C California Style

L.A. Ink

by C California Style

Beloved by a Who’s Who of the art world, SoCal’s pioneering printmaking studio marks a milestone with simultaneous shows.

If you happened to find yourself on Melrose Avenue in the late 1960s, you might have run into Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella or Claes Oldenburg ducking into a printmaking studio and gallery called Gemini G.E.L. Today, you could equally rub shoulders with some of the industry’s newer high-profile names including Tacita Dean and Analia Saban, both the subjects of solo shows at Gemini G.E.L. this fall.

These creative heavyweights aren’t there to make reproductions of their art. “A reproduction can be beautiful, but they are in the family of posters. Those should go to the museum store,” says Sidney B. Felsen, co-founder and co-director of Gemini G.E.L., which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with “The Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L.,” a retrospective at LACMA that opens September 11 and follows a run at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Artists invited to collaborate with Gemini G.E.L. come to its workshop to create original pieces, generally in editions of 60 at most. Some spend up to two weeks on their projects, printed on everything from paper and fabric to metal. “We tell them they can do anything they want,” says Felsen, 92, a recognizable Los Angeles art-world fixture thanks in part to his penchant for Panama hats. In 1967, that open-ended directive saw Robert Rauschenberg create his seminal work, Booster, with the studio, a revolutionary 6-foot-tall lithograph/silkscreen featuring an X-ray self-portrait—the largest hand-pulled lithograph ever printed—and helped to spark a renaissance of fine-art printmaking in the United States. In later years, Johns developed his famous Color Numerals print series there (the 10-piece set recently sold for $485,000 at Christie’s), and John Baldessari and Richard Serra regularly created editions (Felsen recalls Serra once “stomping on paint to get texture into the material”).

Felsen and his late business partner Stanley Grinstein met at USC as undergrads, but it wasn’t until they were each around 40 years old that the art aficionados formed their partnership with printmaker Kenneth Tyler (he parted ways with Gemini in 1973). Today, the headquarters includes a building designed by Frank Gehry (Grinstein’s wife, Elyse, who passed away in July, worked in Gehry’s office at the time of the build-out in 1979, and collaborated on the interiors). Felsen’s wife, Joni Weyl, operates New York gallery Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl, selling the studio’s work. Weyl, along with Sidney’s daughter, Suzanne (who is also a jewelry designer) and Grinstein’s daughters, Ellen and Ayn, work in the curating and sales departments.

The emphasis continues to be on bringing new talent into the stable, as well as refining the art of printing. “The printers talk about how they can tell by the touch whether they’ve got the right amount of ink on the plate,” says Weyl. “It’s a feel thing.” 8365 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-651-0513; geminigel.com.  DEGEN PENER

Edited by Elizabeth Khuri Chandler and Melissa Goldstein.