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MARGARITA NIETO

MAPPING OF A DECADE:
LOS ANGELES
DURING THE 1930’s

Part 2

go to part 1


The first part of Margarita Nieto’s illuminating tour of the local art scene of the 1930’s took us through the California Artists Fiesta, the impact and controversy of David Alfaro Siqueiros, the arrival of the Federal Works of Art Project, and the emergence of some key Hollywood-based galleries. The first part of this journey brought us from 1930 through 1934; we pick up with the start of the second half of the decade.--Ed.



Henrietta Shore, "Maguay,"
o/c, 30 x 26".
Now just ahead, 1935 emerges on our cosmic map and we careen to a stop at the Ebell on Wilshire where more mural troubles are brewing. This time it’s San Francisco artist Maxine Albro’s The Four Sibyls and the art chairman of the club reports that since they are “modern in feeling and bright in color” they have disturbed the more conservative members of the Ebell Club. Should they be destroyed or kept? Will the lunettes alone be kept? Shall the walls be covered with canvas? These are the questions confronting the voting members of the club. We shall see.

In January as well, the opening of the Dragon’s Den that “smart new cafe in Chinatown” features a mural painting based on oriental legends by Tyrus Wong and Benji Okuba. The cafe is managed by Eddie See, the director of the See Galleries. The beginning of the year also brings Russian Alexander Archipenko back to the faculty at Chouinard.

A small group of works drawn from the Jerome Eddy collection is on view at Earl Stendahl Gallery in February. Jerome Eddy of Chicago and Phoenix--whose acquisitions have enriched the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the superb collection of local residents Louise and Walter C. Arensberg--was a close friend of Stendahl’s, and there are significant works by Monet, Franz Marc, Kandinsky and Jawlensky, as well as the less familiar Charbeaux and Herbin.

It’s very warm for May in part because the Hollywood gallery scene is heating up. Elizabeth Ann Mills, the gallery curator at Stanley Rose, has organized a Postsurrealists and Other Moderns exhibition with a catalogue essay and guest lecture by none other than Jules Langsner, and featuring works by Feitelson, Lundeberg, Picasso, Derain, Dali, Kadish, Merrild, Goldstein, Taeuber-Arp, Leger, Hofer, Gris and Arp. Postsurrealism is defined as a movement born of Surrealism itself. But not unlike most offspring, it stands in opposition to the parent, imposing “impeccable esthetic order. . .conscious rather than the unconscious manipulation of materials, and the normal functions of the mind rather than the. . .idiosyncrasies of the dream,” according to Langsner.

Meanwhile Lorser Feitelson shows Paul Klee in July at his own Hollywood Gallery of Modern Art. In September we sneak in for a private view of Surrealist pictures by Max Ernst at the Centaur Gallery where, yes, Howard Putzel is now settled in as the new and very active Director.

We return to May where the mid-month meeting of the Los Angeles Art Noon Club memorializes the “lives and work of departed California artists,” including Guy Rose, William Keith, Thomas Moran, Elmer Wachtell “and many others.” A permanent collection of the works of these artists “planned to represent the historical development of California art will be started at this meeting,” according to Harry Muir Kurtzworth writing in Saturday Night.

And let’s linger a moment longer on this warm evening in May so we can ride slowly down Seventh Street, gazing into the department store windows, once more transformed into the “Art Lane.” Oh, but we see mixed signals. Here we are, viewing the National Housing Exposition Art Exhibition opening on May 18 and “endeavoring to show the influences which had a bearing on Western Art--Spanish, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Japanese--as well as the typographical [!] effect of the country.” Kurtzworth writing in Saturday Night two weeks later gives an overview of the “development of mural art in Los Angeles. Applauding the efforts of the PWAP projects and specifically, the suggestions for themes and ideas recently printed in the bulletin of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture,” he states that under them, “the cities of America now bid well to own works of art which should protect American ideals in an American way even better than Diego Rivera and the other Mexicans attempted to depict America from the standpoint of the Mexican communist.” He notes however that in Los Angeles, the progress in mural painting “beginning with the Mexicans and the Mural Block inspired by them here-and-now through the PWAP, [mural painting] bids well to become the most significant and enduring of all of our art expressions.”

