Artist Joe Blaustein Honored at TAG

Artist Joe Blaustein will be honored at an artists reception on May 14.
Photo: Shayan Asgharnia

Artist and teacher Joe Blaustein’s exhibition “No Hesitation: the Art of Joe Blaustein” will be featured at TAG through June 4. Also at the museum will be the artwork of his friends and students “Hangin’ with Joe.”

There will be an artist reception for Blaustein, 98, from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 14. TAG Gallery is a fine art gallery located on Museum Row in the Miracle Mile Wilshire District, 5458 Wilshire Boulevard.

One of four children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Blaustein grew up in New York City. He attended Bucknell University, but after Pearl Harbor, left college to join the Navy. He served aboard the Destroyer USS Black as a second lieutenant. After the war, he returned to school, where he completed his degree.

He married young and the couple had a daughter. The marriage didn’t last. But while working in L.A. in advertising for large department stores and later as a vice president of a music company, he met his second wife Paula.

He took art at UCLA Extension, and eventually started teaching part-time in 1956.

On November 4, 1966, Blaustein, 40, was visiting Florence with Paula who was pregnant with the second of the couple’s three children.

There was a catastrophic flood when the Arno River overflowed, killing more than a hundred people, damaging thousands of priceless works of art and submerging a million books in the city’s low-lying Biblioteca Nazionale.

Blaustein went into the flooded city, snapping photos with his Rollei twin-lens reflex. Over the next five days, he shot 9 rolls of Ektachrome slide film (the only color photos of the disaster) documenting the horrific damage inflicted on the city.

The slides languished in his basement until the summer of 1999, when he went down and discovered that they were still in good condition.

Through contacts in Florence and with the help of a friend, he was able to get the photos to Carlo Francini, who heads the UNESCO office for the City of Florence.

The photos (almost 90 and among the very few color photos of the flood) were donated to Florence in 2013. A book “The Colors of the Flood: Past, Present and Future Through the Unpublished Color Pictures by Joe Blaustein,” was printed in 2015. The City awarded Blaustein, now a Topanga resident, a medal for his photos.

Filmmaker Alan Griswold produced an award-winning short documentary “Joe Blaustein and the Flood of Florence,” (2017) which will also be screened free at TAG from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.

In the film, Blaustein tells how he and his wife took a side trip to Florence after a trip to the Vatican. “I found a place 20 ft down the Ponte Vecchio, facing the Arno river. It was a very small place. It was November 2 when we got there and it was pouring. We went to the room and while sleeping, at 3 a.m., my wife woke me up, telling me that there was a smell of gas, so I got concerned and went to the common room. There I met the signorina running the small hotel, and she was hysterical. She heard the river rushing by, and she told me ‘The water is out, the electricity is out.’ While I was looking at the river, she added in her broken English: ‘First the Nazis, now this.’”

Florence Flood
Photo: Joe Blaustein

Joe suffered a tragedy when his wife died from breast cancer in her 40s. He continued to work in advertising, even while he was painting. He had several paintings in LA County Museum shows and a one man show in a La Cienega gallery. He retired from his advertising job at 65, but continued to paint and teach.

Blaustein teaches out of his studio in Topanga and during Covid adapted to Zoom. Although he is not able to walk around and give individual input, it has allowed him to reconnect with old students in all areas of the world.

In the summer 2021, Bucknell Magazine, Blaustein said, “in teaching I feel I have value. Particularly in adult education, where students don’t HAVE to attend; they’re spending money, fighting traffic and parking, and giving up time to learn. If they’re here, they’re here for a reason, and I want to help them discover why. It isn’t that I’m altruistic, it’s simply that I take pleasure in seeing them learn and progress.”

TAG Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to  7 p.m.  Telephone: (323) 297-3061 or email


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