Peter Blake Gallery is pleased to commemorate its twenty-fifth year with an exhibition of the gallery’s historic West Coast Minimalism collection.
Peter Blake first opened the doors to his eponymous Laguna Beach gallery in 1993. In the years since, Peter’s faithfulness to his creative vision—irrespective of broader trends—has allowed him to preserve vintage West Coast Minimalist works from the Sixties and Seventies, while also embracing emerging artists who continue working with Southern California’s signature art-historical themes.
LAGUNA BEACH, CA
Peter Blake: Transcending Time
By Gisela Colon
There are many different ways of measuring time. Cosmological time is measured in terms of light years. Geological time is measured by carbon dating, or the discovery of ancient fossils in the earth. Human time is measured by the span of a lifetime. A person’s individual lifetime can either be quantified subjectively by their perception of their reality, or it may also be measured objectively by the quality, richness, and substance of their contributions into the world. Their output into the world is judged by others (their peers) in the world they inhabit, the context in which they all connect.
In the case of Peter Blake, the world he inhabits, for better or for worse, is what we know as the “art world.” In the art world, time is measured not just by longevity, but, significantly, by the intangible, qualitative presence of a keen eye—the possession of that supernatural ability to see what others don’t initially see and the unusual power to connect through the mind’s eye with the artists’ renditions of the universe.
There are many art dealers who operate in the commercial realm of the art world successfully, but there are very few who are true connoisseurs, real believers for whom the art matters above everything else, above power, above money, above trends. There are very few dealers whose passion is paramount. Leo Castelli comes to mind, as well as Virginia Dwan, Arne Glimcher, all legendary gallerists in the traditional sense of the word.
Peter Blake falls into this category of the classic quintessential old-fashioned gallerist. He is one of them, not because he has been in the art world for twenty-five years—though this in and of itself is a feat of endurance and undeterred presence—but most importantly because he has “the eye.” By any tangible metric, Peter possesses the intangible asset of seeing the aesthetic of the future.
Peter also has a sixth sense for predicting larger shifts in global aesthetic taste. Presciently, he began extending his gallery’s program by adding international design into the mix several years ago. He has presented blockbuster modern design exhibitions focusing on Brazilian, French, and American historical modern design, all gorgeous, well-researched, academic presentations of the highest quality. Now you see Perrotin, Hauser & Wirth, and other mega-galleries following suit to exhibit art along with international design, elevating its status to collectible objects. Peter’s prophetic vision is now mainstream.
Peter Blake has operated at the fertile intersection of all branches of California abstraction: West Coast Minimalism, Light and Space, Hard-Edge; he has presented them both individually and collectively in a masterful way. The list of important artists exhibited at the Peter Blake Gallery is quite long and impressive. He showed many of them well before they became mainstream “famous.” Starting in the mid-‘90s, Peter showed Joe Goode, Peter Alexander, Ed Moses, Chuck Arnoldi, John McCracken, Tony DeLap, James Hayward, Laddie John Dill, and Lita Albuquerque. Toward the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, he started showing Larry Bell and Mary Corse, who now have become super-stars represented by major blue-chip galleries, such as Hauser & Wirth and Pace. Most recently, Peter exhibited Helen Pashgian and Fred Eversley, a few years before they got snatched up by Lehmann Maupin and David Kordansky. Peter knows talent when he sees it.
Peter has been, is, and always will be, obsessed with perfection. For two-and-a-half decades he has produced pristine architectural presentations of the art he loves. Starting with his brick and mortar gallery space in Laguna, I have witnessed firsthand his relentless pursuit of excellence. Once, he closed the gallery for almost an entire month just to build into the architecture a tiny, half-inch crevice running between the floor and the wall. The average person would not notice this recessed gap, but for the trained eye (or the obsessive eye), it was a crucial feature to achieve a pure, clean aesthetic. Peter wanted the edge to be a mathematically straight line, which probably cost him in excess of $30,000. This was definitely not a sound commercial decision but instead was important to the proper presentation of minimal work, where extraneous details read as defects and detract from an unencumbered visual and sensual experience. Every aspect of his gallery is tailored toward perfection. Every architectural detail has been addressed with the ultimate goal of creating a flawless space where the minimal aesthetic lives in exquisite harmony with its surroundings.
Even at art fairs (where dealers commonly throw booths together quite hastily with disregard for structural details), Peter shines bright with his magnificent presentations. He starts installing early, usually finishes the day before everyone else, and the resulting booth possesses an unparalleled sense of order and balance. Walls are always immaculate, configurations are impeccable, and lighting is refined to the point of disappearing into the space. Peter’s true art lies in his ability to symbiotically combine artworks together and poetically merge the art into the space around it. The manner in which he creates these fantastic conversations between objects and space is nothing but sublime.
Peter’s passionate drive for creation also extends to dreaming up entire exhibitions. I had the good fortune of working closely with him as he spearheaded the fabrication of an entire body of work with Helen Pashgian titled Golden Ratio (2016) through my studio. Observing him interacting with his artist, I saw his true character in action: he demonstrated patience, generosity, tenacity, and vision. After six months of hard, endlessly detailed work, he presented one of the most beautiful, cohesive bodies of work created by Helen Pashgian yet.
Peter has always been a true believer in West Coast Minimalism, long before it became historically recognized as on par with East Coast Minimalism. As a staunch supporter of this movement, he championed California artists many years before the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative finally brought them to the forefront of the historical discourse. In a broader sense, by consistently exhibiting and supporting these artists before they became fully commercially viable, Peter has added real value to the whole Southern California art market. Years of time, effort, and personal sacrifice never affected his complete devotion to the cause nor did they stop him from converting others into Kool-Aid drinkers too. I, for one, became mesmerized by his way of seeing and it has influenced me as an artist ever since we met over ten years ago. I will now focus on any small imperfection of any kind and become obsessed with its removal, all in the name of utmost quality. Peter also fine-tuned my acquisition’s eye and groomed me into a savvy collector. I know other collectors (such as my dear friend Pam Banks) who also transformed their way of seeing art through Peter’s eyes.
Twenty-five years is quite a long period of time in a person’s life, but it is even more significant when quality and purpose produce a meaningful contribution. In the end, the brevity of human time disappears into the breadth, depth, and pervasiveness of geological time. But if one leaves something behind as evidence of principled thought which qualitatively influences others, that person’s contributions will survive time. In this way, Peter Blake’s first twenty-five years will transcend time.
Peter’s perfectionism and his uncompromising approach to his work fit with his stern and headstrong character. There is an absolute truth about the way he talks and no bullshit whatsoever. You know where you stand at all times, which is very refreshing in this veiled, layered and opaque art world. Once you have gone through Peter’s fire, you will be forever changed. So, as I walk through the thicket of the art world and the even wider pathway of life itself, I often find myself asking, “What would Peter think about this? What would Peter say? What would Peter do?” The effect he has had on all of us is evidence of a life well-lived.