After three decades of championing Japanese artists and movements while sparking a burgeoning art scene in Los Angeles, the founders of Blum & Poe are parting ways. Jeff Poe announced yesterday (August 14) that he is leaving the art gallery, which will retain its name as it continues under Tim Blum.
“It’s been an incredible run,” said Poe in a statement. While the gallerist didn’t clarify why he’s leaving the Los Angeles gallery, which has satellite locations in Tokyo and New York, Poe said that he will be “going down a simpler and more fluid path,” and will “continue to work with artists and art.”
As one of the eponymous founders leaves, Matt Bangser, the gallery’s longtime New York-based partner, will take on the newly-created position of Managing Partner. “We are entering this next chapter with tremendous forward momentum, and I am excited to build on our successes with Tim and the team,” said Bangser.
Blum and Poe founded the gallery in 1994 in Santa Monica with just $25,000 between them—just enough to cover the first year’s rent. They met while Poe was working at Kim Light Gallery alongside a girlfriend of Blum, who was living in Tokyo but visited the gallery during trips to Los Angeles.
It wasn’t an obvious match. Poe had formerly played in a stream of punk bands with names like Blissed Out Fatalists and Blue Daisies, and had even turned down an offer to drum for Jane’s Addiction, while Blum had spent four years immersing himself in Japan’s art world. The duo opened their own gallery just a month after Blum returned to the U.S..
But Poe’s connections to established and emerging artists in Los Angeles, such as Paul McCarthy, Anya Gallaccio, Robert Mapplethorpe and Sharon Lockhart, and Blum’s knowledge of contemporary artists in Japan like Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami proved to be a winning combination. In 1999, Blum & Poe’s solo booth at Art Basel debuted Murakami’s work, with its blend of pop and fine art drew that “guffaws and chuckles and chortles and snorts,” Blum told Artnet News in 2020. But the booth sold out, and Blum & Poe rapidly became a mainstay of the nascent Los Angeles art scene.
The beginnings of Culver City’s art scene
“It’s been an extraordinary journey building this gallery with Jeff,” said Blum in a statement, adding that their beginnings “with a paltry sum of money and a 12,000-square-foot space and taking the gallery through this explosive global growth within the art world is nothing short of remarkable.”
By 2003, the gallery had moved into a larger space in Los Angeles’ Culver City, later moving down the street to its current complex on La Cienega. The area began to eclipse competing neighborhoods as the city’s predominant art enclave, complete with thriving bars and restaurants. Other galleries, like Anna Helwing, sixspace and LAXart, followed Blum & Poe’s lead.
“We don’t want to necessarily encourage it,” Blum told Observer in 2013, referring to building an art scene in Los Angeles rivaling that of New York. “Because we don’t want the same thing to happen here. We go to New York just as regularly as everyone else, and very rarely do I walk away from a stroll through Chelsea thinking about much of anything… It’s so routine.”
But Blum & Poe did eventually open up a space in New York in 2014, the same year it expanded to Tokyo. Now representing more than 60 artists and estates from more than 16 countries, the gallery has presented retrospectives of late artists like Robert Colescott and Thornton Dial and worked with curators like Alison Gingeras and Mika Yoshitake.
Past exhibitions encompassing art movements and collectives have included a show on the long-forgotten Japanese Mono-ha school, a two-part traveling exhibition of the European postwar movement CoBrA and a rereading of Brazilian modernism, in addition to a 2019 viewing focused on Japanese artwork of the 1980s and 1990s and the 2020 revisionist take on the 1959 Museum of Modern Art exhibition New Images of Man.
In addition to shows, Blum & Poe’s programming has expanded to include lectures, a performance series, an annual book fair and an online platform known as Blum & Poe Broadcasts. The gallery, which will announce a range of new initiatives in the coming months, also became one of the first green-certified galleries in the U.S. in 2015 and is a member of the Gallery Climate Coalition, which works towards sustainability and carbon reduction in the commercial art world.