40 Years of Lost City Arts
Jim Elkind, founder Lost City Arts—of one of the most influential design galleries in New York City—has design in his DNA. Elkind grew up in a modernist house full of mid-century modern furniture and spent many weekends traveling into New York with his mother, visiting museums and exploring the city. He fondly recalls her pointing up at the skyscrapers and their architectural details, encouraging and instilling in him a curiosity about his surroundings and an attention to detail that would go on to shape his future career.
The idea to open a gallery originally came to Elkind during a visit to the annual juried art show at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he attended college. The vetted show featured several hundred artists, many of whom, he realized, were extremely talented but would never make it into the mainstream art world. Taking a page from his entrepreneur father’s book, Elkind imagined opening a gallery in New York called the Gallery of the Unknown Artist where he would feature work by up-and-coming artists from universities around the country.
Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1922, Nell Blaine’s childhood was adverse. Described as a sickly, cross-eyed child, Blaine was raised in a modest, cramped home in the Depression-era south. Terribly near-sighted, her parents had her fitted with glasses at the age of two, literally changing her perspective on life and enabling her to truly see the world for the first time. At the age of five, Blaine told her mother that she wanted to make art, and from there, her path was set. After several successful surgeries to correct her crossed eyes, Blaine's drawing skills improved exponentially. As a young woman, she attended the Richmond School of Art and later moved to New York City to study under Hans Hoffmann. Although restrained financially, Blaine flourished in the big city, like “a bird out of a cage”. Inspired by Piet Mondrian and Fernand Léger, her artistic style transformed from strict realism to abstraction and in 1944, Blaine joined the American Abstract Artists Group—the youngest member ever inducted. She held her first solo exhibition at Jane Street Gallery in Greenwich Village—a collective that she helped to found—and became an integral member of the Second Generation of New York School Painters, a group that included Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher. From the mid-1940s on, Blaine’s work reached considerable acclaim, garnering attention and praise from Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim, the latter named her painting Great White Creature “best in the show” at the exhibition of the American Abstract Artists in 1945.
In 1959, Blaine contracted bulbar-spinal polio while visiting Greece, paralyzing the artist and confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. After intensive therapy—and an impressive display of iron will—Blaine was able to regain movement in her hands and began painting in oils with her left, and sketching and using watercolors with her right. When asked how her art changed after the diagnosis, she remarked, “What I did afterward represents me, myself, free and detached.” Despite her health, Blaine continued to travel widely and paint constantly. She saw painting as a means of celebrating life, and remarked that her pallet had every color represented. Throughout her lengthy career, Blaine had over sixty solo-shows and her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles among many others.
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