Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Dream Colony: A Life in Art" by Walter Hopps (Bloomsbury USA), 2017

ISBN: 978-1632865298
Since my dad Wallace Berman is in the narrative of Walter Hopps own narrative, I was a little nervous to open up and read his memoir.  The fact is, there is a chapter here focusing on my father, and it is one of the best things I have read on Wallace.  On the other hand, Wallace did a solo show at the Ferus Gallery, where he got busted for pornography (this is the 1950s!), and the exhibition was closed down by the LAPD.   When my dad got some friends to go pick up the artwork from the gallery, the works went missing.  According to Walter in this book, my father destroyed the works.  This is not the case.  Someone at the gallery either caused the works to go missing, or they destroyed the artworks.   Either by accident or design, the whole exhibition disappeared. And without bitterness on my part, I feel Walter and Ed Kienholz are responsible for these works missing, due that they are the Ferus Gallery at the time.   Still, Wallace and Walter were very close friends.  I remember Walter from my childhood with fond memories.

"The Dream Colony" is an excellent memoir.  Although I do disagree with certain things (like above) and making it sound like my dad didn't like Irving Blum, which as far as I know is not the case at all - is a superb look of the Los Angeles art scene as well as an excellent series of narratives from Walter.  Reading the book I can hear his voice, and there is at least one great (and usually) hysterical story per page.  This is not a stuffy art bio or autobiography; this is the world seen through Walter's eyes.  He was a remarkable and very articulate lover of art.  He wasn't schooled in a specific school.  Walter allowed himself to roam through art collections and he pretty much knew art in a very instinct manner.

He was a man of great taste and had the brilliant talent of being in the right place at the right time.   Walter never wrote anything as far as I know.  He mostly dictated his essays and introductions to catalog through another's typing.  Everything here that Walter says about himself is basically true, and his lateness in doing things was legendary.   Still, he had the vision of giving my dad his first (and only, in his lifetime) gallery show, as well as giving Marcel Duchamp his first retrospective in Pasadena.  I was there at the Duchamp opening!

Deborah Treisman and Anne Doran did a fantastic job in editing this book.  Ed Ruscha's introduction is smart, warm, and entirely correct. I know it must be difficult to do a project like this, especially after Walter's passing.  "The Dream Colony," I think is one of the better books regarding the art world of the 20th century.  Walter always struck me as a romantic figure, and I can understand those who are seduced or swayed by his presence and thoughts on art.   He was the real deal.  And yes, I don't agree on certain narratives that run in this book, it is still Walter's story - and that is not a bad thing at all.

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