A voracious collector, community builder, and champion of emergent contemporary artists, Diana Zlotnick tapped into the Los Angeles art world at a particularly charged moment of post-war creative ferment. Today, the art milieu of the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Los Angeles has taken on nearly mythic qualities, conjuring Bohemian fetes in canyons, the experimental openness of CalArts, Venice Beach warehouse studios, and, broadly, an explosion of material and conceptual inquiry through performance, sculpture, video, painting, publication, and more. Zlotnick immersed herself wholeheartedly in this atmosphere, led by fearless curiosity, dedication, and deeply felt connections to the works that she brought home.
Collect art that cancels out the rest of the world…—Diana Zlotnick, Newsletter on the Arts, 2013
Born in 1927 and raised in Los Angeles, Diana Zlotnick (née Shirley) attended Fairfax High School and would later support herself as a schoolteacher. She met Harry Zlotnick at a USO dance, and, after a whirlwind romance, the couple married on July 3, 1955. Being a schoolteacher was decidedly not Ms. Zlotnick’s calling, nor was being a dental hygienist (she flunked the program). Encouraged by her husband, who was able to support the family as a veterinarian, Zlotnick stopped working—and started collecting. With determination, savvy, and a healthy dose of chutzpah, she went on to amass an extensive collection from major artists as their stars were rising – among those who most captivated her were Wallace Berman, Chris Burden, Llyn Foulkes, George Herms, Channa Horwitz, Gloria Kisch, Ed Ruscha, and Richard and Shirley Pettibone.
Zlotnick herself marked her beginning as a “serious” collector” with the purchase of a John Altoon painting from Ferus Gallery in the late 1950s. Shortly thereafter, she would acquire assemblage works from Daniel LaRue Johnson and George Herms and, in 1963, she bought her first Ed Ruscha at an auction for $30. The Studio City house that the Zlotnicks purchased in the mid-1960s was to become not only a home, but alternately a museum, gallery, and salon, with artists and art aficionados frequently passing through. Diana paid little mind to what “the neighbors might think” in the well-to-do community of Laurelwood – the couple’s younger daughter Marianne recalls coming home from high school one day to discover Timothy Leary as a guest. When room to hang artwork became scarce, Zlotnick patched over the dining room windows to make more wallspace. At one point, she encouraged her older daughter Bonnie and her friends to express themselves by drawing directly on their bedroom walls as they pleased. Her husband was even known to treat artists’ animals – Marianne recalls a postcard from Wallace Berman thanking Harry for “the medicine for Rover.”
Nowhere, perhaps, is Diana Zlotnick’s enthusiasm, curiosity, and zeal more apparent than within the pages of Newsletter on the Arts (NOTA), which she wrote, published, and disseminated on a sometimes monthly, sometimes seasonal, basis from 1971–2019. In its earliest incarnation, the typewritten missive was simply headlined “What’s Up?,” a nod to her boots-on-the-ground style of observing and absorbing the city’s burbling art scene. Through Zlotnick’s idiosyncratic and frequently diaristic chronicling, Newsletter on the Arts shared not only exhibitions and performances in Los Angeles, as well as LA artists working in New York and abroad, but also births, marriage announcements, and obituaries, grant recipients and Guggenheim fellowships, acquittals, forthcoming publications, wanted ads, investment advice, personal invitations, and – significantly – her own art criticism.
The picture that emerges is one of an art lover writing herself into history from a place of pure passion, undaunted by any trappings of art world exclusivity.
As her confidence and collection grew, Zlotnick continued to carve out a space for her own reflections on the art she saw, including pointed contradictions to the more formal critiques printed in the LA Times and elsewhere. “The Los Angeles Times Does It Again,” Zlotnick wrote in the Spring 1978 issue of NOTA, “Critics Suzanne Muchnic and William Wilson failed to understand and enjoy the geometric forms of Channa Horwitz that bend, flow, expand, and diminish within a linear matrix.” Her ability to articulate her thinking on the works she loved did not stay confined to NOTA, either. She wrote a catalog essay for the 1986 show Southern California Assemblage: Past and Present, hosted events in her Studio City home, took a curatorial role in helping to organize exhibitions, and led classes and seminars including at the University of Southern California. The picture that emerges is one of an art lover writing herself into history from a place of pure passion, undaunted by any trappings of art world exclusivity.
To engage with Diana Zlotnick and the works that she loved is to glimpse a truly unique collector, one who cast herself not merely as a benefactor, but as a co-conspirator. She worked hard and thought hard; as her daughter Marianne put it, “Aside from her children and grandchildren, art was her life to the end.” Indeed, prior to her passing in 2021, she brought Ed Ruscha’s Thirty-four Parking Lots when she went for her Covid vaccine at Dodger Stadium – in order to point out Ruscha’s photograph of the same parking lot, taken decades earlier.
Diana Zlotnick’s legacy as a collector lives on in the myriad institutions to which she gifted works, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Laguna Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. LA Modern Auctions is proud to be a part of this legacy, and to celebrate the world of Diana Zlotnick and the historic milieu that she fervently bolstered as a collector and connector.
There aren't many collectors like Diana Zlotnick, though there ought to be...Not content to play the passive art consumer, she quickly began circumventing the gallery system, approaching artists directly — visiting studios, exploring work in depth and developing real relationships.