By August, Kurtzworth sees Los Angeles easily becoming “The Paris of the New World.” Naming both Stanislaus Szulkalski, a Polish sculptor now living in Hollywood, and Karoly Fulop, a Romanian sculptor and painter, as examples of the “artistic emotion which has moved people to come to California,” he envisions a moment in which these “greatest minds. . .most skillful hands and. . .most subtle of human hearts. . .will blossom here on these shores under proper guidance.” As for indigenous Americans, he cites the works of muralists Stanton Macdonald Wright and Leo Katz. Macdonald Wright’s Santa Monica Library mural is to be unveiled at the end of the month while Katz finds himself embroiled in conflict over the content of his Frank Wiggin’s Trade School mural, Man and His Inventions. It’s theme is “a history of tools” and Katz has focused on two cultures, the Toltecs and Aztecs. But then why all these attacks on “those who think that art is (read, ‘should be’) confined to innocuous decoration will rail against them.” Hmmm.


Los Angeles Times’ story about
Leo Katz’ mural, “Man and His
Inventions,” June 30, 1935.

So we hear the echo of the prophetic voice of Miss Schmidt? Yes, it seems that murals are THE thing in Los Angeles but only if they suit certain tastes and views. We scan the pages of the Los Angeles Times as we ride along and learn that Leo Katz’s mural has been ordered removed by the School Board for “its depiction of war and murder inspired by greed.”

Oh, and remember our January visit to the Ebell? Well, the Club voted to obliterate Maxine Albro’s The Four Sibyls fresco “by the use of lye.” All of this was preceded by New York’s Rivera mural fiasco at Rockefeller Center, as Arthur Millier reminded his readers, along with an admonition to the artists’ responsibility to understand what their public wants. “Public walls held no place for personal beliefs; noble forms will not be destroyed,” proclaims the headline.

And the heat goes on. Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Herald on a protest against “Revolutionists in Club Murals,” for it seems that a series of murals by Alfredo Ramos Martinez at the Friday Morning Club has caused displeaure among the members. Mrs. Leafie Sloan-Orcutt for one, summed it up: “But perhaps I like best the pictures of flowers, of sunsets, of marine scenes.” According to another report, the mural cartoons “depict the peons of Mexico, sad-eyed and stolid, staring out into space.” They will apparently be allowed to remain on display through the end of the month (Whew!).

Still more international art. Stanley Rose shows the “Rabelasian Surrealist” Joan Miro in November as well as Yves Tanguy, eliciting the following verses from art critic Millier: “In the light of Doctor Freud/Monsieur Tanguy searched his void. Found there in a weird confusion/bones and livers in profusion.” To which Howard Putzel retorted: “Prostate glands, not livers: Millier/Vainly represents things sillier. Tanguy knows (though Arthur don’t)/ What he will and what he won’t.”

But Millier’s reaction to the Rose’s Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition of 100 lithographs in December is a model of intelligent, succinct criticism. He refers to Lautrec’s works as among the “most sharply sensitive ever drawn on litho stone.” Over at Stendahl, a Rodin sculpture, the Fallen Caryatide, a marble detail from the never finished Gates of Hell, also draws a positive commentary.

Can you hear what they’re saying out there? The husbands of Los Angeles women artists have formed a Society for the Preservation of Personal Identity. Tired of being introduced as Mrs. So and So’s husband. A movement led by “Mr. Kathryn Leighten” and “Mr. Evelyna Miller” among others.



The Evening Herald and Express
story about Wassily Kandinsky’s
70th birthday exhibition at Earl
Stendahl Gallery. Paintings
represented, above: “Inside
the Black Circle”[top],
“Strong and Soft” [bottom].













Exhibition announcement to Lynton Kistler’s lithograph show of October, 1936 at the Stendahl Gallery.













Herald and Express article of
July 30, 1936 featuring Lucile
Lloyd's mural, "The Origin
and Development of the Name
of the State of California," 1936.
Oh, does our ride speed up as we pass mid-decade. It’s February, 1936 and our red car is not only red, it’s red white and blue one moment and bright red the next. Internationalism is rampant, beginning with the Rose Gallery’s shows of local artists Merrild, Justema, Elise Seeds, and then Philip Goldstein (later known as Philip Guston), Reuben Kadish and Fletcher Martin among others. The Ebell Salon has paintings by the Los Angeles Oriental Group: Hideo Date, Benji Okubo, Tyrus Wong and Gilbert Leung. Stendahl is showing watercolors by Diego Rivera and, most notably, an exhibition celebrating the seventieth birthday of Wassily Kandinsky with new paintings.

