Seeing On the Edge purely in art historical terms misses what the Quinn family and their guests have been appreciating for years, that their collection is really about friendship and encouragement.
by John Seed
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BAKERSFIELD, CA — The way artist Joe Fay remembers it, not long after he met Joan Quinn she made a very simple request that would turn out to be a great help in his future: “You ought to do my portrait.” He took her advice and within a short period of time Fay had created colorful semi-abstract portraits of Joan and her husband, Jack. Two years later portraits of their daughters, Amanda and Jennifer, followed. “Joan was sweet and encouraging,” Fay recalls. “She got the portraits published in Los Angeles Magazine and more commissions came along at $1,200 apiece.”
Fay’s vibrant portraits of Joan and her family are among the highlights of On the Edge: Los Angeles Art 1970s – 1990s from the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection, on view at the Bakersfield Museum of Art. The show includes a number of varied and quirky portraits, by different artists, of a woman who was motivated by curiosity and a desire to encourage creativity as opposed to a need to nourish personal vanity. For example, George Herms represented Joan as a rusty metal sphere on a singed pedestal of wooden castoffs. Allen Ruppersberg depicted her as a cut-out silhouette adorned with books and text. And Jean-Michel Basquiat sketched her jewelry-laden wrists and fingers alongside two stylized monkeys. Basquiat’s “fee” for the portrait was a handful of joints that the legendary actor and drag queen Divine had left behind in a drawer at the Quinns’ home.
A native of Los Angeles and the daughter of affluent parents — motorsports promoter J. C. Agajanian and his wife, Hazel Faye — Joan had her first portrait done at the age of 16 and met up-and-coming artists from high school onward. As the LA art scene grew in the late 1950s and early ’60s she was already serving as a social connector for the emerging “Cool School” that yearned to challenge the dominance of New York. Working as the West Coast editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and, later, as an editor for Conde Nast Traveler, Joan bridged the coasts and made every effort she could to put her artist friends in the media spotlight. She also made sure that the snobbery many artists faced on the East Coast had an antidote on the West Coast: genuine camaraderie and friendship.
The Quinns’ Beverly Hills home, which still houses a treasure trove of works by LA artists, was the site of innumerable poolside parties where artists, Hollywood types, and social movers and shakers met and networked. Jack Quinn often provided legal assistance for artists who needed help paying parking tickets, reading contracts, or collecting money from a dealer, or who had been busted for weed possession.
“I took the whole family over on hot days for a swim and lunch,” Joe Fay recalls. “The Quinns treated us like their own and you could talk to Joan or Jack about anything. They were real friends in a way that went beyond art. For years Jack was often my tennis partner and we played against artists (Chuck Arnoldi), celebrities (Ricky Nelson and Regis Philbin), as well as federal judge Matt Byrne.”
Over time, Joan inspired more than 300 portraits, but as the works on view at the Bakersfield Museum show, they compose only one part of a sprawling collection. Artworks by Ed Moses, Lynda Benglis, Peter Alexander, Frank Gehry, Robert Graham, and Ed Ruscha are some of the standouts in the exhibition, curated by Rachel McCullah Wainwright, who “put a new eye on it,” as Joan has commented. The result casts fresh light on the emergence of art in Los Angeles and will be a boon for art historians in the years to come. Then again, seeing On the Edge purely in art historical terms misses what the Quinn family and their guests have been appreciating for years, that their collection is really about friendship and encouragement.
On the Edge: Los Angeles Art 1970s – 1990s from the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection continues at the Bakersfield Museum of Art (1930 R Street, Bakersfield, California) through April 2, 2022. The exhibition was curated by Rachel McCullah Wainwright.
John Seed is a professor of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California. Seed has written about art and artists for Arts of Asia, Art Ltd., Catamaran, Harvard Magazine, International… More by John Seed