I am attracted to pastel as a medium because of the gamble involved in its execution. There is a fascination with the processes of control and risk enacted on a surface...building towards the last plunges of color that bring everything already developed there into its focus; the color bolt that finishes the picture.

Irving Petlin

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

DAVID HOCKNEY, Cushions | ragoarts.com


David Hockney


estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $35,000
RON NAGLE, Tahoe Cup | ragoarts.com


Ron Nagle

Tahoe Cup

estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $16,250
RAY JOHNSON, Untitled | ragoarts.com


Ray Johnson


estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $5,000
RAY JOHNSON, Untitled | ragoarts.com


Ray Johnson


estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $8,125
H.C. WESTERMANN, Untitled (Oh Boy!) | ragoarts.com


H.C. Westermann

Untitled (Oh Boy!)

estimate: $2,500–3,500
result: $4,375
RICHARD DIEBENKORN, Untitled (Ocean Park) | ragoarts.com


Richard Diebenkorn

Untitled (Ocean Park)

estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $16,250
MARSDEN HARTLEY, Flowers in Goblet #2 | ragoarts.com


Marsden Hartley

Flowers in Goblet #2

estimate: $1,000–2,500
result: $2,000
IRVING PETLIN, Untitled | ragoarts.com


Irving Petlin


estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $1,000
JOAN MIRÓ, Untitled (from Constellations) | ragoarts.com


Joan Miró

Untitled (from Constellations)

estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $3,750
ROBERT MOSKOWITZ, Untitled | ragoarts.com


Robert Moskowitz


estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $11,250