Robert Graham: An Appreciation
Bob Graham was a gentleman. Always immaculate in a white shirt with the cuffs rolled back just slightly, he stood tall, proud and strong. A generous host, he would make sure that his guests were properly welcomed. I will always think of him, at a large party, standing and holding a cigar. He was a powerful presence.
Yesterday I got the sad news of his passing. I thought about how I would honor his memory. As I dressed today, the first thing I did was to roll back my sleeves, just twice. The next thing I did was to visit his work, and revel in that power and that presence. This man was an incredibly prolific humanist.
I drove downtown to see The Great Bronze Doors of the Cathedral. On a clear Sunday, the monumental doors are the perfect portals, standing testament to the sculptor’s architectural knowledge. I thought of the integration of the panels, referencing the heritage and culture of the city. I walked over to the Music Center to see the Dance Door, a work that was originally commissioned by Frederick and Marcia Weisman. It reminded me of Marcia Weisman’s essential role in the founding of MOCA, during the redevelopment of Bunker Hill. And, at LACMA, the bronze Graham column stands tall and strong in the angular gallery that contains the permanent collection of ceramics in the American Galleries.
Graham’s last show was at my gallery. It came about fairly quickly, and at the suggestion of his studio manager Noriko Fujinami, included work from the 1970s and recent drawings. I let people know about the show by sponsoring a spot on our local NPR radio station. Artist Tony Berlant heard that radio spot, and commented to me, “I liked hearing about Bob’s show on the radio. It made it sound like a real cultural event.” Indeed, it was a cultural event, and one that bonded me to a true gentleman and great sculptor.
The last time I saw Bob was in his new building, sitting in the upstairs studio. He was still immaculately dressed, though he had recently fallen. I brought a bottle of wine, and suggested that fine tequila and cigars would have been better. We laughed together, and he said he would drink the wine. Most of all, he wanted me to see the new work in the studio.