Rolf Nelson

A Dealer's Collection

Rolf Nelson at the Rolf Nelson Gallery, ca. 1964–66. The Getty Research Institute, Gift of Rolf G. Nelson, 2010.M.38. Image courtesy Jerry McMillan and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica. © Jerry McMillan

In the mid-1950s when Abstract Expressionism began to give way to Minimalism, Rolf Nelson was there. A resident of Coenties Slip, a rundown seaport turned art colony at the lower tip of Manhattan, Nelson became friendly with fellow inhabitants Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Agnes Martin. The cheap rent, large loft spaces and views of the East River made the Slip an attractive locale for artists, writers, and the budding gallerist. In the late 1950s, Nelson was hired by Martha Jackson Gallery and cut his teeth in the contemporary art world alongside Claes Oldenburg and Allan Kaprow. In 1962 he moved across the country to set up the Los Angeles branch of San Francisco Dilexi Gallery, and opened his eponymous gallery on La Cienega Boulevard just one year later. 

Nelson’s impact on the art world still resonates today, and his albeit brief time spent on the West Coast helped launch the careers of many visionary artists.

Nelson quickly established himself as a central figure in the vibrant Southern California art scene, exhibiting both emerging and established artists including Llyn Foulkes, George Herms, Irving Petlin, Robert Indiana, Ron Nagle and H.C. Westermann. In 1965 Nelson hosted the first solo show of Midwestern artist Judy Gerowitz, dubbing her Judy Chicago because of her thick accent. The same year, David Hockney started a portrait of the gallerist (completed in 1968 and published in 1975), a lithograph with pink hand-colored cheeks. The Rolf Nelson Gallery was short-lived however, and in 1966 Nelson moved back to New York to work as a private dealer. Before closing, he held a single-painting exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s masterpiece Sky Above Clouds IV, now at the Art Institute of Chicago. Nelson’s impact on the art world still resonates today, and his albeit brief time spent on the West Coast helped launch the careers of many visionary artists.

The selection offered here comes from Rolf Nelson's personal collection and is comprised of works he admired and gifts from artists he represented, but also called friends.

Works from the Collection of Rolf Nelson

In the end nobody knows how it's done - how art is made. It can't be explained. Optical devices are just tools. Understanding a tool doesn't explain the magic of creation. Nothing can.

David Hockney

David Hockney b. 1937

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and of the British pop art movement. A painter, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer, his unmistakable style breaks boundaries both in the rules of art and across multiple artistic movements. Born in 1937 in Bradford, England he studied at the Royal College of Art, but did not graduate on account of declining to submit an essay along with his final work. In the 1960s, his bright, figurative paintings of Los Angeles swimming pools accompanied by Californian landscapes as wells as personal subject matter including portraits of friends ignited his career. In 1963, at the age of 26, he had his first one-man show and in 1970 the White Chapel Gallery exhibited his first retrospective.

In the early 1980s, he began working in photocollage, or “joiners” as he called them, exploring movement and photography. In a recent 2016 exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, Hockney debuted a series of works created on the iPhone and iPad exhibiting his love for technology.

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