Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category
As the exhibition Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective makes its way to its third and final destination – The Metropolitan Museum of Art – I find myself reflecting on Ken Price’s history with the gallery. We’ve shown his work many times over the years, in both solo and group exhibitions. Looking back through our archives, it makes me happy to see the wide range of his works that we’ve presented.
I first had the pleasure of exhibiting Price’s work in 1998 in an exhibition titled John Mason, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos. The show included an Untitled Mound from 1959, a historic work that had been featured in the artist’s first solo show at the Ferus Gallery in 1960. A very similar piece was more recently on view at the Williamson Gallery at Scripps College for their 2012 exhibition Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968.
Since then, I’ve exhibited a diverse mix of Ken Price’s work, including a 1970s geometric cup, selections from his Happy’s Curios period, a series of plates from the 1990s, and his more recent, brilliantly colorful, biomorphic forms. In addition to an intimate survey of small ceramics, the gallery’s latest show of Price’s work displayed examples of his print-making activities, in the form of large lithographs and silkscreens.
I wanted to document the 2012 show in a more personal way, so I asked Larry Bell, a good friend and peer of Ken Price, to lead an exhibition walk-through of the show. I’ve posted this video before but think it’s worth repeating – Bell’s sincere and insightful commentary about the artist and his work is a pleasure to hear.
James Turrell’s retrospective exhibition opens next week at LACMA. There will be simultaneous installations at the Guggenheim and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and I just read a superb article published by the LA Times, written by Jori Finkel, about Turrell. All of the recent press about James Turrell’s three upcoming museum exhibitions, complemented by his concurrent solo show at the Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery, has me thinking about Light and Space artists. The term “Light and Space” is usually used to refer works made by a certain group of West Coast artists. I’m in agreement with Dawna Schuld, who wrote in 2011 that “while it is a useful and historically established label, “Light and Space” is also misleading in describing this art, because it overlooks the essential integrative ingredient, which is perception.”
Perceptual phenomena—especially visual phenomena—are the central focus of many Los Angeles artists’ work, rather than the material processes they use to achieve their goals. For example, I sometimes see writers link Larry Bell’s work in glass to the hot-rod car culture of Southern California. However, the obsession with perfect, gleaming surfaces relates only superficially to Larry’s interests. He never drove a hot-rod or participated in car culture, and was involved in the folk music movement of the late 50s, hardly a “slick” scene. But Larry was there at the leading edge of artists’ investigations into visual perception.
Some of the most interesting origins of the movement are experiments that Turrell and Robert Irwin participated in with the late Edward Wortz, who was then working at Garrett AiResearch in aerospace perceptual psychology. As cited in Lawrence Weschler’s book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, there was also a conference of architects and experts that was held in Venice in 1970, titled “The National Symposium on Habitability”. Larry Bell created two different rooms in his Market Street studio, which explored the concept of habitability. The first of these spaces was described by Wortz as “so oppressive that it was never used. People would just go in, turn around, and leave.” He constructed the second room with walls which were “angled in such a way as to render the space extremely reverberant, so that people kept having to scoot their chairs closer and closer in order to hear one another.” Bell also designed and installed the “Blue Room” (pictured on the right), which has been re-created for MOCA and for his survey show in Nîmes.
Stephanie Hanor did a great job describing the relationship between process and perception, writing in her 2011 essay that, “While the Los Angeles artists acknowledged the impact of location, their primary interests were the nature of perception and of the relationship between observer and observed, the subject and the object; their use of new industrial materials and processes was in service of investigating this dynamic.”
Larry’s work, like that of other artists who are often placed in the Light and Space movement, focuses on awareness of human perception. Whether he was creating the illusion of volume in paintings, constructing experimental environments, or using metallic particles to interfere with the passage of light through glass, Larry’s work defies our expectations. By asking viewers to reconsider what they’re looking at, his art creates a perceptual experience that allows us to see the work, and the world, in new ways.
 Schuld, Dawna. “Practically Nothing: Light, Space, and the Pragmatics of Phenomenology.” In Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011), 109.
 Weschler, Lawrence, quoting Edward Wortz. Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), 132-133.
 Hanor, Stephanie. “The Material of Immateriality.” In Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011), 128.
I’m often asked by visitors for recommendations to local gallery and museum shows. Although it hasn’t opened yet, I’m betting that the upcoming Norton Simon Museum exhibition, Beyond Brancusi: The Space of Sculpture, is going to be one to remember. Opening April 26th, the show will investigate how Constantin Brancusi influenced some of the great sculptors of the twentieth century through his innovative use of space and material.
I’ve always felt that the Norton Simon is a great local museum with an outstanding permanent collection, which they are drawing on exclusively for this show. Excitingly, they will be including two important works by gallery artists that were not previously on view at the museum. Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman will both have major pieces on display in the show, which will also include artists such as Henry Moore, Donald Judd, and Robert Irwin, among many other artists of note.
