Sunday, July 10, 2016

Elyse and Stanley Grinstein

Not to be so cliché, but hearing about the passing of Elyse Grinstein, was like Proust's character biting into his cookie, and the memory is unleashed. I don't remember my first meeting with Stanley and Elyse exactly, since I was a mere child, but I guess it was at their Gemini G.E.L. - either in their office, or perhaps an opening at their premise. What I do remember is the big picture. The Technicolor memory of their numerous parties that took place in their home in Brentwood. Thinking back, a lot of my most pleasant memories are located in that house. I don't think my parents ever turned down an invitation to their home. To be invited, and to actually be there, was a very good thing.

The Grinsteins' were the focal point of the artist's landscape - which included of course, the artist, but also anyone associated within that world. It wasn't a private club. Their parties were way much more than that. To enter their home, one is exposed to other artists from other parts of the world, and also to experience something you wouldn't have, without the assistance of Stanley and Elyse Grinstein, this would or could not happen. In other words, it wasn't solely a party for Los Angeles based artists. It was a portal hole to another world.

Elyse and Stanley collected art. They collected art because they obviously loved art. They also loved artists. Their relationship with artists was magical. My father and mother, Wallace and Shirley Berman, often went to their home for either dinner or the parties. Stanley and Elyse were consistently doing fascinating things, or going to interesting places. My mom told me that she went over to their house with my dad to see Elyse's photographs of her trip to China, which I think was focused on that country's architecture. The only other person there beside the Grinsteins and my parents was David Hockney.

Parties are meant for the purpose for relaxation but also for people to meet-up. My memory is in a haze, but I clearly remember being in the presence of The Dalai Lama, Robert Raushenberg, Jasper Johns, Judy Chicago, the entire Los Angeles art community, a traveling SUMO wrestling team from Japan, Bryan Ferry, The Tubes, Toni Basil and the Lockers, and every major curator/museum/gallery owner on the planet. To be in a room full of strangers can often be awkward, but for some reason, once you go pass their doorway, it becomes a home. They had an active juke-box full of dance music, and the dancing got crazy. I have a faint memory of Merce Cunningham dancing near the jukebox as well.

The common sport-love was basketball and the Lakers. The Ginsteins had season tickets, and often invited artists, such as my dad and mom, to either go with them, or just hand them out if they couldn't make it for some reason. I can't speak for the other artists, but Lakers season tickets are not something normally that my dad could afford. So, the games were an incredible luxury and treat. I clearly remember Wallace being incredibly buzzed about going to the game. In fact, Wallace purchased two life-sized posters of Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlin, that was hung over my parent's bed. There were also pick-up games in the parking lot of Gemini G.E.L. as well. At times, artists would come over to the parking lot, to take a rented van to the Laker game.

Even now, and I'm feeling terribly sad about Elyse's passing, the memory of her life, was in one essence: fun. Whether they were doing either community political work, or just hanging out - it all had a very serious purpose - and that purpose was to have fun. I don't think I have ever been in a more joyful existence than at the Grinstein's home. Everyone who was invited, was put in a world that was in one word, perfect. The food that they served was consistently low-brow - but incredible. Huge Italian sandwiches, tailor-made to feed hundreds. I remember a lot of finger-food, and of course, the bar seemed to never be empty. Nor the food.

What one reads about Elyse and Stanley it is usually the party. Which seems such a surface type of subject matter, but in their case, it was not. It would be impossible not to have a great and memorable time at one of their get-togethers in their home. And again, it was the combination of people who attended their parties. It was usually a theme of some sort - a party for so-so from New York or Europe or even Asia. Or to watch something - either a slide show or maybe a short film. It was consistently a place to obtain information of all sorts. And everyone there, was on a neutral ground of importance. In other words, as a child, who couldn't possibly offer anything to this world, was made to feel at home, and I could wander freely around their house. The artworks they had up were all exquisite and of course by well-known artists, but they were up for the sole purpose of them being excellent works of art. Yet their sophistication was how they lived their lives. They were not just matrons of the art world, but actual people who participate in that world just as much as the artists and art institutions. And it wasn't just a money thing. It went beyond money and into a genuine relationship with them and the rest of the world.

Stanley and Elyse had a lot of artwork by my dad in their personal collection, including "Topanga Seed," which to be exact, was a huge rock, weighing over a ton, and Wallace hand-painted hebrew lettering all over the rock. A beautiful piece of sculpture that was also conceptual in its concept. Nevertheless, it made perfect sense for Elyse and Stanley to buy this work, because he owned and operated a forklift company. So there is film footage (from Russ Tamblyn) of them picking the rock and transporting it back to their home, which to be exact was 11.9 miles, and the forklift was going 3 mph, from the Berman house to the Grinsteins. Wallace and Russ followed the rock, as if it was following Jesus through Jerusalem.

It's a fact that the art community would be a very different type of landscape without the presence of Stanley and Elyse. If you are thinking of terms of art history, one has to imagine that Louise and Walter Arensberg as being the first serious collectors of modern art in Los Angeles, but I feel that Elyse and Stanley even went beyond the legendary Arensberg, in that they really focused on not only the visual arts, but 20th century culture.

Their house was the second home to people like William S. Burroughs, Allan Ginsberg, Phillip Glass, Gregory Corso, and others visiting from New York. It is almost like that there was a secret underground tunnel from Soho New York to Brentwood. That pathway led to a great many things to happen in Los Angeles. I can't really speak for every artist in Los Angeles, but I do know that my father (and mom) treasured every second with this dynamic duo - either separately or together - and I have a hunch that a lot of artists feel that way. I guess physically Elyse and Stanley are not here, but their DNA, taste, and support will always be felt whenever one visits a museum here in Los Angeles. Thank you Stanley. Thank you Elyse.

- Tosh Berman

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