Felix Landau, 78; His L.A. Art Gallery Was Showcase in 1960s

Times Staff Writer

Felix Landau, a pioneering Los Angeles art dealer whose La Cienega Boulevard gallery was a prestigious showcase for modern and contemporary art in the 1960s, has died. He was 78.

Landau died Feb. 17 at his home in Garches, France, from vascular, coronary and cerebral complications of diabetes.

Landau lived in Europe for the last 30 years of his life, dividing his time between his primary home in Garches, just west of Paris, and his summer house in Tuscany, but he is still revered in Los Angeles art circles as a dealer who made a difference.


“He was ahead of his time,” said Los Angeles dealer Louis Stern, noting that Landau’s name is a mark of quality on artworks that appear on the resale market. “He was very knowledgeable and he had a wonderful eye. He always had the right artists.”

Landau filled an important niche in the local art scene, said Henry Hopkins, who operated a gallery on La Cienega in the 1960s and went on to direct museums, including the UCLA Hammer.

Called “the tastemaker of La Cienega” in a 1967 Times interview, Landau introduced Austrian artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt to Los Angeles.

In an international exhibition program, he presented British artist Francis Bacon’s first show in Los Angeles, staged a landmark exhibition of Peter Voulkos’ breakthrough ceramic sculpture, and championed California abstract painter John McLaughlin, Hopkins said.

Landau was born in 1924 in Vienna, the son of musician Fritz Landau and his wife, Olga. The family fled the Nazis and moved to New York City in 1938. Felix studied at City College of New York for two years, then joined the Army. He was stationed at Ft. Ord, Calif., and then sent to the Pacific, where he met folk singer Pete Seeger, a fellow soldier.

At the end of World War II, Landau returned to New York, where he became Seeger’s manager and did public relations for Folkways Records.

While working in the music business, he met Mitzi Ruth Ander, an employee of the Decca record company who had studied the history of art and music. In 1948 they were married, moved to Los Angeles and opened a gallery and frame shop on Melrose Avenue in collaboration with several artists.

The gallery, Fraymart, was devastated by a fire, but a group of artists spearheaded an auction of their work to ease the loss. The Landaus stayed in business, and in 1951 opened the Felix Landau Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, which would become L.A.'s gallery row and the scene of Monday night Art Walks.

The Landau gallery developed an ambitious international exhibition program, including works by British sculptor Henry Moore and California artists Sam Francis, Paul Wonner, William Dole and Jack Zajac.

The gallery didn’t show Pop art, however.

“I don’t go for this fashion,” Landau told an interviewer in 1967. “It’s a term as idiotic as progress. There’s no fashion in art, and there’s no progress in art.”

Still, he had an eye for the new and for opportunities. In one major coup, Landau took charge of the estate of French sculptor Gaston Lachaise.

He was critical of big business’ forays into the rarefied sphere of fine art.

“I am delighted that the people who buy their clothes, their furniture and their jewelry at Sears can now purchase their art there as well. Our clients are not among them,” he said in 1967 after Sears opened an art emporium near his gallery.

By then he had established a clientele that included such Hollywood celebrities as film director and writer Billy Wilder and actors Jack Lemmon, Julie Andrews and Marlo Thomas.

Landau branched out in New York City in 1966 when he bought a controlling interest in the Alan Gallery -- which presented the first exhibitions of British artist David Hockney’s work in the U.S., in 1964 and 1967. The gallery operated as Landau-Alan until 1969, when Landau bought out his partner, Charles Alan, and changed the name to the Felix Landau Gallery.

Landau ended his marriage, closed his galleries and moved to Europe in the early 1970s. He settled in Paris, where he worked as a private art dealer, and bought an old farmhouse in Tuscany as a summer retreat. He married Elga Heinzen, a Swiss painter, in 1980.

Landau returned to the music business in the early 1970s, but shifted to the creative side. With his musician son Jeffrey, he began writing song lyrics and had considerable success. His biggest hit was “Shine Baby Shine,” an English-lyric single from an album recorded in 1979 by the French pop group Martin Circus.

Landau is survived by his wife; sister Hilde Landau Rhalter; sons Jeffrey, Robert and Barry Landau and grandchildren Joshua and Jason Landau, all of Los Angeles; and stepson Mederic Nebinger of Garches.