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A dealer in art and accolades

Art-world eminence Patricia Faure is toasted on her 75th birthday.

April 18, 2003|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

"Isn't that good?" art dealer Patricia Faure asks a gaggle of friends after telling a story about a day with Jackson Pollock.

Elegantly attired -- as usual -- she's standing outside the Santa Monica Museum of Art, not far from her gallery at Bergamot Station, where everyone in the L.A. art world has gathered to celebrate her 75th birthday. Photographs of Faure's many lives -- as a fashion model, photographer, mother, art entrepreneur and eternally radiant babe -- flash across a big screen on an exterior wall of the building.

No one doubts Faure had a rendezvous with the quintessential Abstract Expressionist in L.A. in the early 1950s or that they drove to Topanga Canyon and painted watercolors together. It's just one more vignette in the life of an art world eminence who seems to know everyone and have no enemies.

"Do you know anyone else in the contemporary art world about whom no bad word is spoken?" asks Elsa Longhauser, who directs the museum and helped Bergamot dealers stage the party. "She's a fusion of art and fashion and humor -- all the best qualities, all the essentials."

Beauty and wit have undoubtedly opened doors for her. But artists and her colleagues say integrity, independence and an adventurous eye are the keys to her professional stature. "She shows art she likes regardless of what people think," says Michael Asher, a Conceptual artist whose mother, Betty Asher, was Faure's business partner from 1978 to 1994. "She's very honest, sincere and dedicated."

"Her eye and spirit remain very young," says art consultant Tamara Thomas. "She doesn't just go with the latest breeze, yet she often shows edgy new things. The 40-ish young Turk dealers could take a lesson from her."

At her gallery, Faure often works in her office while visitors browse. But few acquaintances slip away without being asked: "Isn't that good?" It's a signature phrase, and even when it's a sales pitch, it doesn't come off that way. "You can't sell art, it sells itself," Faure contends. "All you can do is keep the place kind of tidy and get the information out. People come in. If they like it, they buy it."

Holding forth in her distinctive voice -- "somewhere between Lauren Bacall and Elmer Fudd," dealer Frank Lloyd says -- Faure might appear to have blue blood. In fact, she was born in 1928 to a middle-class couple in Milwaukee. Her father died when she was a child, and she and her mother moved to L.A. when she was 15. "My mother was so nuts about me, she probably thought I was going to be a movie star," Faure says. That didn't happen, but Faure enrolled at Hollywood High School, began a career in modeling and soon made friends with singers Bobby Short and Frank Sinatra.

Another celebrity, actor and art collector Vincent Price, introduced her to the art world. A supporter of the Museum of Beverly Hills, which presented exhibitions of art borrowed from local collections in the mid-1940s, he visited Hollywood High to tell the students about the museum.

"I took the Red Car to Beverly Hills the next Saturday," Faure says. "There were blue-period Picassos, works by Leger and a lot of Utrillo paintings, which were popular then. When I opened my purse and took out a dollar to join the museum, Vincent Price told me to put my money away and become a volunteer. My job was to count the people who came to the museum. Not enough people came, so the museum closed before very long. Maybe I should have lied, but I didn't learn how to do that until later."

Faure lived in New York from 1947 to 1954, working as a model with the Ford Agency. During her last year there, she decided to become a photographer and went to work for Francesco Scavullo, a leading fashion photographer and portraitist. She was married to drummer Phil Peyton during those years, but the marriage ended and she returned to Los Angeles.

While pursuing a career in photography in Los Angeles, she met Jacques Faure, art director for Conde Nast. They were married and moved to Paris in 1959. During her 11-year sojourn there, she shot fashion photographs for Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire and Jardin de Mode magazines, freelanced for the New York Times and photographed Rudi Gernreich's clothes. In her private life, she gave birth to her daughter, Zazu, and became part of an artistic circle that included photographer Helmut Newton.

In 1965, when she needed a publicity photo to identify her as a magazine contributor, Newton did the honors. She walked into his studio dressed in a wool suit, turtleneck sweater and leather boots, and he perched her on a pile of furs.

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