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The Getty Center : First Came a Friendship : Sidney B. Felsen and the Artists at Gemini G.E.L


For me, there is always the work being presented but also there is the presentation. Last week the Getty Center made me smile with the freshness of their presentation, the way they made their exhibition an invitation to see more than the art on the walls. First Came a Friendship: Sidney B. Felsen and the Artists at Gemini G.E.L., on view now at the Getty Center brings previously unseen work to life in a fresh, playful way.

First Came a Friendship details the long relationship between Sidney Felson, co-founder of Gemini, and the world-famous artists who produced their work in the studios there. The exhibition uses a mix of Felson’s candid photographs of artists at work paired with the art they produced to give us a sense of the spirit that made Gemini so special. The pictures, almost 70,00 in the archive, made over a fifty-year span, show us the collaboration between artists, fabricators, and printers, but also moments of playfulness and friendship and the rare opportunity to see works of art on their way to becoming.

It is in that same spirit of playfulness that Naoko Takahatake, curator of the exhibition, has created two little outliers from the main exhibition. Called Restrooms and Telephones. The first features photographs by Felson of Annie Philbin, Director of the Hammer Museum, playfully interacting with artists like John Baldessari and James Marshall while they attempt to get past her and into the men’s room, or Philbin having a conversation with Ellsworth Kelly while standing next to him at the stalls. Made over a dozen-year span, the pictures are placed directly on the wall next to the Getty bathrooms. Across the way are pictures of Jasper Johns, David Hockney, and a host of others talking, gesturing, and lying on floors, telephones in hand. They are placed next to what may be the last living pay phone in LA.

Then there’s Reasons to come to L.A., pictures of LA’s cultural highlights made by Felsen in the 70s to entice East Coast artists to come west and experience the delights we offered – pictures of Canter’s, The Brown Derby, El Coyote, the Capitol Records building, Chinatown, Paramount Studio’s and of course the Rosamond Felsen Gallery. Seeing them takes you right into the time and mind of Felsen demonstrating the fun ways he was thinking about serious things.

And one last lovely thing suggested by Takahatake’s intern Anna Smith. At the bottom of a poster that reads “What music do artists and printers at Gemini G.E.L. put on while they work?” is a QR code that leads you to a playlist of interesting music. Bring your headphones or earbuds and wander through Felsen’s pictures while listening to some of the music printmakers and artists listened to while they were making the art displayed. Here’s the link –

Finally though, First Came a Friendship is about more than fun. It’s about a lifelong commitment to documenting the artistic process, Almost three hundred pictures by Sidney Felsen illustrating life and art passing through Gemini G.E.L. over the course of fifty years.

Do yourself a favor, spend an hour at the Getty and see some of the best artists of our time laughing, playing, brooding, thinking, dancing, painting and wrestling with big ideas. If you’ve ever wondered what making art might look like, it might look like this.

Andy Romanoff


First Came a Friendship: Sidney B. Felsen and the Artists at Gemini G.E.L – curated by Naoko Takahatake, director and chief curator, UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum – On view now through July 7th at The Getty Center –


Andy Romanoff’s book Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is available as an eBook everywhere and as a printed book here – Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
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