Remebering Jay Belloli (1944-2021)
I write this column saddened over the passing of my lifelong mentor Jay Belloli, who left us on May 21. A humble and unassuming man, he was a major force in the LA art scene for over 40 years. He mounted important and thought-provoking exhibitions, and he championed the careers of a countless number of Southern California artists. He was thoughtful and honest with me when he critiqued my work, and he was generous with his time editing my grant and residency proposals.
Jay was the Jonathan Club’s and Art Foundation's art consultant from 1990 to 2006, and he served on the JAF Board as advisor when I was hired in late 2010. Jay was instrumental in the Club’s and JAF’s early efforts to collect contemporary art, most notably of world-class artists Peter Alexander and Robert Glenn Ketchum. He worked to secure the Theodore Lukits estate just prior to the artist’s passing, and Lukits’ beautiful landscapes of the Grand Canyon and the Southwest proudly adorn the Town Club’s reception desk and upper floors.
Jay was best known for his twenty-year service as Director of Gallery Programs at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Under his leadership exceptional exhibitions were produced, to the point that I recall LA artists in the ‘90’s vying for inclusion in an Armory show. As an art student in 1995 I joined the Armory staff as Gallery Intern. While there I was given a brilliant contemporary art education, as I was put to work on shows that included major artists like Betye Saar, Judy Chicago, and Ed Ruscha. In ‘96 I transcribed the exhibition catalogue interview for installation artist Tim Hawkinson, whose career exploded on a massive international scale just the following year. When my internship ended and I just wouldn’t leave, Jay hired me as one of his two assistants. In that role I soon found myself working on Jay’s groundbreaking exhibitions Radical Past in ‘99 and The Universe in 2001, both of which were collaborations between the Armory, the Norton Simon Museum, ArtCenter College of Design, the Huntington Library, and other Pasadena sites. This multi-institutional formula became the early template for the Getty’s later Pacific Standard Time series.
Since his retirement in 2010 he devoted his time to curating his own dream exhibitions. His 2012 History of Space Photography show opened at ArtCenter and traveled the globe, after which he immediately followed up with Mars: Astronomy and Culture in 2017. He curated the Claire Falkenstein: Beyond Sculpture retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2014, and in 2016 he was served as the museum’s interim executive director.
Tireless to the end, Jay mounted one last thoughtful exhibition this year, Earth From Space at ArtCenter. The exhibition is sadly not viewable in person due to the pandemic, but I invite you to peruse it online here.
Jay was a quiet human who made a giant impact on the contemporary art scene and who was a forerunner to the current curatorial trend of merging art with science. I count myself as one of many who are honored to be part of his extended “family,” and who will never forget him.