And what a celebration! Diego Rivera proclaims that Kandinsky’s painting “is not an image of life--it is life itself.” Alma May Cook temperately comments that “Certainly there never was such a collection of which it could be more truly said that, ‘you only find in a painting that which you have in yourself.’” Herman Reuter pens a sarcastic piece in the Hollywood Citizen-News, but collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg buy three and Joseph Von Sternberg, the noted director, buys one as well. Abstraction does have its followers.

At UCLA it is announced that Richard Neutra (on the faculty at Chouinard) will teach at the summer session. In March, Rose shows Rufino Tamayo. The Museum is showing Danish, Flemish and German Old Masters.

But oh, the woes of April. A Russian Art Exhibition draws protests by the Better America Federation asking that the exhibition permit be revoked. These paintings have too much color--RED! proclaims the Los Angeles Evening News. Never mind that the show has already toured most of the United States. Under order of the Board of Supervisors, “all displays tending to advance Communistic or Soviet propaganda” are removed from the exhibition.

Unperturbed, Stanley Rose, with Putzel as director, keeps bringing them in. In April it’s drawings and three small sculptures by Henry Moore. In May, Carlos Merida’s new oils and drawings, and in June it’s Renoir paintings and prints.

June in Santa Barbara mandates a train ride up the coast to the Faulkner Library for the show of lithographic works by local artists printed by Lynton R. Kistler. It seems Jean Charlot, the French artist who worked with Rivera in Mexico and started the printing renaissance there, has been working with Kistler at his Cheviot Hills studio on Patricia Avenue. The show includes works by Dan Lutz, Phil Paradise, Millard Sheets and Henrietta Shore. It’s an ongoing project.

And the summer certainly heats things up even more in Hollywood. Openings and closings. Feitelston’s Hollywood Gallery of Modern Art is closed in May. August brings the announcement that Howard Putzel is now opening his own gallery at 6729 Hollywood Boulevard, just a block down from Stanley Rose. Putzel’s first show features Braque, Chagall, di Chirico, Ernst, Kandinsky, Klee, Masson, Miro, Picasso, Rouault, Rousseau and Tanguy. At Stendahl’s the violinist Louis Kaufmann is buying two birds by Ara, the Roumanian taxi driver turned painter. There are works by Lee Blair, Phil Dike, Ejnar Hansen, Elise Seeds, Buckley McGurrin, Henrietta Hoops, Edward Biberman, Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundberg.

Meanwhile Federal Art Projects continue including Merrell Gage’s reliefs at Hollywood High School as well as an Eagle panel for the Veterans Memorial building at Long Beach. Also busy are Lucile Lloyd, Phil Goldstein, Reuben Kadish and Fletcher Martin. Lloyd has just completed The Origin and Development of the Name of the State of California featuring an image of Califa, the amazon queen whose name inspired the state’s name for the Assembly Hall of the State Building. Goldstein and Kadish are working in Duarte, and Martin at North Hollywood High is doing a fresco based on the legends of the Fernando and Gabrielino Indians.

Far to the west in Westwood, at UCLA, Adachi of Tokyo, a publisher of the Ukiyoe school, is exhibiting reproductions of Toyokuni, Hokusai and other masters. Across town at the Doheny Library, USC is not to be outdone, with 100 contemporary Japanese prints on display.

Hang on everyone. It’s summer and Red, Red lights ahead. “Radical Encroachment” say the headlines. The aftermath of the American Artists Congress recently held in New York really enlivens things here. This movement encourages American artists to paint pictures of class struggle and social criticism. Lorser Feitelston for one, organizes a meeting of American artists to launch “An American art action against the establishment of Marxian and other Propaganda as an art criticism.” Meanwhile Leo Katz will speak on “Social Aspects of Art--Past, Present and Future” at the Los Angeles Branch of the American Artists Congress, this on September 1. Is this the group under attack? You have to wonder if this has anything to do with the removal of his mural and its imagery?

In September at Stendahl’s the American Artists, now calling themselves the “Independent Artists,” are holding a group show declaring their “independence from all judgment of art on the basis of subject matter.” Included are Ara, Nicholas Brigante, Feitelson, Henri de Kruif, Lundeberg, Buckley MacGurrin and Ben Messick, among others.

