The Adorable Patricia Faure, 1928-2008

Jennifer Wulffson
Patricia Ruth Enk, New York City, Mid-1950s.

Patricia Ruth Enk, New York City, Mid-1950s. Photographer unknown.

En art comme en amour, l’instinct suffit.
–Anatole France

I’m not sure where to begin and my word count limit is looming. I know I should focus on Patricia Faure’s many years as a gallerist, which began in 1972 when she started working with Nicholas Wilder. But I keep getting distracted by the anecdotes I know about her. Ethan Acres used to say she was the Forrest Gump of the art world. He didn’t mean that in a derogatory sense but rather that she somehow, through a mix of karma, serendipity, and earnestness, found incredible experiences.

While a student at Hollywood High School, for instance, Vincent Price invited Patty (née Patricia Ruth Enk) to volunteer at the short-lived Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills. She befriended (for a lifetime) Bobby Short. She had her portrait drawn by Larry Rivers when she was a model with the Ford Agency in New York. Willem DeKooning, as Patty recalled, “liked [her] tailoring.” Robert Motherwell took her on field trips to the studios of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Joseph Cornell. She broke her leg on Billy Al Bengston’s motorcycle. She took photographs of celebrities such as Josephine Baker in Paris for the New York Times, of Frank Gehry’s furniture, and of Rudi Gernreich’s fashion design. The best of her memories, however, needed no celebrity.

A young transplant to Los Angeles from Wisconsin, Patty returned repeatedly to Los Angeles after years in New York and Paris (a honeymoon with Jacques Faure that turned into eleven years). Los Angeles was one of the great loves of her life and she taught me to be fiercely proud of my hometown. Her photographs of artists taken in the 1950s and ‘70s, particularly those of the Ferus Gallery artists, have become the quintessence of playful, period- and place-evocative documentation. She may have been bemused that the images became so iconic, but she also understood intuitively that it was a moment of note, and that she was in the right place.

Patricia Faure, Los Angeles, 1997.

Patricia Faure, Los Angeles, 1997. Photograph by Alice Springs.

Patty noticed that people often felt bad when they left galleries because of the snobbishness they encountered, and it was Nick Wilder who taught her to try to make people feel good while visiting her space. She partnered with Betty Asher in 1979 and Wulffsonthe Asher-Faure Gallery became one of the most important, enterprising galleries in Los Angeles. From the beginning, their business strategy included inviting New York and European dealers to present shows in their space. This sophisticated strategy sought to break down what they perceived to be an inferiority complex in Los Angeles collectors, who would see work in a local space but then buy work by the same artist from a New York gallery instead. Patty and Betty worked with dealers like Andre Emmerich and Paula Cooper to present first-rate work by the likes of Richard Artschwager, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Joel Shapiro, to an audience deserving of the best. Besides benefiting the dealers and artists, this intelligent plan benefited the city most, and played no small part in Los Angeles’ current position as one of the art capitals of the world. Patty and Betty had a varied aesthetic, representing a sundry group of artists including Craig Kauffman, Judy Fiskin, Lynn Foulkes, Maxwell Hendler, Nicolas Africano, David Reed, and John Coplans. After Betty’s death in 1994, Patty continued as a dealer, working well into her seventies. While maintaining relationships with many of the established artists with whom she worked at the beginning of her career, she also gave early exhibitions to the likes of Ethan Acres, Jacob Hashimoto, Salomón Huerta, and Mark Bradford.

On a personal note, I can only say here that Patty meant a great deal to me and always will. She was more than the accumulation of well-worn, well-loved stories. She balanced pride and confidence with humility and hard work, savvy with whimsy, and charm with spitfire. She was especially decent and reasonably flawed; she was lovable and she was infuriating. It did not matter if she was about to decry something I had just said or declare enthusiasm, she would always begin her response with “Oh, honey…” In the wild avenues of the stories she told about her life, one thing to emerge was her ability to recognize and appreciate how and when people—and life—were good to her. She was good to me. I am grateful to have known her as a friend and mentor.

Patty, being Patty, could not have lived a life less extraordinary.

Jennifer Wulffson worked with Patricia Faure from 1995 to 1997. Jennifer was an editor at the Getty Research Institute from 2000 to 2008, and in 2006 completed an oral history project with Patty. Recent projects include the 2009 exhibition Superficiality and Superexcrescence at Otis College of Art and Design’s Ben Maltz Gallery, an exploration of surface and identity in recent California art that was supported in part by a curatorial grant from the Fellows of Contemporary Art. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.