When Virginia Dwan, the prescient dealer, visionary collector, and generous benefactor, first showed this art, it was practically wet from the studio. By the time Dwan donated 100 or so works to the nation—that is, to the National Gallery—in 2013, most of her gifts belonged to the history of art. On view in the lower galleries of the East Building at the NGA, the display was somewhat workman-like, plain and unadorned. Some people graciously called it academic.
At LACMA, its head of modern art, Stephanie Barron, has super-sized the show with 27 more works. Some, first shown at Dwan’s initial outposts in Westwood, actually belong to the museum. A series of photographs record Yves Klein by the Seine in Paris in a performance piece that was commissioned by a former LACMA trustee. Adding some punch to the proceedings is Robert Grosvenor’s Untitled (yellow), from 1966/2016, a lengthy aluminum diagonal stretching at an oblique angle from the ceiling almost to the floor that was initially shown at Dwan and then featured in LACMA’s legendary “Sculpture of the Sixties” survey in 1967.
In another fascinating section, Barron has restaged Dwan’s 1964 group show “Boxes” with a number of the original objects, including three Brillo boxes by Andy Warhol that were being shown then for the very first time. As for photographs of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1970), two Earthworks that Dwan sponsored, not many institutions can call attention to these pieces near a window through which gallerygoers can view Heizer’s Levitated Mass (2012), which is permanently installed just outside, on LACMA’s grounds.
At the NGA, the Dwan Gallery show was jam-packed into I.M. Pei’s East Building galleries. There were no windows, no vistas that allowed you to see the sweep of the survey show. At LACMA, you immediately know something is different as you approach the entrance to the open spaces of the Resnick Pavilion. From a distance, you walk towards Charles Ross’s translucent, upright group of Six Prisms from the Origin of Colors that are about 8 feet tall and were executed in 1970/88 from Plexiglas and mineral oil. Dwan gifted the Ross to LACMA, where it is installed so that it can be experienced processionally. A lot of selfies are being taken here, too.
At LACMA, “Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959–1971” leaves you with a nuanced taste for the period under review. In the beautiful, adaptable pavilion built by architect Renzo Piano, it also gives you a great feel for the vaunted light and space of the art scene in Los Angeles.