Arts patron and Gemini G.E.L. co-founder Elyse Grinstein dies at 87; brought artists together in the '60s and '70s

The art parties at Elyse and Stanley Grinstein’s sprawling, Spanish-style home in the 1960s and ’70s were legendary. They would rent a jukebox and clear out the living room furniture for wild dancing that would continue into the wee hours. Artists and entertainers would come from around Los Angeles or fly in from as far as New York for the soirees. Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg, Mick Jagger, Philip Glass — many would stay at the house for weeks, long after the jukebox had stopped and the salami and cheese had been devoured.

Creating community around the L.A. art scene was central to the life of Elyse Grinstein, the architect, arts patron and co-founder of Gemini G.E.L., one of the country’s foremost publishers of art lithography. She died Saturday in her Los Angeles home at age 87, daughter Ayn Grinstein said.

Elyse Grinstein and her husband founded Gemini in 1966 with then-married couple Sidney and Rosamund Felsen. It became a magnet around which contemporary artists coalesced, including Rauschenberg, Serra, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, and Gemini played a key role in shaping the nascent L.A. art scene.

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“They were [among] the founders of the L.A. art scene. They were at the forefront,” Ayn Grinstein said of her parents, adding that their art collection includes works by Ellsworth Kelly, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, John Baldessari, Ed Moses and Judy Chicago, who will be speaking at Grinstein’s private memorial service on Friday.

“It was about the art, but it was also really about the people, the artists,” Ayn Grinstein said. “They supported the artists in so many ways.”  

Elyse Grinstein was born in New York but raised from age 3 in Beverly Hills. She received a bachelor of arts degree at USC, where she met her husband of 62 years; he died in 2014. Gemini co-founder Sidney Felsen had been a fraternity brother of Stanley’s at USC. He recalled that both men “had zero interest in art” in college. Elyse Grinstein sparked what would become a lifelong passion for them.

“Elyse lived at home with her parents. This was before they were married,” Felsen said. “Elyse arranged to have a painting teacher come to the house, and we took painting lessons in the garage.”   

In the mid-’60s, Grinstein played a central role in helping to get Gemini off the ground, said Felsen, who ran the day-to-day operations with Stanley Grinstein. “A lot of times, we had meetings at the Grinstein house. We’d assemble the advertising brochures there. Elyse was active and instrumental in those early days.”

In addition to raising three daughters, Elyse Grinstein taught first grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She was active in local politics, working on Barbara Boxer’s senatorial campaign in the early 1990s, among others. She also was a longtime member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Modern and Contemporary Art Council. The Grinsteins gifted or supported the purchase of works by Rauschenberg and Stella, as well as Marcel Duchamp, Jessica Stockholder and Gerhard Richter, among others, for the museum. 

Architecture, however, is where Grinstein truly found her voice. When her youngest daughter, Nancy, left for college in the mid-’70s, a 48-year-old Grinstein enrolled in UCLA’s master’s program for architecture. She graduated at 50 and interned with her close friend, Frank Gehry, before starting her own firm, Grinstein/Daniels Inc.

For about 25 years, her practice included projects such as remodeling contemporary artist David Hockney’s Hollywood Hills home and, with partner Susan Narduli, remodeling several areas of CalArts’ campus after 1994 earthquake damage. With former partner Jeffrey Daniels, she designed the memorable, avant-garde Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Western and Oakwood avenues in L.A.’s Koreatown.  

“Everything we felt from her as a person came through in her architecture,” Gehry said in an email. “Her work as an architect was well-crafted and responsible. She created a modest body of work and was taken by surprise when a Kentucky Fried Chicken got media attention. She was a true humanist who was always exploring new ideas in her work and giving other artists a safe harbor to do the same in theirs.”

Gehry added that he was “having a really hard time believing that she is gone,” he said. “Her generosity and love permeated through the art world and made us all better people for knowing her.”

Grinstein is survived by her daughters Ayn Grinstein, Ellen Grinstein Perliter and Nancy Grinstein, along with six grandchildren and her sister, Gayle Prince.

Follow me on Twitter: @DebVankin

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