Merle Armitage, one of America's leading advocates of modern culture, collected with the same zest he demonstrated in other aspects of his remarkable life. An avant-garde book designer, he also was the local administrator of various federal art projects and one of the country's most successful theater impresarios. Settling in Los Angeles in 1921, Armitage founded the Los Angeles Grand Opera Association and later managed the Philharmonic Auditorium, bringing Martha Graham and Leopold Stokowski here and staging the first L.A. performance of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.
A participant in the circle of artists and writers surrounding local rare-book dealer Jake Zeitlin, Armitage pursued art and writing in addition to his collecting, which he began as a teenager. His is a highly personal collection, one that represents a modern sensibility. The prints, drawings, and photographs that he generously donated to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art (today's LACMA) beginning in 1935 date largely from the late 1920s through the 1930s and represent several artists, many of whom he knew personally. Although works representing a variety of techniques on paper are featured, most are modern, as the lithography and photography processes were invented just a century earlier.
They vary from the minimalist geometric composition of little-known Carlos Dyer to the representational American scenes of Grant wood and Millard Sheets, but all share a sense of simplification and drama. Some of the artists in the collection were the focus of Armitage's groundbreaking book series on promising young talents, including californians Elise, Henrietta Shore, Sheets, and Edward Weston.