By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Photo by Anne Fishbein
So what exactly do art dealers do, anyway? Work weekends, for one thing. Tim Blum and Jeff Poe were already into the daily business of running the Blum & Poe gallery on a recent Saturday morning. As an assistant busily sawed away at some wood outside the back entrance, Blum chatted with a collector before German artist Florian Maier-Aichen’s large digital landscapes. Poe, meanwhile, was at one of the computers instructing another assistant while yet another assistant watched. I asked for a cup of coffee, but after we went to the back office to discover no joe, Poe offered me tequila or beer from the fridge. When I miraculously declined, he playfully barked at another staffer to fetch us some espressos and pick up a bag of coffee. All four assistants now had tasks.
Both Blum and Poe looked as though they could probably use a cup of coffee themselves. Blum, with his dark tousled curls and a week’s worth of stubble, was wearing flip-flops; Poe, equally scruffy, wore his usual untucked white button-down shirt with jeans and worn-in leather sandals. Of course, they were worn-in Italian leather sandals. He kicked them off for my inspection, then said, smirking, "You probably can’t afford them — I got them at Barney’s." For Blum and Poe, dishevelment comes at a price, and it says a lot about their nascent success.
Blum & Poe gallery just might be the most happening art space around, but few in L.A. seem to know it. Until recently, they had a relatively low profile, tucked away in an alley in Santa Monica off Broadway. But their relocation to sleepy Culver City a year ago ironically put them in the limelight, as numerous other galleries followed their lead to create a thriving new complex there.
Why Culver City? Was it a strategic move? Not necessarily. The gallerists, who’d been in and out of escrow on two other locations already, had been desperate to move for more than a year. On New Year’s Day of last year, said Poe, "I got in my car and just drove — forgot about Hollywood, forgot about downtown. It was like, fuck this. I saw this space [on La Cienega between Washington and Venice], called the landlord on the 2nd, and by the first of February we had signed the lease." As soon as Blum & Poe moved in, the scene followed. Anna Helwing is just next door; Sandroni Rey, her neighbor. A block down is newcomer Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, and about two blocks away on Washington is the Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. New in the trendy neighborhood are Western Projects and two New York galleries, the Project and Brooklyn’s artist-run Champion Fine Art.
But location isn’t everything, in spite of its reputation to the contrary. In fact, Blum and Poe’s sights were set far beyond Los Angeles. "When the gallery opened," said Poe, "it was always this idea that we were going to push internationally, that it wasn’t just going to be about L.A. It doesn’t have to be this provincial local trip."
Although both are native Southern Californians, they climbed their art-career ladders on opposite sides of the Pacific. Blum, 39, holds a political philosophy degree from UCLA. Poe, 43, is more the rebel. He attended film school in San Francisco, then became a local rocker playing with the Blue Daisies and the Blissed Out Fatalists. "We were a disaster," he admitted. That would be in the late ’80s when Blum and Poe were still strangers and their six degrees of separation were closing in. Poe knew Blum’s wife, Maria, in the art circuit where he was skipping around from being in the fabrication biz through Fred Hoffman Gallery, then working with the auctions through the Robert Berman Gallery, finally ending up as art director for the Kim Light Gallery on La Brea.
Meanwhile, Blum, who’d always had a fascination with Eastern culture and speaks fluent Japanese, was flying back and forth to Tokyo, where he had friends. He wound up moving in 1990 and spent four years there, running a gallery with a partner and operating a private museum. "It was an amazing time," said Blum. "That was back when everybody was fearful of this rising power in the East, like when the Japanese were coming to America and buying all this property, and paying inflated prices at art auctions. It was the bubble economy."
Blum and Poe had discussed the possibility of one day teaming up with their own gallery. Through the years, they kept in touch — and kept a keen eye on the art scene. The opportunity came with the closing of the Kim Light Gallery. Poe picked up the phone and called Blum and asked if he was ready to come home and start a gallery together. Blum responded, "Yeah, why the fuck not."
And so Blum & Poe was born in Santa Monica one month later in September 1994. "When we opened the gallery, it was this idea that [Tim] was coming from Japan and I was here in L.A.," said Poe. "Working for Kim had allowed me to go to Europe, see this international presence — in terms of an art fair and in terms of how business was run — and to think, wait a minute, it could be international." British artist Anya Gallaccio got their first show, followed by the Japanese pop-artist Takashi Murakami and then his countryman Yoshitomo Nara.