“…the city as a whole was incredibly conservative”

It seems quite daunting today to picture Los Angeles and Southern California as “incredibly conservative”.  But, as we turn our gaze back to the immediate years following the cessation of hostilities with the end of WWII in 1945, that is exactly the situation for visual artists living in the greater Los Angeles area.  In filmmaker Morgan Neville’s The Cool School, the cinematographer exclaims to Madeleine Brand:  “Before the gallery opened (i.e. The Ferus Gallery), the idea that you would make a living as an artist was really foreign to anybody in Los Angeles…The environment was hostile to art, and despite the movie industry, the city as a whole was incredibly conservative”.

For those gifted and talented artists living in Los Angeles and Southern California (i.e., So Cal), pressure was applied on those who wanted to seek fame and fortune to do so in New York City.  The Ferus Group of artists heard that admonition constantly but felt confident enough to stay in the Southland and produce in their studios.  In The Cool School documentary, Neville points out: “The artists in the scene were glamorous…They were good-looking men, they were surfers and beatniks and hard-living, hard-drinking, womanizing artists..And because there was bi established art scene in Los Angeles, they were able to easily push past what elsewhere would be limits”.

What are your thoughts on the Ferus Gallery and the Ferus Group of artists who, for all intents and purposes, established a strong West Coast aesthetic that was both different from NYC yet just as strong and significant?  Can what happened in Los Angeles in the 1950swith The Ferus Gallery and Ferus Group of artists happen in Las Vegas?  Is our desert community ripe for such a development of high end culture?

Ferus Gallery, ca. 1962

Walter Hopps (left) and Ferus Gang at Reunion

Author: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

17 thoughts on ““…the city as a whole was incredibly conservative””

  1. The Ferus Group were likeminded artists that took no bullshit from anyone that wanted them out of the Los Angeles area and because of that, they spearheaded the movement and aesthetic of LA that is alive today. I feel that the Ferus Group paved the way for Pop Artists and Contemporary Artists. The Ferus Group were extremely open minded and their open mindedness attracted likeminded people to the LA area, thus birthing the LA we know today. Presently in Las Vegas, art is thriving. I do not think Vegas can produce another Ferus Group, but that is only because Vegas is where some of the world’s biggest artists come to display their work. While walking downtown, one can spot murals from Shepard Fairey, Felipe Pantone, Mau Lencinas, Fafi, and more. The Las Vegas strip has installations from Claes Oldenburg and James Turrell as well as hundreds of other pieces of art. Las Vegas cannot, unfortunately, birth another Ferus Group because Las Vegas is already a giant Ferus Gallery.

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  2. The Ferus Group was, as we learned in class, the seeds of the art community in that time. They were the ones that created the art scene in Los Angeles and made it what it is today. Las Vegas has already established its own art scene so I don’t think that a group like the Ferus Group would have the same kind of impact today as it did back then. However, I do think there is always the opportunity to develop a new style or a high end culture.

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  3. The Ferus Group has changed the art community to have its own style the style in Las Angeles than try to fit in with New York City. The Ferus Group established itself to be different from NYC and have a modern art fell with the environment at the time. The culture of Las Angeles to Las Vegas may not happen in today society unless an actual art museum was built and promote on the Las Vegas strip for tourist to see. This gallery or museum needs to be art that reflects this century time period in order to have any success. The community itself can develop a high-end culture but will they come to see the gallery or museum.

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  4. The Ferus group is a prime example of strong willed individuals coming together to work towards a common goal. I think since that there was no boundary already established as far as what this group of artist could do then it was less of a challenge to create such boundaries. I think the real challenge was proving that it could be done to the rest of the area that what was done in NYC could be recreated in Los Angeles in a way that was unique to the area. I Las Vegas we sort of already have our own artistic style with the strip and Fremont, the high end feel comes more from the strip and everything there is very high end feeling.

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  5. I think the artists and founders of the Ferus Gallery were very brave but also smart. They saw an opportunity and timed their establishment perfectly. They knew how to advertise to get people to show up. They knew how to present themselves in a way that was independent of but still at the same professional level as New York artists. I think Downtown Las Vegas is slowly growing the art scene but what we really need is a museum. In order to make that happen we would need to get funding from the major property owners but I believe most of them want to keep their money invested in their properties. They make small galleries and performance venues inside their own hotels to draw business and keep people spending money in their hotel. I believe we have the talent and an accepting community but lack a place and funding for this art to be collected and displayed in a way it can rightfully be appreciated.

