February 24th, 2015, 11am, Bergamot Station. There is a typical L.A weather: slightly cold breeze with a shining sun and a cobalt blue sky. A delicious smell of the white flowers of the orange and lemon trees is floating all along the galleries. I am here to interview Rosamund Felsen, the owner of the eponym gallery.
When I enter the gallery, she is in a meeting with one of her long run artist, Kim MacConnel. They are deciding about the pieces to choose for the next show. Some photographs spread on the desk. The work, apparently paintings, is colorful, joyful. Rosamund tells me with excitement in her eyes “this is for the opening of the new place”.
“Change is growth!”
Rosamund Felsen is going to move again after 20 years at Bergamot Station. She started to run on her own her first gallery in 1978 on La Cienega, Los Angeles; she left for a new place in West Hollywood to move again to Bergamot Station. Today, the new “exciting” destination is Downtown Los Angeles.
Every time Rosamund Felsen moved her gallery it was for a reason whether it was personal or economic or both. However, I understand she likes to close a chapter that way to resource herself, to re-find the genuine excitement that helps her stand still as a gallery owner, as a woman and as a mother. She had a long personal story that I won’t detail because she says “it has nothing to do with art.” But anyone can easily imagine a life made of two divorces with four children in addition to the creation of one of the most astonishing L.A. post beatnik art gallery. Like she says with a smile “Change is growth!” the new chapter with the new show in preparation is everything but sad. These joyful blues, yellows and reds on the photocopies are already dancing on that desk. The next show in the new place appears like a statement for the opening of the new chapter.
Barely sat in front of her desk, I understand Felsen’s spirit and thoughts will remain stuck in the moving to come -planned for next April-. It is entirely understandable, and this is why I admire her for years now. I chose the wrong angle, I wanted to close that Bergamot Station chapter with her, but, instead of looking back, she always looks forward.
My French nostalgia was not appropriate there. She is a determined and a “move-forward” person; you don’t run a gallery for 37 years without work and strength. I already noticed in previous visits her efficiency when it comes to her gallery. Her eyes scan everything. She pays attention to any single detail when at the same time smiling and nicely chatting with a collector.
If Rosamund Felsen is a velvet glove on an iron fist, she is extremely humble about what she already accomplished. For example, when I tell her she represents a high portion of female artists compared to other galleries, she answers “Oh really? I didn’t even notice” and “No it was not on purpose it just happened. It’s genuine”. The number speaks for itself: half the list is made up of women artists. I never noticed such a proportion in the galleries I know, from Europe and the US. Only Korean galleries might probably compete with her. Her answer meant she doesn’t want to let us suppose she is an activist when she is not. She is far beyond or above any feminist activism because she makes it happen. This is the real feminism. Don’t say, do it! Period.
Unconventional, “post beatnik” art
Rosamund Felsen Gallery counts a talented stable of 30 artists whose 23 are California-based. When asking about the criteria to choose an artist Rosamund says “the only thing I really care about is overall the technique, then the material and the subject.” No limit but creativity with a perfect technique. This is precisely what makes Rosamund Felsen so peculiar. She has just a limitation of boundaries. The artists she chose rather act as “art researchers” with a credo that would be: anything is possible. This is the reign of freedom and unconventional which leads naturally to a recall of the beatnik posture, a 21th-century version of it: post- beatnik. And Rosamund Felsen appears to me as the guardian angel of that absolute freedom.
How did she get to that point? “Work. I work a lot” Rosamund answers. Her education in art was not through the academics but practical, from the ground. It happened that she and her second husband have created a print business for artists, Gemini GEL. And this is when she was helping the artists through their creation process that she learned everything about Art; from the concept through the final result.
For her first exhibition in 1978, she exhibited names who will become years later very famous and will resonate even in Europe, like Guy Dill, Richard Jackson, Peter Lodato, William Wegman, Keith Sonnier, Alexis Smith and Maria Nordman. Also Chris Burden, Jeffrey Vallance, Karen Carson, Lari Pittman, Mike Kelley, Charles Arnoldi. More recently Jean Lowe until the very last show at Bergamot where she exhibited the moments of life caricatured by Tanya Haden and the strange three-dimensional mountains, an unconventional installation by Jacci Den Hartog.
37 years later, Rosamund Felsen continues tirelessly to show that Art that makes L.A so unique, different than any other place in the world. That particular approach of creation founds its origin in the craziness of the building of the Watts Towers, East L.A, by Simon Rodia. That guy, an Italian-born mason, decided to acquire a piece of land in a corner of a street that would look like the figurehead of a boat. And from 1951 through 1954 he pursued there, on his own, the building of the Watts Towers, in East L.A. “The Watts Towers installation consists of seventeen major sculptures constructed of structural steel and covered with mortar, adorned with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many pieces of 20th-century American ceramics – built without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs – besides his own ingenuity, Rodia used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt and buckle”. (Excerpt from WATTS TOWERS by Sam Rodia, the Watts Towers Arts Center)
And when one asked to Simon Rodia about that strange sculpture he liked to claim “This is art because I decided this was going to be art.”
Actually, that posture toward the creation of art would set for ever the tone of the spirit for any further creation by an artist from Los Angeles. And what and who Rosamund Felsen shows is precisely in the tone of the seminal Watts Tower: freedom of creativity that would eventually become the best art ever.
Beatrice Chassepot, Los Angeles March 13th, 2015
Beatrice Chassepot has started a series of “portaits of gallerists from Los Angeles” who are representative of the variety and specificity of the art scene of Los Angeles.
Previous Portraits were Louis Stern from Louis Stern Fine Arts, Sonce Alexander from Sonce Alexander Gallery
Next to come is Craig Krull from Craig Krull Gallery