The portrait is arguably the clearest illustration of the roles of status and patronage in the arts. Historically, portraits were reserved for the great men (and a few women) who shaped society, religion, and culture—or who had the money to pay for it. They proclaim of their subjects: “I exist and I am important.” In an era when many feel that art should remain above and separate from commerce—it should be available to all—the portrait, with its connotations of class and wealth, and its singular focus, often seems archaic and outdated.
The exhibition Joan Quinn Captured at the Brand Library Art Center aims to challenge this viewpoint by presenting dozens of portraits of one woman, Joan Agajanian Quinn, from “what is perhaps the largest portrait collection by contemporary artists in the world,” according to the organizers. For over forty years Quinn has been a passionate supporter of the arts in Southern California and beyond. A Los Angeles native, she was introduced to the Ferus Gallery group in the 1950s through artist Billy Al Bengston, who would race his motorcycle at a track owned by her father. This began her decades-long role as patron, promoter, and chronicler of contemporary art, fashion, and culture. In 1978 Quinn was chosen by Andy Warhol to be the West Coast editor of his Interview magazine, and she held positions at numerous other publications, including as L.A. editor of Germany-based Manipulator magazine and senior editor of Stuff. Since 1993, she has hosted “The Joan Quinn Profiles,” a show on cable television that features interviews with artists, designers, actors, and musicians—two per episode, for 400 episodes and counting. She has served on numerous arts, film, and architecture organizations, including a stint as the longest-sitting member of the California Arts Council. The exhibition is not only a composite portrait of Quinn; it also offers a personal and subjective lens focused on various artists and movements. Through one face, viewers see many stories.