PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES BRITTIN © J. PAUL GETTY TRUST
The innovative, iconoclastic curator Walter Hopps (1932-2005) was one of the most influential figures in mid-to-late-twentieth-century American art. He founded his first gallery in L.A. at the age of twenty-one and, at twenty-four, opened the Ferus Gallery with the artist Ed Kienholz, where they turned the spotlight on a new generation of West Coast artists. Later, in the sixties, at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps mounted the first American museum retrospectives of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell. For “The Dream Colony: A Life in Art,” out on June 6th from Bloomsbury, the New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, who worked with Hopps in the nineteen-nineties on the art and literary magazine Grand Street, edited and adapted his interviews with the artist and editor Anne Doran. In this excerpt, Hopps describes meeting two little-known artists who would become leading figures in the field.
Toward the end of the fifties, the art world had begun to divide. Abstract Expressionism was still alive and well, but some of the new artists were starting to look for different ways to proceed. Robert Rauschenberg emerged, inspiring two of his contemporaries, Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly. And then we began to encounter the next wave: a new form of image-based art that would eventually be called Pop, and a new era of abstraction. While looking for artists to show at the Ferus Gallery, Irving Blum and I had met an art dealer named David Herbert, who had worked for the Poindexter Gallery and Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis, and was setting up his own gallery in New York.
Herbert was charming and lively, and he knew the whole scene. He was also representing an imagist artist called Stephen Greene, whose work I knew from art magazines back in the forties and fifties. After the war, he’d painted some dark, lumpy, body-like things, missing arms and legs, a kind of grotesque Philip Pearlstein. Now he had moved into Abstract Expressionism. Irving had never heard of Greene and he couldn’t have cared less, but I made an appointment to meet him at the Art Students League. He was an intense, nervous kind of man, surprised to see that I was younger than he was, but we hit it off, and I explained to him what we were up to. I took several of his drawings on consignment; I liked the work and I liked him. While we were talking, he told me that he’d been privately teaching a graduate student from Princeton called Frank Stella. He said, “He’s very bright and he’s very shy and nothing’s happened with him yet, but I know it will. He has a studio in New York now, and I bet you’d be interested in what he’s doing. I’m not sure I understand it myself, but I think you should see it.” The Museum of Modern Art show “Sixteen Americans” hadn’t happened yet, and Stella wasn’t yet with Castelli—no one had ever heard of him.