Over the years my friend Susan has shared many stories about her parents with me. I knew they collected art and some it was even exhibited at LACMA. It wasn't until recently, when Susan shared the catalog above with me, did I begin to understand the importance of their collection.
Michael Blankfort and his wife Dorothy began collecting art in the late 1950s. Michael was a novelist and the family lived in Los Angeles. In terms of art, this was a great time to be in L.A. The Blankforts began visiting contemporary art galleries like Paul Kantor, Felix Landau and Frank Perls. They also became regulars at Ferus Gallery, which was operated by Ed Kienholz and Walter Hopps. They became friends with artists like Billy Al Bengston, Ken Price and Robert Irwin before any of them were a big deal. In his essay, Confessions of an Art Eater, Michael said Walter Hopps "Chico" helped "teach us how to use our eyes."
The Blankfort's first purchase at Ferus in 1958 was a Bengston painting for $125.
The Blankforts bought some great art over the years, this included Willem de Kooning's Montauk Highway, 1958.
Michael wrote about of how he came to own Montauk Highway in his essay. He was presented with a chance to buy the painting from an art dealer friend when a mutual friend of theirs passed on it because he wanted a de Kooning woman. It was a lot of money for Michael at the time so he asked Walter Hopps for his opinion. Hopps thought it was a great painting and urged him to buy it. He was hesitating due to the price and Hopps offered to become a partner on the painting. Michael decided to buy it on his own because his intentions were different from those of his art dealer friend. I'm sure the Blankforts never regretted buying the painting. It hung on their wall until it ended up at LACMA, where I saw it last weekend. It's hanging next to a Franz Kline. You can see it here.
In 1999 the Blankforts donated 448 pieces of art to LACMA. Along with Montauk Highway, and other works by de Kooning, there were several pieces by Billy Al Bengston, Wallace Berman, Esteban Vicente, Joe Goode, Ed Kienholz, Man Ray, Franz Kline and the list goes on and on.
This Man Ray was also part of the Blankfort collection and it's also currently on display at LACMA.
Ed Kienholz, The U.S. Duck, or Home from the Summit, 1960
They had several Kienholz works in their collection. This one now belongs to LACMA.
Image Source: LACMA
Ed Kienholz, The American Way II, 1960 - Covered
In 1960 Michael was having a beer with Keinhoz and Ed asked if he would ever buy a piece he couldn't open for 10 years. Michael said he would, a contract was drawn up and Ed asked for a down payment, with the remained of the payment due at the unveiling on April Fool's Day in 1970.
Image Source: ArtWeekLA
Ed Kienholz, The American Way II, 1960
Michael kept his word and held an opening party that Ed attended on April, 1 1970. Many of the Blankfort's friends and family who had seen the covered piece hanging in their house were also there. Apparently there was a mixed reaction from crowd when the piece was unveiled. When asked about the title, Ed told Michael the piece was bought the American way, on the installment plan...
Image Source: ArtWeekLA
Yves Klein (left) with Michael and Dorothy Blankfort
Zones de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (Zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility)
In 1962, Michael and Dorothy were in Paris to meet with Yves Klein. They had purchased one of Klein's immaterial zones. The Blankforts were told to be at the edge of the Seine with 160 grams of gold. Yves asked Michael to take half the gold in his hand, then told him to throw the ingots into the river. Michael was not the sort of person who felt right about throwing money away, so he hesitated. Then, he did it. The remainder of the gold was used by Klein to produce a series of gold-leafed canvases. To be honest, when I first heard about this piece I didn't think much of it. It seemed like one of those contemporary art huckster attempts to be cutting edge. How could throwing gold into a river be art?
Anyway, after the gold toss Yves handed Michael a bill of sale for the piece and asked him whatshould be done with it. After his initial desire to keep it as a memento, he told Yves they should keep it immaterial. Yves then handed Michael a lighter and the bill of sale was turned into ashes and thrown into the wind. Yves Klein died shortly after this, in April of 1962.
In his essay, Michael talks about the "surge of ecstasy" after throwing the ingots. He states "I've had no other experience in art equal to the depth of feeling of this one. It evoked in me a shock of self-recognition and an explosion of awareness of time and pace."
After reading his reaction to being part of the art, I get it the whole experience now. Chico was obviously a good teacher and now I'm able to use my eyes better too.
Image: The Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Collection