A most important issue confronting voters in the fall would make it possible for publicly owned institutions to delegate the management of art sections to art associations or societies. The issue prompts Millier to speak publicly in its favor since it involves the de-politicization of museums, providing for greater growth and stability. In the words of the editor of Art Digest, “. . .it takes the control out of the hands of those whose interest is in petrified trees, stuffed skins and the jawbones of saber-toothed tigers.”

Despite the raging battle over American art and “Marxist propaganda art,” Putzel shows a Van Gogh in October, prompting a lengthy commentary by Buckley MacGurrin, writing in Rob Wagner’s Script. In it MacGurrin notes that according to the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, California has more artists in proportion to the population than any other state in the Union save New York, and that two-thirds of these are in Southern California.

In November, Putzel shows half a dozen paintings, gouaches, and drawings by Yves Tanguy. And in December, putting a final flourish on the “American vs. Propaganda” artists, Stanley Rose hosts the American Artists’ Congress print show, America Today, with titles such as Adobe Brickmaker, and Dust Bowl. Millier for the most part is critical of the show, stating that “again and again, they flaunt some vicious or miserable aspect of American life in overdone blacks.” Herman Reuter is, surprisingly, less negative although he does sprinkle his review with words like “regimented.” The only Southern California artist represented is Fletcher Martin with his Trouble in Frisco, a circular piece with two struggling dock workers.

At Stendahl, running into the New Year, there is a reply of a show by the Post-surrealists, including Feitelson’s Flight Over New York at Twilight, and Lundeberg’s Microcosm and Macrocosm. The show also includes works by Elizabeth Mills and others of the group.

Come January,1937 and Earl Stendahl opens the year with a retrospective of sculpture and painting by the visiting Alexander Archipenko in the upstairs gallery. A private viewing, they say. There’s also some angular landscapes and figurative pieces by Albert Gleizes whose The Balcony was recently bought by Walter Arensberg. Speaking of Arensberg, he bought four of the works by Frederick Sommers from the show at Howard Putzel’s gallery.

Meanwhile there’s news that collector-actor Edward G. Robinson is just back from Europe with nine new paintings including The Black Clock, a Cézanne still life, and Young Girl Wearing a Hat, a Renoir from 1876. Robinson maintains that he’s “just begun” to collect.

Stanley Rose is showing twenty paintings by Hopi and Navajo painters, including Awa Tsireh’s Corn Dance. As the year slips into gear, the Los Angeles Museum hosts a show by Lyonel Feininger. In conjunction with that show, UCLA exhibits a group of prints and watercolors. Stendahl hosts the Federal Art Project, an exhibition featuring art from five western states. Meanwhile Salvador Dali has arrived in town, registering at the Garden of Allah Hotel. Apparently, his reason for coming to Hollywood is to paint Harpo Marx! And the ever-active American Artists’ Congress group stages a surrealist Valentine Party asking all guests to “dress to express your subconscious.”

But our cosmic clock is running out of time as galleries and museums swirl around us, faster, faster and it’s 1938: Lundeberg and Feitelston continue their Postsurrealist experiments focusing on the personal at Stendahl, which then hosts a show of the original watercolors from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Jean Charlot, who has been working off and on here since the beginning of the decade, follows with a major show (remember, he worked closely with Lynton Kistler at his Patricia Avenue lithography studio).

Beep beep. Conductor’s signal. Our time bubble is soon going to burst. Time for a quick run downtown in March, 1939. The Taix Restaurant is the scene of a farewell dinner for Charlot, who’s now married to actress Dorothy Zohmah Day and is leaving town. And who’s there? The creme dè la creme: William Alanson Bryan, Alson Clark, PaulSample, Phil Dike, Millard Sheets, Conrad Buff, Leo Katz, Beatrice Wood, Elise Seeds, Dana Bartlett, Stanton Macdonald Wright. Collectors Jean Hersholdt, Josef Von Sternberg, Leslie Maitland; dealers Earl Stendahl, Dazell Hatfield, Jake Zeitlin; art writers Rob Wagner, Harry Muir Kurtzworth, Arthur Millier--indeed, many of the major players we’ve been visiting during our cosmic trip.

