Dagny Corcoran, Bookseller And Fixture Of The Los Angeles Art Scene, Died At The Age Of 77

On November 9 in Los Angeles, Dagny Corcoran passed away. She was a renowned California art bookseller whose bustling dinner parties and shop served as rest stops for a generation of artists, bookworms, and Hollywood literati. She was 77.

Her longtime friend Gregory Evans said that multiple myeloma was to blame.

Ms. Corcoran’s Art Catalogues specialized in the publications created for and about the museum and gallery shows, just as its straightforward name implied. It debuted in 1977 in a light-filled second-story location on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and quickly established itself as a leader in its area, consulted by collectors and academics all over the world.

The well-made art book, according to Ms. Corcoran, transcended practicality and existed as something close to art — “as a sculpture, as a limited edition, as a print,” she once said. Books produced by artists as a part of their work held an even higher esteem.

In a way, she explained, “it’s a translation of something that happens to an artist and is conveyed to me and the reader.” “The artwork is sent to me by the artist and it enters my heart here.”

Her shop, which has been in operation in Culver City since it opened and has since been in many locations, has always welcomed loungers. Mr. Evans, the curator and business manager for the artist David Hockney, who painted Ms. Corcoran’s portrait in 2014, stated, “On Santa Monica, there was a big table.” She began eating quick meals there. And the art community quickly adopted it as a go-to location. Someone was present at all times.

Douglas S. Cramer, a collector and television producer, reportedly referred to Ms. Corcoran as “kind of a den mother” to the Los Angeles art community. She eventually assumed the moniker “Dagny” and served as a lynchpin for the careers of authors and artists including Ed Ruscha, Ed, and Nancy Kienholz, John Baldessari, Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal, Walter De Maria, Richard Jackson, and later, a new generation of artists including Arthur Jafa thanks to a connection with the Paris-based journal Cahiers d’Art.

She was bred in prosperity as a part of the Janss real estate family, which helped to develop vast portions of Southern California, but she led a fairly modest life and ran her shop with an eye toward both the big wheel and the cheap shopper.

According to a blog post by Los Angeles bookseller Lee Kaplan, “I would invariably tell her that her mid-’80s ‘leave two, take one bookcase — where customers were encouraged to bring two books of their own to leave in exchange for one book already on the shelves — was still the most ingenious bookseller’s ploy I’d ever encountered.”

Dagny Corcoran, Bookseller And Fixture Of The Los Angeles Art Scene, Died At The Age Of 77

On May 4, 1945, Dagny Cluff Janss was born in Los Angeles. She went to high school in the heart of Los Angeles and grew up on a ranch in Thousand Oaks. Her father, developer and intrepid art collector Edwin Janss Jr. was well-known for his political activism and for hosting legendary dinner parties he dubbed his Salon des Refusés, which were frequented by eccentric artists and other individuals who were excluded from or never included on the more traditional social calendars.

According to Ms. Corcoran, the final straw in the divorce between her father and mother, Virginia Caswell, was a Robert Rauschenberg sculpture that her father had brought home, which included a stuffed chicken.

She claimed that her mother effectively told her, “It’s the Rauschenberg or me.” “The Rauschenberg was picked by my father.”

Ms. Corcoran earned a history degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. She married Los Angeles art dealer James Corcoran after her first marriage, which lasted just a short time, ended in divorce. That union also broke up in divorce. Timothy Corcoran, their son, and Peter and Lawrence Janss, her brothers, are all that is left of her.

Ms. Corcoran got her start in book sales with a job as the pioneering curator Walter Hopps’ assistant. The industrialist Norton Simon, who was taking control of the Pasadena museum to display his own collection, planned to throw away the entire library of contemporary art, according to Mr. Hopps, who was the museum’s director and organized the important Marcel Duchamp retrospective there in 1963. Mr. Hopps informed Ms. Corcoran of this in the middle of the 1970s.

She sped over right away and gathered everything. In the trunk of an old BMW, I must have stored 750 books that I purchased for $1 each, Ms. Corcoran claimed to The Wall Street Journal in 2017.

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She now had thousands of volumes in her collection, many of which she appeared to be very knowledgeable about. She left Los Angeles for a few years during what she referred to as her “Barbara Stanwyck time,” and she primarily sold books via mail from a cow ranch in Northern California.

But after that, she went back to the city and opened up business again, first at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then the Museum of Contemporary Art, before joining the Marian Goodman Gallery and splitting her time between Los Angeles and Paris.

The monograph, “Walter De Maria: The Object, the Action, the Aesthetic Feeling,” which includes her chronology, was released this fall by Gagosian Gallery and Rizzoli. She also spent many years conducting extensive research on the work of Mr. De Maria, an American sculptor and landscape artist who passed away in 2013.

In her later years in Los Angeles, Ms. Corcoran turned her one-bedroom apartment in Century City into her own salon, hosting several home-cooked dinners and other gatherings that drew members of the art world from all over, including outside of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight observed that visitors “would tightly wrap around the big dinner table in the center of the room, pack into a small sitting area nearby, stand cheek by jowl in the entryway and bedroom, spill out onto small terraces over the driveway or swimming pool far below and, if need be, balance on the edge of a bathtub.” David Hockney was permitted to smoke, he said, “but secretly.”

Ms. Corcoran was “a brilliant chef, like her dad, she shone at any and all events and was an encyclopedia of the art world and all its numerous books,” Mr. Ruscha, who knew her for decades, wrote in an email.

Ms. Corcoran detested nostalgia and yearned to renew herself right up until the very end. But when she reconfigured her shop at the Los Angeles County Museum, she stated that she thought meeting the people who read books in person and in real-time was a crucial part of selling books, at least if you were any good at it.

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