Virginia Dwan and Dwan Gallery

October 12, 2016
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Philip Kennicott, writing for the Washington Post, where he serves as art and architecture critic, recently reviewed Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971, an exhibition curated by James Meyer at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC:

The art galleries operated by Virginia Dwan from 1959 to 1971 were no ordinary white boxes selling decorative daubing to rich people. And the promise of some 250 works from Dwan’s personal collection to the National Gallery of Art is no ordinary gift. She played an instrumental role in the development of postwar American art, championing pop art, minimalism, ­language-based and conceptual work, and land art. She sponsored “The Lightning Field” by Walter De Maria and “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson and paid for the land on which Michael Heizer carved his monumental earth work “Double Negative.”

Fortunately, the exhibition surveying this gift is not the usual celebratory overview of a rich person’s trophies, either. “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971” allows visitors to follow the intellectual path Dwan pursued during more than a decade of rapid change in American culture. In dialogue with the artists she championed, Dwan eventually talked herself out of the gallery business altogether, as the art she supported became in some cases less material, or so deeply rooted in specific places that it had little tangible connection to a physical gallery. Granted, Dwan ran her galleries (in New York and Los Angeles) at a loss throughout this period. She inherited independent means from the 3M fortune and was apparently more of a patron to her artists than an entrepreneur. But closing up in 1971 was not about abandoning a failing enterprise. Rather, Dwan was living the truth of the art she cared about, and that art was no longer something that could be contained in discrete architectural boxes.

Along with the National Gallery, we’re lucky to copublish the catalog for this fantastic show (Virginia Dwan was, like, the Ali MacGraw meets Eve Babitz meets Paul Durand-Ruel of her day; or, even better, a real-life Romy and Michelle because her grandfather, a cofounder of 3M Corporation, could indeed have indeed fostered the Post-It note). Also I really love this photo of Virginia Dwan at Spiral Jetty taken by Nancy Holt, from the Nancy Holt Archives:

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To read more about Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959-1971, click here.

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