Oral Histories

Interview of Jean Milant

Art dealer and publisher. Founder of Cirrus Gallery & Cirrus Editions Ltd.
Topic:
Art
Interviewer:
Moon, Kavior
Interviewee:
Milant, Jean
Persons Present:
Milant and Moon.
Place Conducted:
Milant’s residence in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview is located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kavior Moon, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., visual arts, Columbia University; M.A., art history, UCLA. Moon prepared for the interview by visiting Cirrus Gallery to look through exhibition catalogs and files related to the gallery’s history in its archive. In addition, Moon reviewed books and exhibition catalogs on printmaking and post-WWII art in California, including Made in LA: The Prints of Cirrus Editions (1995), Sunshine and Noir: Art in LA 1960–1997 (1997), Sunshine Muse: Art on the West Coast 1945–1970 (rev. ed., 2000), Los Angeles 1955–1985: Birth of an Art Capital (2006), LA Rising: SoCal Artists Before 1980 (2010), Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles, 1945-1980 (2011), Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California (2011), and Rebels in Paradise (2011). She also read transcripts of UCLA’s oral history interviews with Irving Blum, June Wayne, and Rosamund Felsen, as well as articles on major figures and events in the Los Angeles art scene from the 1970s to the present in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Milant was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
Length:
10.5 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Born in 1943 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—Father emigrates from France to Wisconsin—Details about father’s background remain unclear—Mother grew up in Wisconsin, her family of German descent—Family moves from an apartment in downtown Milwaukee to the suburbs, into a house his father built—Father works in the machine trade, eventually starts his own business—Influence of mother’s interest in crafts and cooking—Two younger sisters and their careers—Attending parochial school in the neighborhood—Father refuses to serve for France during World War II—Exposure to mixed groups of students at Nicolet High School—Not belonging to just one clique—First learns printmaking techniques in high school—Taking art classes and theater—Hanging out around the printing presses on the first floor of his father’s factory building—Watching his father build and repair things around the house—Father’s desire to learn the newest methods of how to build things—Developing interest in cooking—Assembling instruments in his father’s factory after school—Influence of this hands-on work experience—Renting a painting studio in downtown Milwaukee with his friend Keith Schall—Family trip to visit cousins in Merced, California: first visit to Los Angeles—Studies art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—Traveling around Europe for one summer with his college art class—Having intellectual discussions with one of his art professors—Takes a trip to New York City with friends, sees the Velvet Underground perform—Seeing a work of art as opposed to seeing “about” the work—Hearing about Tamarind Lithography Workshop through his friend Anthony Stoeveken—Enjoyment of printmaking and its structured process of making—Referencing popular culture in his paintings, using abstract imagery in his prints.
Stoeveken accepted into the Tamarind pre-training program at the University of New Mexico (UNM)—Deciding to apply for the MFA program at UNM—Rigorous requirements to complete the MFA program at UNM—Tensions between students and faculty—Exploring Sante Fe, Taos, and other parts of the Southwest—Working on shaped paintings based on cloud forms—Clouds and mountains as symbols of the interchangeability of matter—Visiting Stoeveken at Tamarind in Los Angeles during Thanksgiving break—Asking Garo Antreasian about openings at Tamarind, wanting to move to LA—Learning new techniques and how to professionalize under Antreasian—Strong photography department at UNM—Faculty in the art department at UNM—Other graduate students at UNM—Organizing a trip with friends to Mexico—Viewing the landscape, sky, and ocean as deceptive spaces—Leaving UNM without receiving a degree—Living in Hollywood and starting at Tamarind—Avoiding being drafted during the Vietnam War—Weekly lunch meetings with June Wayne at Tamarind—Organized talks and meeting invited artists at Tamarind—Other trainees in the Tamarind program—Serge Lozingot—Drawing upon his past work experience in his father’s factory—Friendly competition among Tamarind trainees—Working on prints with Los Angeles artists, including Billy Al Bengston, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, and Ken Price—Ken Tyler and Gemini GEL—Tamarind as a training program, not a publishing enterprise—Importance of collaboration in print production—Going to art openings around town—Working on prints with Ed Ruscha in Ruscha’s studio—Being asked to leave Tamarind by June Wayne—Wayne recommends that Milant open up his own print workshop—Putting together a business proposal while finishing up at Tamarind—Looking for investors and a lawyer—Recession in the early '70s—Getting set up in a warehouse on N. Manhattan Place—Founding Cirrus Editions as a way to publish California artists—Opens Cirrus Gallery in the warehouse’s unused space a year later—Meeting artists to exhibit through Doug Edge, Linda Shaffer, and other friends—Thomas E., “Terry,” Inch becomes an investor in Cirrus—Starting a subscription program—Traveling around the US and Europe to meet curators and art dealers—Working with Bruce Nauman on an early set of prints.
Doug Edge’s suggestion that unused warehouse space be used for exhibitions— Opens first exhibition with works by Robert Marks—Fumi Kaneko, early curator of Cirrus prints—Artists with studios around Beaudry Street—Terry O’Shea—Doug Edge—Greg Card—Jun Kaneko—Barbara Smith—Robert Overby—Not much support from local collectors, more support from outside the city—Keeping the programs for the print workshop and the gallery separate—Close friendships in the early years—Guy de Cointet— Jean St. Pierre opens Newspace—Emergence of alternative art spaces in the 1970s—Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA) and Bob Smith—Responsibilities as an early board member of LAICA— Judy Chicago and the feminist art movement in the 1970s—Charles Christopher Hill—Support of Nicholas Wilder—Relations with other gallery owners in Los Angeles and San Francisco—Participating in Art Basel in 1973—Meeting other gallery owners and fine art publishers in Europe—Early working relationship with Marian Goodman—“Multiples” versus prints—“Reproduction” versus “original print”—Not concerned about conservation issues—Ken Tyler—Stanley Grinstein—Early staff at Cirrus—Some association with people in entertainment industry—Hollywood area around N. Manhattan Place, not much interaction with neighbors—Alternative ways of working with materials and use of light and plastics creating a distinct California aesthetic in the 1970s—Jay McCafferty—Mike Balog—Attending a performance by Chris Burden at F Space—Constant struggles in the early years.
Exhibiting artists from different “camps” in the city—Interest in using technology to push forward thinking in the visual arts—Eric Orr’s Zero Mass and Sunrise—Giuseppe Panza collecting conceptual, installation-based artworks—Difficulties in recreating the original experience of these historical artworks in the present—Meeting regularly with artists who wanted to show at the gallery—Greg Card—David Trowbridge—Charles Christopher Hill—Karen Carson—Gloria Kisch—Cirrus representing an experimental attitude, artistic investigations into materials and abstraction—Not focusing on creating a brand for the gallery—Difficulties of supporting artists who don’t have an established market—Artists not expecting their works to sell profitably in the 1970s as compared to now—No previous training or experience in running a gallery—Tasks more tedious and rate of communication much slower in the 1970s—Relationships with collectors and dealers then based more on dialogue, not just acquisition—Participating in art fairs in Europe and in the US—Early subscribers to Cirrus graphic editions—Thought was to have more established galleries exhibit his artists eventually—Art museums were not collecting contemporary art—Photography exhibitions at Cirrus—William Allen—Exhibiting conceptual works that incorporated photography—Simon Lowinsky—Early exhibition of color photography co-organized with Claude Deloffre—Narrative art exhibition—Personal collection of artwork by California artists.