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Thursday, March 6, 2014

"A Tenacity for Life" (on the death of Stanley Grinstein)

a tenacity for life


Stanley Grinstein, who died on March 2, at the age of 87, may have, as the Los Angeles Times described him, been “an unlikely arts patron”—particularly because his first business was a forklift company and, early on, he did not even collect art—but once he and his architect wife Elyse became engaged in the art world, it seemed as if he was born to play that role.

      With Sidney Felsen, he founded a print studio, Gemini G.E.L., which attracted numerous blue-chip artists, including David Hockey, Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and numerous others, where they produced  series of amazing multiples.

Just as importantly, Stanley involved local artists with those who were visitors from elsewhere, often encouraging collaborations not only between the visual artists, but between artists and musicians. The Grinsteins, who lived comfortably, but not grandly, often invited these artists and musicians into their homes, not only for parties but to stay in their house, sometimes for long periods of time. The Grinstein’s also began collecting art, and including those artists, as well, in their celebrations, often financially helping the younger artists when they needed it.

      The period of many of these events in the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, was long before Howard and my arrival in Los Angeles, but the parties had become legendary for the creative energy and connections they provided—as well as for their open use of drugs and sex. In a sense the Grinsteins were like some wonderfully permissive uncle and aunt to figures in the art world, particularly at a time when Los Angeles had yet to be recognized as the center of art and music it later would become. If you wanted to be among composers and musicians, you visited the Betty Freeman’s house in Beverly Hills; if you wanted to hang out with artists (along with musicians and poets) you attended the parties at Grinstein’s Brentwood home.

      Stanley, in particular, was a vivacious person, always ready to provide a kiss and a hug, seemingly joyful just to be in your presence. As I wrote in My Year 2004: Under Our Skin, the Grinsteins were the very first people to invite us to dinner when we arrived in Los Angeles in 1985, taking us to the famed Venice Beach Café, where we were seated next to actress Mary Kay Place, who, joining us at the Grinstein’s table, suddenly swept up the entire group in a ring of hands to pray! And in 2008, the year of Howard’s retirement from the museum, it was at their house where artists such as Eleanor Antin, Dan Wheeler, Bill Viola, Jim Morphesis, curators Stephanie Baron, Carol Elliol, and numerous others gathered to celebrate Howard tenure at the museum.

      Both Stanley and Elyse had recently had operations, and despite opening their house up to such a large event, neither could move with ease. Stanley, who was suffering from kidney failure, was hooked up to a dialysis machine. Nevertheless, the two of them sat through the party with large smiles, clearly enchanted by having so many artists and friends about them. I think, even then that we all perceived that Stanley did not have too much more time to live. That he survived for more than five long years after that demonstrates his tenacity for life.


Los Angeles, March 6, 2014

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