OCMA to fete man behind the Ferus Gang

The Orange County Museum of Art this weekend will honor Irving Blum, legendary director of the former Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles that launched the Pop Art movement's most famous names, for a lifetime of influence on the Southern California art scene.

"The motivation for buying art should be rooted in the passion between you and the picture," Blum said in an interview.

"If the picture becomes valuable, that's certainly a plus. But it shouldn't be your reason for wanting it."

Blum's thoughts on art appreciation stem from a unique professional palette. Having spent most of his life admiring, buying and advocating art, Blum, now 82, is known as the man who ushered 1950s and 60s Pop Art to the forefront of the contemporary art world.

On Saturday, he will be OCMA's guest of honor at its 25th Art of Dining gala at the Montage Laguna Beach resort. Nearly sold out, the annual event showcases an influential member of the art community and is part of a series commemorating OCMA's 50 years as "the oldest and boldest museum of modern and contemporary art in Southern California."

Proceeds will go toward OCMA's future exhibitions, as well as its school programming, which brings in more than 6,000 students free each year for in-depth experiences at the museum in Newport Beach.

Moving from New York to Los Angeles in 1957, Blum brought with him a network of emerging East Coast artists. His Ferus Gallery, which he ran from 1958 to 1966, became the launching pad for renowned Pop Artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Irwin and Ken Price.

These and other strapping, young, male artists later would be identified as members of "The Ferus Gang: good looking, hard living and always cool."

As seen in a collection of grainy black and white photos from that period — which event coordinators say will be a visual focal point of the gala — Blum fell into that category of cool rather seamlessly. His character and connections, accented by his once jet-black buzz cut and musical English accent, stitched together a close-knit community of artists that he was humbled to foster.

"It was fascinating to learn how the Pop Art movement impacted artists and critics," Blum said, "because they fell in to two camps: those who either resented the style or admired it. But boy, was it on everybody's mind! To be responsible for that, well, it was an extraordinary thing to have done when I think about it now."

Equally fascinating, Blum witnessed Warhol's famous Campbell's Soup Can collection take shape and was responsible for presenting its first worldwide exhibition in 1962.

"At the time, [Warhol] had no gallery in New York, no gallery anywhere. So I bit the bullet and asked if he would like to show them in California. He hesitated for moment, and I could see that he was thinking, 'well, I did them in New York, my friends are in New York.' I said, 'Andy, movie stars come in to this gallery.' And he said, 'well, let's do it then!' Of course, that was completely untrue; movie stars never came in to the gallery. But he was still a sensation, so it worked out."

Museum staff and event organizers were thrilled that Blum accepted their invitation to be featured at the gala.

"To be able to honor Irving Blum this year, the year of our 50th anniversary, couldn't be more exciting or more appropriate," OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs said in a press release. "Irving represented some of the most forward thinking artists—individuals who were changing the very definition of art. The artists were on top of the world and Irving Blum made it all happen. He personified cool then and continues to do so now."

Laguna Beach resident Twyla Reed Martin, a member of the 50th Anniversary Executive Host Committee and long-time supporter of the arts in Orange County commended Blum's artistic risk taking.

"There are inflection points in history that are created by audacious people doing new things," she said. "Blum's initiative on the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles is one of those defining moments in the art world."

Reed Martin, whose husband Charles Martin is a longstanding OCMA Chairman Emeritus, has been involved in the museum's Art of Dining event since 1994. She said artists of past and present generations will find something to love about the night's program.

The evening will begin with a courtyard reception followed by dinner and dancing in the Montage's Grand Ballroom. She said 300 attendees are expected, including Peggy Moffitt, a 1960s model, long-time friend and personal muse of Blum.

"There will be no flowers on these tablescapes," Reed Martin iterated. "The décor is going to be very clever. We have all these iconic black and white photos, which is fortunate, as Blum was movie star-handsome. Every table will represent one of the Ferus Gallery artists. It's going to be a picture-perfect night."

Ticket prices begin at $1,000. A few seats for still are available by calling (949) 759-1122 ext. 246.

For more information, visit http://www.ocma.net.

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