The Cool School is a documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges that chronicles the history of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, California from 1957-1966. The gallery was founded in 1957 by the curator Walter Hopps, the artist Edward Kienholz, and the poet Bob Alexander. Kienholz left in 1958 to focus on making art, and his stake in the gallery was replaced by Irving Blum. Hopps and Blum had very different personalities, and the film spends quite a bit of time on this story. Hopps, who ended up leaving in 1962 to become curator of the Pasadena Art Museum, had a great kinship with the artists and was well liked and trusted by the group. Blum, on the other hand, was fairly eccentric and didn’t spend much time with the artists. In fact, the artists’ had a running joke that Blum was a secret CIA agent. Blum did have more of a business savvy and started to gear the gallery in a more successful direction by cutting down the roster of artists and included some from New York. He arranged for Andy Warhol to have his first exhibition on the West Coast at Ferus, and it ended up being his iconic Campbell’s Soup Can show. In hindsight, it seemed as if the lack of attention from the outside world is what kept the group of artists together, and the lure of fame & fortune is what tore it apart.
Three of the Ferus artists’ I enjoy are Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, and Craig Kauffman. Ruscha is most known for his paintings incorporating words and phrases, as well as flat, architectural Pop Art paintings. If you walk into any major museum in the country, you are bound to see one of his distinctive phrase paintings calling to you from across the room. I’m also intrigued by his experimentation with odd media in the 1970s using everything from blood to gunpowder to raw eggs. Irwin is an installation artist and one of the founders of the Light and Space Movement. I appreciate his effective use of pure light as the media of his works that are complex in tone, texture and shadow. His work, which is symmetrical, ranges in terms of scale from smaller light sculptures all the way up to entire rooms filled with light.
I wish the film would have delved further into the body of work of all the artists, but I suppose there was too much material to cover. Being a founding member in the Minneapolis Cooperative Rosalux Gallery since we opened in 2002, I related to many aspects of the group’s efforts in opening and maintaining the gallery. There’s a lot of organizational, structural, and marketing aspects that are involved. Today, the Internet and Social Media provide many advantages to galleries as far as marketing and promotion. Though Hopps was a curator, he comes across as “one of the artists” in this film, making the initial coming together and opening of the space impressive. Blum was more of the business man who came in and got things moving, which benefited the careers of the artists involved.
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