the 10,000-square-foot concern.

"The work done at Gemini also exploded the tradition of definitions and boundaries of what a print is," Davis said. "Because of the limitless scope of the ideas that (the collaborators) had, a print is no longer simply a small work on paper."

Indeed, at Gemini in 1967, Rauschenberg created "Booster," the largest lithograph--at 72 by 35 inches--ever printed by hand, Davis said. Gemini artists and printers have mixed different media together in new ways, producing pieces that combine etching and wood block techniques or mezzotint and found objects, for instance.

The National Gallery of Art established Gemini's permanent archives in 1981, and the exhibit, a chronological history of the print workshop, first opened at the Washington institution in 1984. Davis has added about 30 prints and sculptures made at Gemini since 1984 for the exhibit's Los Angeles showing.

"We were honored that the National Gallery set up our archive," Grinstein said. "That's how this exhibit originally came about," and now, after its Washington debut, "the show is coming home to where we are."

LOCAL LOOK: From Bel-Air to the barrio, three diverse groups of Los Angeles denizens are pictured in "A Sense of Place," opening Wednesday at USC's Fisher Gallery.

Guest curator Robert McDonald, director of Santa Clara University's de Saisset Museum, organized the show, which features figurative paintings by D. J. Hall, F. Scott Hess and John Valadez.

Hall's work portrays smiling, blond, affluent women who hide behind stylish sunglasses at poolside; Hess depicts a gloomier, seedier side of the Southland; and Valadez seeks out the truth of those who live in the barrio.

Associating the varying views "was just sort of an intuitive process," said McDonald, "certainly as much, if not more so than an intellectual process. I realized what I had done was a sort of portrait of the city, or a group within the city."

The exhibit runs to Dec. 19.

ART FOR THE MASSES: Robbie Conal has gone back to the streets. The Venice-based artist, who has papered Los Angeles, New York and Washington with posters of political figures and Hollywood celebrities, has recently nailed up a new one in local communities from Silver Lake to Santa Monica.

The latest piece of public art depicts Ronald Reagan with the words "Contra Diction" framing the President's face.

"This is about Reagan saying he didn't know anything about what happened with the Iran-Contra affair, then saying it was his idea," said Conal by phone recently from Washington where he was putting up the new poster. "And it's also to anticipate the Administration's asking for $270 million in aid for the Contras, which they are going to start pushing for.

"I want (the President) to remember we're out there holding him accountable," said Conal, represented locally by the Robert Berman Gallery.

"Contra Diction," Conal's first monochromatic poster, is trimmed in bright yellow. "It's really part of my urban beautification program," he said.

First Lady Nancy Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and comedienne Joan Rivers are among other figures featured in various Conal posters. His works appear on utility boxes, construction sites and other outdoor spaces around town.

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