But quickly now, our cosmic time is running out. One last run down Wilshire to Stendahl’s. The art event of the year is the showing of Picasso’s mural painting Guernica, completed just two years ago, along with the sixty studies in pencil, crayon and paint which accompany it. The show is sponsored by the Motion Picture Artists Committee as a benefit for Spanish War Refugee orphans. But has it created an outcry. “Modern Art classed as Bunk, Revolting Ugly,” proclaims the Herald Examiner. “An Endless War of Extremes,” says the Times’ Millier. The Herald runs a three-part series of articles featuring Kathryn Leighton, the noted Indian portrait painter, Edgar Payne, Jack Wilkinson Smith, landscape and marine painter, and Charles Bensco, the portrait painter. All to some degree or other have lamblasted the new art.


Helen Lundeberg, "Self-Portrait,"
o/c, 28 x 20", 1933.




Newspaper account covering
Jean Charlot's 1938 exhibition
at Stendahl Gallery. Painting
represented is "Flight Into
Egypt,", o/c, 1938.




Herald and Express article
covering Picasso exhibition
at Stendahl Gallery dated
August 3, 1939. The headline
reads: "Public Reacting
Against 'Cuckoo' Art"
Images are [l.] detail from
Guernica, and [r.] study for
Fear from Guernica.




Pablo Picasso, "Head of Weeping
Woman with Handkerchief," etching
with aquatint, second state,
no. 4/15, 19 1/2 x 27 1/4", 1939.

But voices rising in defense of Picasso include novelist Irving Stone who states that “. . .our world (shall) be enriched for the next generation by the pioneering of such painters as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Braque and here in Los Angeles, by such trailblazers as Peter Krasnow and Knud Merrild.” Merle Armitage asserts that the protest has been launched by a “small group of people, most of them painters of the old school. . .” Fletcher Martin goes a step further: “The people who are raising all the fuss simply coined money during the 1920s with their pink-and-blue landscapes and picturesque Indians and cowboys. Now the market for their paintings has fallen to pieces and they are reduced to throwing stink bombs to attract attention.” The issue of course awakens the divisions which came to the forefront just three years ago. Now it’s “Sanity in Art versus The American Artists Congress.” The traditional against the innovative. The old versus the new. The establishment versus the interlopers.

Oh, and where are we now? A final stop at Stendahl’s, reading a letter over Earl’s shoulder that he is about to post to the actress Dolores del Rio:

“December 9, 1939
“Dear Miss Del Rio:
“Have just returned from a month’s trip into Mexico, where I saw quite a lot of Diego and Freda [sic] Rivera. Could we get together sometime to talk over plans for an exhibition? I am reserving the month of February as I know Freda’s things will go over big.
“Please let me hear from you.
Sincerely yours,
Earl L. Stendahl”

But sadly, it never happened.



PostScript, sixty years later and two months shy of the end of the millennium.

Circumstances of course, changed the panorama of the city after 1939 and 1940. First, the Second World War and its consequences--internment camps, the draft, an increased sense of fear of things foreign. The rise of the aerospace industry and changing demographics; the expanding city and consequently, the de-centered city; the development of the valleys--San Fernando, San Gabriel--the rise of Orange County; and, of course, the freeways, which did away with the Red cars (our mythical one as well) and which in overlaying the city, made it less cohesive.

But what are we left with? First, a legacy of muralism, thanks to the handful that are still with us through the awareness of an aesthetic protected and conserved by those willing to inform themselves, and powerfully advanced by new generations of painters who recognize the mural language as an indigenous tongue that expresses Los Angeles.

Retained also is a continuity based on a tension, an ongoing struggle between a regionalist perspective and an international view, that is always present in the artistic environment of Los Angeles. The quantity of local talent was better, more varied and more extensive than most are aware of--though local galleries and museums have begun to revive a fresh awareness of some them. Perhaps more surprising were the number and stature of modernist exemplars from the international art world who were exhibited here, and who often visited or settled as well.

Many questions remain of course. How and when did Howard Putzel leave California and go to New York (where he shows up working with Peggy Guggenheim)? What happened to the Centaur Gallery? Who were these painter/critics like Wagner, Kurzworth and Armitage? Just to raise a few. How sad to see the demise of those publications focusing on art. And how exciting to think that a major daily would devote front page space to a debate on art (even if the “debate” really leaned toward the reactionary).

So much passion. Such liveliness. What a dream. And finally, that might be our greatest legacy.