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  6. It seemed more of a gamble at the time for artists in the West Coast to create their own field of art aesthetics. They knew that, but decided to go for it anyway. When they succeeded in their (at the time) controversial movement, I’m sure they felt like they opened doors for many other artists who could have been afraid to give up their dreams or those who also felt they would not be able to make a living through art.

    Las Vegas could have welcomed the possibility of a high end culture back then, but as of now it feels more of a community that is more of entertainment approach of high end culture.

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  7. The Ferus Group is a collective of artists that worked together to pave the way for future generations of artists on the West Coast. Like everything else in life, there must be a brave individual or group to challenge the status quo and create something new. The Ferus Group did just that. As a result Los Angeles has a thriving art scene. Las Vegas on the other hand, is still in its infant stage. Not only in art but as a city entirely. You can still find old local natives that reminisce about the old Vegas. I feel as though our city is so streamlined in tourism it lacks in everything else. Most of every form of art in Vegas is either non existent or minuscule in comparison to Los Angeles or New York. The general architecture here is generic. Every neighborhood and building that is not on the strip looks exactly the same. The underground music scene here is minimal. There are very few platforms here for emerging musicians to perform. The same goes for painting. Las Vegas does not have a major museum of art. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the only way for any of those arts to flourish here in Las Vegas is to somehow streamline tourism into it. Otherwise it will remain as it is.

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  8. One of the things that made the Feris Group successful was that they filled a gap that was needed by artists in Los Angeles. The other art galleries were either too commercial or not unique and creative enough. They created a space that was essentially designed by artists for artists, rather than designed by business men to sell paintings. There was an integrity there, and their ideology was also in line with the larger “beatnik” culture that was alive at the time. The most important thing was that there was a demand for it and an existant culture that could appreciate it already present.

    Contrastingly, Las Vegas has a transient community; many people are always moving in and then moving out, and I dont think there’s as much of a demand or understanding for “high culture” here. Many people are here only because of the cheap cost of living and job opportunities, and will move away as soon as something better comes along. There just isn’t as big of an art community or enough people to appreciate it.

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  9. What the Ferus group did during that time was new and exciting. They were individuals who worked extremely well together. They were able to do what they did because they were unyielding to obstacles thrown their way. As a result, they paved the way for many artists and art itself in Los Angeles.

    In terms of a new Ferus Group in Las Vegas, I think that it is highly unlikely. I think that people can try to do something similar, but it would not be as effective as it would have been back then. Although the art scene is present in Las Vegas, it is a miniscule one. I agree with the comment above me stating that there just is not a big enough art community or enough people to appreciate it. With tourists, there primary goal when visiting is to see and experience the Strip. Many tourists exploring the Bellagio will eventually reach the area of the gallery, but once they learn there is nothing else past that area, they turn around and continue on about their day. For something like the Ferus Gallery to happen in Las Vegas, it is important to have enough support not only from artists themselves, but the community as well.

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  10. The Ferus gallery was a physical space and was, at that time, a format that helped us guage and ascertain art with the established NY art world. This misinterpretation motivated the Ferus Group, they were instrumental in demonstrating that art does not have to exist in a studio or in a museum to be considered art… rather, art is all around us. This Group was an art collective instrumental in developing the LA image and aesthetic. Las Vegas too has developed its own image and identity; there existed, and continues today, similar “creative-groups” that help shape the city we know. And like LA, high end culture and Las Vegas-art exists in its many forms, i.e., architecture and land design that embraces and stewards our surrounding environment; iconic and innovative entertainment, show residencies; public art; and creative culinary experiences. We need to highlight in all formats (including museums) the contributions made by these creative-groups.

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  11. Being the first to do anything is always difficult and risky. However, the Ferus artists had the right attitude and mindset that it took to create a lasting artistic culture in Los Angeles. It probably also helped that they were charismatic, white, males. I think their lasting impression on Los Angeles culture was the result of a perfect mixture of talent, luck, attitude, and timing.

    I think it is possible for a high end culture to develop in Las Vegas, but I don’t think it is as easy as some may make it seem. The city of Las Vegas is still dominated by gaming, entertainment, and tourism. I think it is up to the younger generation of Las Vegans to really push for an artistic culture. We are definitely on our way to creating a culture similar to Los Angeles, but I think something similar to Ferus has to happen; there has to be the right talent, timing, attitude, and luck in order for Las Vegas to become the new L.A.

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  12. I am fascinated how they were able to preserver and establish something for themselves. I remember in the documentary that the artists though had to present themselves in a certain way to get noticed, since LA was highly conservative at the time. These artists had to exhibit their art as though they were highly expensive pieces just to get noticed.

