The year is 1966: The country was consumed by Vietnam, Jimi Hendrix was storming the stage and NASA’s Gemini Space program was well underway.
Making its own mark in history, Gemini G.E.L., Graphic Editions Limited, one of the most innovative publishers of fine art prints and sculptures.
Taking its name from space exploration, Gemini’s stable of artists reads like a who’s who in art history. Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney were part of the scene.
It was an era of excitement that brought the most brilliant minds of the times together to produce art, and, have a little fun …. As renowned artist Ed Ruscha recalls, the gatherings among this circle were legendary. “They were more like a menagerie, you know, sort of like what do you say… unstructured merriment. Sometimes they got out of hand. But it didn’t seem to matter. We were the zoo and they were the zookeepers.”
Ruscha was regaling the audience at the memorial for friend and patron, Gemini Co-Founder Stanley Grinstein, a man who knew how to throw a party. “And so you might walk up and you hear a piano playing it might be Philip Glass working on a new Etude, Allen Ginsberg’s over in the hallway asleep on the sofa, I don’t know how you could sleep through that.
Richard Serra would be there arguing with whoever would argue with him. Man Ray would be back in the kitchen and he’d be bragging about how he personally invented every possible 20th century art movement… Ed Moses, Vija Celmins, Frank Gehry, would be in their own cloud of smoke… all the while John Alton was just sucking every last once energy out of the room…..”
Growing up among these extraordinary artists made for an interesting childhood for the Grinstein daughters.
“None of the art was cool at the time. It wasn’t even what was cool. There wasn’t anything cool about contemporary art at all to the outside world.” Ayn Grinstein recalls. “All of us look back, and say wow. What they did for the art world and for the L.A. scene…. is pretty incredible.” Ellen Grinstein Perliter shares fondly.
Co-Founder Sidney Felsen explains how he and his best friend Stanley came up with the idea of Gemini G.E.L.
“We thought it’d be fun to be around the artists. We decided to have a print shop for fun.”
In 1966, Sid and Stan teamed up with Master Printer Kenneth Tyler to create a publishing house, working with top contemporary artists by invitation. The print shop would produce the art, Gemini would sell the work and pay the artists a royalty.
“One of the things we kept saying to each other, I wonder how much money we have to keep putting into this to keep the doors open. But, by the time we started, it just turned around and we started working with all the accomplished artists. We were a roaring success.”
Artists work inside a unique building, designed by Frank Gehry with tall beams, sharp angles and exposed wood. Key to the artist’s success is working with a master printer.
“The artist creates the imagery itself and the printers do the technical and the physical work.” Sid adds.
For Robert Rauschenberg, Gemini printed a life size, x-ray figure of the artist’s body for his pioneering work, Booster, the largest hand pulled lithograph of its time. For David Hockney, they built a custom hydraulic lift that allowed Hockney to draw his large portraits directly on a 300-pound stone. For Frank Stella’s visually captivating Star of Persia, they formulated custom metallic inks.
For the last seven years, Gemini has devoted an entire print shop on Melrose Avenue to the needs of minimalist American sculptor Richard Serra. Master Printer Xavier Fumat has been working with Serra for the past eighteen years.
“There are four printers working there.” Felsen explains. “Everything Richard does is black and white. He’s got tremendously great ideas, like a bubbling well that keeps us very busy. We think he is certainly the greatest sculptor of our time.”
Richard Serra is best known for his massive steel sculptures of sinuous forms. His work can be found in museums worldwide.
Fumat describes handling Serra’s oversized plates. “Nothing about Richard is traditional. For example, we made these clamps to hold Richard’s plate when we go in the acid so we can then clamp it on to the big large plates and get a pulley system to lift them up into the air and then into the etching tank. We leave it in the acid for about an hour, pull it out and check it to see that it is not braking down and its etching the way we intended it to.”
The heavy oversized plates, some as large as 6 by 4 feet, are made of copper. The plate is submerged in a massive acid tank, up to 12 feet in length.
“You have to be creative in a very different way.” Fumat continues. “You have to come up with solutions to things that you don’t have. Making etching tanks that are vertical that are oversized. ….lots of that kind of stuff.”
“He’s constantly drawing from his own sculptures. They’re beautiful.” Felsen shares with a smile. “We believe in him and the world is interested in Richard Serra.”
Why does Gemini go to such lengths to create an artist vision? Co-owner Joni Moisant Weyl believes art is the key to get out beyond ourselves. To see the world a different way. “As a person, you’re not complete if you’re not open. Art is a big part of that. It makes us reach for the stars.”
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will host a major exhibition in celebration of Gemini’s 50th Anniversary. The Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L., September 11, 2016 through January 2, 2017.