Irving Blum (born 1930) is primarily known as the gallerist who introduced Andy Warhol’s work to the West Coast, famously showcasing his original 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans in his and wife Shirley Blum’s Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles circa 1962.
Irving Blum made his way to San Francisco after being honorably discharged from the US Air Force and, by the suggestion of a friend, meeting and eventually working for modernist furniture magnate, Hans Knoll. Blum relocated to New York and developed his taste for art while working at Knoll Associates and visiting galleries during the height of the Abstract Expressionism movement. After his tenure with Knoll, he headed back to LA and approached then co-owner of Ferus, Walter Hopps. Hopps suggested Blum take over the portion of the gallery that other co-owner, Ed Kienholz, was relinquishing. The rest is history.
Blum visited Warhol’s studio in 1961 and initially found very little to be excited about. At the time, Warhol was producing pieces inspired by comic book panels and characters, like his notable Dick Tracy portrait. Only after a discussion with Ivan Karp did Blum reconsider Warhol for inclusion in his gallery. However, upon returning to Warhol’s studio months after his first visit, Blum found out that he had given up his comic paintings and was instead painting soup cans. As Warhol related, someone was doing the cartoon thing better, a reference to Roy Lichtenstein. Blum was able to push past Warhol’s reticence and convince him to show his cans in California. The works weren’t particularly popular, however, with only 5 or 6 pieces being sold and some slight pillorying in the art press. In the end, Blum bought back the few works sold, picking up on Warhol’s desire to keep all the pieces of the series intact as one set, and offered to pay him $1000 for the whole lot. Warhol accepted, with payments in the form of $100 a month installments. That very set now hangs in the MoMA.
Currently, Irving Blum prefers to stay out of the limelight, except to attend arts fairs like Switzerland’s Art Basel.