    I don’t know if the possibility is that high in Las Vegas, it is a tourist town, but of course the market is all about “fun”. Nobody, especially nowadays, associates an art museum/exhibit as fun anymore. I feel like the only way to be able to integrate an art scene in las vegas is for it’s resident artists to try and establish a connection between what is already marketed for example casino etc and try to incorporate their ideas to where tourists and locals would like to come.

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  13. The Ferus Gallery and the Ferus Group of artists were awesome! They fought hard to have art become bigger and more important in L.A. than it was at the time. They knew they could build an art scene like what New York City did and they made it happen. The Ferus group of artists were in a word, stubborn. They knew what they wanted to do and when anyone tried to tell them that what they were doing was wrong, they did it anyway because they believed otherwise. I relate to this so much because I feel as though whenever someone disagrees with my ideas I need to work twice as hard to prove that my ideas are right or can work. If and when i’m finished with a project and realize that my ideas were wrong, I can make that decision, but you never know unless you try. Sometimes people don’t really know if something will work or not until they see it for themselves so it’s always worth trying out new things to see what works and what doesn’t. That’s a large part of what making art is and the Ferus Group’s hard work at trying new things paid off. What happened in Los Angeles in the 1950s with the Ferus Gallery and the Ferus Group of artists can definitely happen in Las Vegas. We already have what I would consider to be a large art scene. There’s the fine art gallery in the Bellagio, the street art downtown around the Fremont Street Experience, the Barrick Museum at UNLV, and much more! I think we have already started building a similar, if not better, art scene like the Ferus Group did and it will continue to grow and become a defining part of our Las Vegas culture.

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  14. What they had done was just as strong and culturally specific to what was being done on the east coast at the time. It helped define the west and who we were during that time. In establishing ourselves through the Ferus group we were able to develop our own identity which did not look towards NYC instead as future artists we were now able to look towards L.A. for a chance to make it as an artist. This valuable opportunity opened by the Ferus group allows for creativity to develop and for other cities looking to develop their own identity to do just that. I believe Las Vegas can do just as the Ferus group had done, in fact, I believe it to be ripe for such a situation. It is only a matter time and the right group of people to do so for our little city.

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  15. I feel that the Ferus Gallery and the Ferus Group of artists where the right group of artist that saw something missing from their area. They knew it was happening in other cities and that mentality kept them pushing forward for their own voice. Sometimes in history people see that great things can and will happen if they just keep the course and I believe this group of artist felt this way. They knew in their hearts they where doing something right and when you have that feeling in your gut, no one can tell you you’re wrong. It’s like Steve Jobs once said, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.
    This could definitely happen here in Las Vegas, if it isn’t happening already. We have a growing art scene here and just like Vegas itself, the scene grows everyday. I think it just takes a special person or group of people to get something in their heads, take action and not give up. If their is someone like this in town and they see the need to push through the hard times, then it is definitely possible for a Ferus type situation to happen in Las Vegas.

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  16. I think that what happened in Los Angeles could happen in Vegas, but only given the right group and the right time. The Ferus group was formed of the best people that could have been around at that time. Had they been missing one or two of the members, or even if they were completely different people, then I don’t think it could have been as successful as it was. There are those times that a group gets together that have such a strong dynamic and such strong characters that they can make anything happen and often do. It’s the same as with the legends in sports. The teams that would form dynasties and win championship after championship. I truly believe that Vegas could have that one day, but only if we gain the right group, and only if we can find a way to make the town follow behind. Though, with how well hockey has hit the city and the astounding support, that time may actually be sooner than I would imagine.

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  17. The very bold “ I don’t care attitude” of the cool school gang of the Ferus gallery paved the way for the Art Scene on the West Coast. I remember when Pasha came to class to speak to us students about the LA art scene during this period. He mentioned that New York had the artists that painted with their brain, their intelligence, and LA had the artists painted with their heart and their gut. I believe the idea was simple, to prove that they could make art just as good or even better following no rules. They so did it!

    I believe Las Vegas could become a new art hub. Once the city of buffets we are now the city of renowned chefs with probably some of the best restaurants in the world. Las Vegas is a city that is very good in adapting and re-inventing itself, so becoming a new art hub is a possibility. Yes, I can see Las Vegas becoming a high end cultural place. The Smith Center has been a great success. We just need people to believe it. I can see the same sports revolution that happened in this city happening with the art scene.

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