Scholar of Northern Renaissance art, and modernist curator. Blum was born Shirley Neilsen to Melvin Louis Neilsen (1902-1974) and Anna Keyes (Neilsen) (1903-2001) in Petaluma, California. Her father was a medical doctor. She attended Stockton College in California, receiving an A. A. in 1953. In 1955 she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago receiving an M.A. under the direction of Joshua Taylor (q.v.). The same year, she married the gallery dealer and later museum director Walter C. Hopps (q.v.) in a ceremony at the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. After further graduate study at Harvard University in 1956 she and her husband returned to California where she pursued her Ph.D at UCLA. In 1964 she received her Ph.D. in Netherlandish art, writing her dissertation under Karl M. Birkmeyer (q.v.). After running the Syndell Studio for a year in their store front Brentwood living quarters, the couple, along with the artist Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1957. In 1958 Kienholz left the gallery to devote himself to sculpture and Irving Blum became a partner. The Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles gave early exposure to Ed Rusha, Kenneth Price, Robert Irwin, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol. Shirley Hopps was an instructor in humanities and art history at the University of Chicago, 1961-1962. The next year, when Walter Hopps became curator (later director) of the Pasadena Art Museum (today the Norton Simon Museum) she joined the art history faculty at the University of California at Riverside where she taught between 1962 and 1973. During this time she and John Coplans, then teaching at UC Irvine, curated a number of shows together. They co-authored the catalogue, "Jawlensky and the Serial Image", the first exhibition devoted to the concept of serial imagery in modern painting. She divorced Hopps in 1966, marrying Blum in 1967, changing her name to Blum. In 1969 she published a revised version of her dissertation as Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage. Blum was awarded the Charles A. Dana Chair at Colgate University for the 1973-1974 year, followed by a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She and Irving Blum separated in 1976. In 1977 Blum was hired to found the art history department at the State University of New York at Purchase. She authored the exhibition catalogue The Window in Twentieth Century Art for the SUNY Purchase Neuberger Museum in 1986. Blum retired as Professor emerita in 1988. She was the moderator (voice) in the 2007 film The Cool School about the Ferus gallery. Though Blum published as a northern Renaissance specialist, her earlier training and participation in the unfolding of modern art of the 1960's gave her authority to write on that area. Her dissertation and subsequent book represented groundbreaking work in the examination of how the commission and context of Netherlandish art determined the outcome of the final work.
A Study of Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Triptychs. University of California, Los Angeles, 1964; and Coplands, John. Jawlensky and the Serial Image. University of California, Irvine, Art Gallery, 1966; Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969; "The National Vietnam War Memorial," Arts Magazine 49, (December. 1984): 124-28; and Delehanty, Suzanne. The Window in Twentieth-century Art. Purchase, NY: Neuberger Museum, State University of New York at Purchase, 1986; moderator, The Cool School, Morgan Neville, director. Arthouse Films, 2007.
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 119; Nelson, Steffie. "Rebirth of the Cool." Swindle no. 12, http://swindlemagazine.com/issue12/the-ferus-gallery; Klein, John. "The Dispersal of the Modernist Series." Oxford Art Journal 21, no. 1 (1998): 132; McKenna, Kristine; Neville, Morgan. The Ferus Gallery. Steidl/Edition7L, 2008; personal correspondence, May 2009.