I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.

Joan Miró

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

Joan Miró 1893–1983

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1893. Although his parents wanted their son to be a businessman, Miró was drawn to art, and so he studied painting at Francesc Galí’s Escola d’Art in Barcelona from 1912 to 1915. In 1920, Miró moved to Paris where he was quickly caught up in the fiercely cultural atmosphere. He struck up a friendship with fellow expat Pablo Picasso, who took Miró under his wing and introduced him to many of the artists and writers living in the city. Miró soon became friends with Ernest Hemmingway, who bought his masterpiece The Farm in 1921. Famed surrealist poet Andre Breton and Miró met in 1924 and Breton felt that Miró’s artwork “was the most surrealist of all.”

Despite his association with the Surrealist movement, Miró’s painting process was far from unconscious; rather, his work resulted from a precise methodology. Combining the formal elements of cubism with biomorphic forms, Miró created works that referenced his home country of Spain through abstraction. After the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, his work began to display sharply political messages. His mural, The Reaper, condemned Franco's regime and was shown at the Spanish Pavilion in the World’s Fair of 1937 in Paris. In 1939 when the Nazis arrived in Paris, Miró was forced to flee to the South of France. The first retrospective of Miró’s work in the United States was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1941. In 1958, Miró was commissioned to make two significant murals for UNESCO in Paris, for which he received the Guggenheim International Award. Inspired by the Paris student riots of 1968, Miró began to create bombastic paintings in which he would fling paint onto the canvas. During the 1970s, he became intrigued with the process of bookmaking, and he created over 250 illustrated artist’s books. Miró died in 1983, but he left behind a influential legacy and is one of the most well-known artists of the 20th century.