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Everett Ellin papers, 1928-2013

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Ellin (Everett) papers

Biographical Note

Everett Ellin was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1928 and died in 2011 in Diana, Texas. While he is most known in the art world as a Los Angeles dealer of contemporary art, his BS in Industrial and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan (1949) and JD from Harvard Law School (1952) allowed him to follow diverse career paths before and after he ran the Everett Ellin Gallery (1957-1958) and Everett Ellin Gallery, Inc. (1960-1963). Ellin is regarded as one of the key local gallery owners responsible for animating the mid-century Los Angeles art scene by showcasing contemporary art from New York. Before opening the gallery, Ellin served as a US Air Force officer in the Korean War, assisted the Vice President of the William Morris Agency, clerked for a justice of the California Supreme Court, and served as Deputy House Counsel for Columbia Pictures. In 1959 he opened the Everett Ellin Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard, a move which developed out of his experience of writing gallery contracts for his girlfriend and future wife, the painter Joan Jacobs, and her artist friends. In this first iteration of his gallery, he showed California abstract expressionist artists, including Bruce Beasley, to whom he gave his first show.

Ellin's hunger to see the world of abstract expressionism in its native environment led him to take a job in New York as Director of the Contemporary Art Department at French & Company. Recommending him for the job was Clement Greenberg, "the mastermind and spiritual leader of the gallery," as Ellin put it in the Smithsonian Interview. Greenberg also served as his mentor during his directorship. It was this experience at French and Company that brought him into direct contact with the most high-profile figures in contemporary art at the time, including David Smith, whose successful show at the gallery was organized by Ellin. When French and Company changed leadership in 1960, he returned to Los Angeles to open his second gallery, Everett Ellin Gallery Inc., on Sunset Boulevard, where he organized a version of his David Smith show. His time in New York also allowed him to bring the works of Jean Arp, Helen Frankenthaler, several Dadaists, Arshile Gorky, and Jasper Johns (in a retrospective show among others), to Los Angeles.

After closing his second gallery in 1963, Ellin was hired by Frank Lloyd to work at the Marlborough Gallery upon its opening, where he organized a Jackson Pollock retrospective exhibition. This was followed by a post at the Guggenheim Museum as Officer-in-Charge of Public Affairs, a position that required him to build attendance numbers at the museum and increase its publicity. His success in increasing museum attendance to reach "the millions" resulted in his promotion to Assistant Director. He left the Guggenheim not long after he became interested in "bringing the electronic age to museums" after reading Marshall McLuhan. His article "Museums as a Medium" reveals the formation of the ideas that led him to leave the Guggenheim to create the Museum Computer Network, an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation and hosted by the Museum of Modern Art from 1968 to 1970. A pioneering digital humanist, Ellin was perhaps the first to think of digitizing museum images and textual records to make them widely accessible. The Museum Computer Network is still a thriving organization today.

Ellin's work in promoting the digitization of museum information can be viewed as the transition point between his work in the art world and his subsequent work in decidedly non-art-related areas, such as medical digital imaging technology. Following the direction illuminated by reading McLuhan, and building on his college degree in industrial and mechanical engineering, Ellin left the art world at the end of his period as Executive Director of the Museum Computer Network to pursue a multifarious and largely entrepreneurial career as a developer and inventor of different media technologies, an executive at Sony Corporation, a management consultant, a professor of marketing, business and technology, and a regional/urban planner. In his later years he was regularly sought after to give lectures at museums about Jackson Pollock, his work as a consultant, and the art world in general.

Sources cited: John Tain, Acquisition Approval Form for "Everett Ellin papers, 1928-2013, accession no. 2015.M.22," January 27, 2015.

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