In 1966, Sidney B. Felsen and his partner Stanley Grinstein founded Gemini G.E.L. A printing press for creating special editions and multiples by contemporary artists, it would ultimately become a leading fine-art printmaking workshop and publisher. (G.E.L. stands for Graphic Editions Limited.)
Throughout the history of the Gemini G.E.L., artists have been invited to work closely with the printmakers to create innovative work. The roster of artists that have worked at Gemini G.E.L is a who’s who of contemporary art. It includes Vija Celmins, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Julie Mehretu, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Serra, among many others. Felsen’s photos show them at work and at leisure, part of a lively community of creative people who flowed through the legendary print shop.
“It all started innocently, about 50 years ago, when I took some pictures in the workshop, mostly of artists in collaboration with printers. It was fun to do, so I kept on taking pictures,” Felsen says. “I’ve always felt there’s a trust and friendship extended by the artists and the printers in allowing me to share so many remarkable moments. It has been a privilege and an honor to have them as my subjects.”
Felsen adds, “It’s 50 years later, and there’s now approximately 70,000 photos in the collection. As my 95th birthday was approaching, I felt it was time to find a happy home that will take care of the photography collection and respond to the many photo requests I receive.”
This extensive archive was purchased this year by photographer Jack Shear, whose late husband, artist Ellsworth Kelly, created many important editions at Gemini G.E.L. Shear is donating most of the archive to Getty Research Institute, with the exception of a selected group of prints that will be donated to the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum.
The Sidney B. Felsen photography archive includes original slides and negatives, as well as digital prints and files, including 37 binders of more than 15,000 slides, negatives, contact sheets, and scores of new prints covering decades of documentation of the Gemini G.E.L. from 1968 through the present. The digital media date from 2009 through the present and include digital files as well as proofs and prints.
Also in the archive is a group of 65 handmade monthly calendars document Felsen’s photographic, business, and artistic pursuits from 1969 to 1974. Montaging photographs on large cardboard (about 50 x 70 cm) with hand-drawn grids of 5 rows x 7 columns, Felsen created an illustrated history of Gemini’s daily activities, logging appointments and meetings, events, and dates of historical significance, such as anniversaries of the art world.
The photography-based calendars are unique records of Gemini’s schedule and the vibrant local art scene, as well as a testament to Felsen’s own creativity as an artist who used photography as a visual language. The calendars mark, for example, the 1971 Los Angeles earthquake and artist Wallace Berman’s funeral in 1976. Sometimes candid photos, sometimes technical discards or double exposures, these images create a dynamic if informal history of Gemini, and are accompanied by hand-written captions. Countless photos of artists and the art world are collaged on these calendars.
Gemini G.E.L. is hugely important in showing the West Coast art scene and art production in Los Angeles over the past 50 years, says Getty curator Isotta Poggi. This gift “documents LA’s contribution to contemporary art as well as the printmaking process and how it was used by very important contemporary American and international artists,” she notes. “But it’s also important to point out that Sidney Felsen is a great photographer, an undeniably creative artist in his own right. These photos are as engaging as they are informative.”