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Happy (early) birthday, Irving Blum!

October 7, 2010 |  8:45 am

IMG_2028 This month, a gallery announcement landed in art-world mailboxes and inboxes with a bit more splash than usual. On one side of the folded card: a photograph of the storied art dealer Irving Blum posing on a boat called Ferus Gallery. On the other, an ode from the ever-popular art critic Dave Hickey.

"I would like a small clause written into my social contract that excused me from attending events at which Irving Blum is not in attendance," Hickey's statement begins. " The pleasure of his company, the generosity of his eye, and the infectiousness of his enthusiasm are legendary, of course, but there is also the intoxicating pleasure of just floating on the laughter and flux of Irvingosity."

This is not your usual art-flack verbiage and, the suggestion is, not your usual show. "Happy Birthday Mr. Blum," at Louis Stern Fine Arts, opening Thursday night and running through Nov. 6, is a rare chance to see Blum in action, organizing an exhibition again, years after he ran Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and Blum Helman in New York. Never mind that his 80th birthday is actually Dec. 1, after the show closes.

Louis Stern calls Blum a "rock star of the art world, whether you consider him a dealer, a collector or a raconteur. Who tells better stories than Irving?" He says the show will have 32 works by artists Blum "knows or admires," just over half of which are for sale. Those on loan include three John Altoon drawings that Blum had given to LACMA, a 1985 Bruce Nauman work on paper from MOCA and an ice-cream-cone drawing by Wayne Thiebaud from San Francisco dealer John Berggruen.

Stern said he asked Hickey to write "something short" several months ago and was thrilled with Hickey's contribution. "We have 50 RSVPs to opening night -- more than we've ever had -- and we didn't even ask for them," says Stern.

It probably helped that Hickey ended his homage by saying that if he had to choose between reading a fantastically comprehensive book on Blum and looking at pictures in his presence, he "would choose the party every time. RSVP."

-- Jori Finkel

Image: "Happy Birthday Mr. Blum!" gallery invite, featuring a photograph by William Claxton. Credit: Louis Stern Fine Arts