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Herbert B. Palmer, 91; cutting-edge L.A. art dealer

December 21, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Herbert Bearl Palmer, one of the first art dealers in Los Angeles to exhibit works by David Hockney, Bridget Riley and other leading contemporary artists, starting in the mid-1960s, died Dec. 12. He was 91.

Palmer, who helped establish La Cienega Boulevard as an art district more than 40 years ago, died at his home in Brentwood of natural causes, his daughter, Meredith, said.

He got started in the gallery business when he partnered with Richard Feigen, a well-known dealer with galleries in New York City and Chicago, to launch Feigen/Palmer Gallery on La Cienega in 1963. Feigen was the cousin of Palmer's wife, Lillian Cogen Palmer.

Three years later, he established the Herbert Palmer Gallery at another location on the boulevard.

Early in his career, Palmer exhibited the art of Hockney, Riley and other cutting-edge British and local artists. He screened films by Andy Warhol and staged a concert by avant-garde composer John Cage.

Palmer's interest in the established masters of modern art led to exhibits of paintings by Marc Chagall and works by the sculptor Aristide Maillol. At the same time, he showed works by such photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand when photography was considered commercial art that was not meant to be shown with painting and sculpture.

"Herbert was very concerned about art, not so much about business," Vasa Mihich, a sculptor who had his first major exhibit at Palmer's gallery in 1966, told The Times this week.

"He truly believed in the artists he represented, both the local and international artists," Mihich said.

Palmer was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 23, 1915. He graduated from New York University and received a master's degree from its Institute of Fine Arts. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1930s.

During World War II, he worked at Douglas Aircraft and was an art consultant to museums and art institutions before going into the gallery business.

Palmer continued as director of his gallery, which moved to Melrose Avenue, until his death.

In addition to his wife, Lillian, who was a longtime professor of photography at Cal State Northridge, Palmer is survived by a son, William, and daughter Meredith, both of New York City.

mary.rourke@latimes.com

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