The Larry Bell artwork that is featured in Beyond Brancusi is a 40 x 40 x 40 inch Untitled cube from 1969. As one of the largest cubes ever fabricated by the artist, this work is certainly deserving of more attention and I look forward to seeing how it will be installed. Craig Kauffman will be represented in the exhibition by an Untitled Loop, also from 1969. Constructed of a draped sheet of acrylic plastic and spray painted in contrasting blue and red, the work will cast reflections of colored light on its surrounding walls.
I’m really looking forward to the opening of this show, which was organized by Norton Simon Associate Curator Leah Lehmbeck. It’s going to be a great opportunity to see works that are rarely on view, from the permanent collection of one of my favorite museums.
It’s always so interesting to me the way art historical threads can weave together, revealing a complex network of connections between artists, curators, dealers, and patrons. Following these threads can take you deep into the history of an artist and his work, and show you details you might have overlooked. For example, I’ve recently been looking into the time Craig Kauffman spent in Paris in the 1970s, and have discovered some interesting things. Kauffman exhibited new work at the Galerie Darthea Speyer in 1973 and 1976 in a space in Saint-Germain-des-Prés designed by Darthea Speyer’s brother, A. James Speyer.
An architect who studied under Mies van der Rohe in the 1930s, A. James Speyer became the Curator of Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961, and remained there until his death in 1986. It was under his tenure as senior curator that the Art Institute of Chicago acquired their two outstanding works by Craig Kauffman. The first work, a 1969 Loop titled Le Mur s’en Va I, was bought outright in 1970 through the Twentieth-Century Purchase Fund. The second piece, an Untitled bubble from 1968 was donated to the museum in 1979 by Baxter Travenol Laboratories.
The title of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Loop is important, because Le Mur s’en va (The Wall Goes Away) refers to Craig Kauffman’s original name for the Loop series. These works, suspended several inches in front of the wall, create an unusual visual ambiguity. The fields of luminous color compete with their own shadows, tinted images of the works cast in reverse on the walls. The works, and the walls, seem to dematerialize in the face of this optical uncertainty.
Kauffman made a compelling statement about his works’ relationship with the wall for his 1970 survey show at the Pasadena Art Museum. He’s referring specifically to works that cast colored reflections, but I think it reveals something fundamental about his beliefs about painting, and even hints at the direction he eventually moved in during the 1970s. I’ve published this before, but feel it’s worth repeating:
“what is a wall? it is always something for bumping one’s head against. the real wall, of whatever material, be it brick, studs sixteen inches on center, cement, adobe, flat or curved, is something to reckoned with. it is also an idea which separates us from each other. walls divide worlds. whether of bamboo or iron, walls are our creations. even the invisible walls that surround each of us denote our space, our identity. “c’est une chose mystérieuse la mur.” thing of mind or reality? crazy jane said, “what a terrible thing for a young girl to be a wall.” it is terrible to be any inanimate object but to become a wall is perhaps the worst. to walk into a wall and never come out is very possible. it is as if the wall calls to us to come in and stay in its cold interior. destroy the wall with color à la léger? cover the wall with paintings? make protrusions from it, poke holes in it? perhaps we should play with walls, with illusions, shadows, in order to render them passable to our substance. to walk through a wall is not just for houdini. perhaps we can all enter and come out safely.”
This morning I had breakfast with Larry Bell, and we began talking about London. Bell has had several shows in London, including a group show at the Hayward Gallery in 1971 titled “11 Los Angeles Artists”, curated by Maurice Tuchman for the Arts Council of Great Britain. That exhibit was an eclectic mix, ranging from John Altoon to William Wegman and from Ken Price to Bruce Nauman and Richard Diebenkorn. Bell exhibited three thin, coated glass shelves, illuminated by light that cast a colored shadow on the wall, above and below. Bell was working with large-scale environmental installations of glass, and also made a multi-panel piece for that show, consisting of nine units of standing coated glass, each six feet high by five feet wide.
One year before, in 1970, the Tate Modern mounted a prescient exhibition of three Light and Space artists, simply titled “Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler,” and organized by Michael Compton. As was noted in both exhibitions, Larry Bell’s work deals with the properties of light, and the large installations used the material of glass to reflect, transmit, and absorb light. While it is true that he had been associated with minimalism and with primary geometric form, the large-scale environments led viewers into a new perceptual awareness of transparency, light and reflection.
The Tate Modern collection includes six Larry Bell works, and this morning I learned that three of those are now on view. Since I’ve been writing about the gallery’s artists in museum collections, this news came as an opportunity for the blog. I’ll be showing new work by Bell in early May. This show will be all new work, from a series of collages and vapor drawings that exploit the brilliant reflective properties of materials made with Bell’s process of thin film deposition of metallic particles. For those who would like to learn more about Bell’s work, last year’s in-depth interview by Tyler Green on Modern Art Notes is a superb way to pick up Bell’s history as a podcast. But don’t miss the large group of photos on the MAN blog and the link to Ollie Bell’s video of the Larry Bell survey in Nimes, “In Perspective.”
Peter Voulkos’s artwork is represented in over 100 museum collections worldwide, and if you find yourself in a major city, it isn’t hard to locate a work in a public place. Here in Los Angeles, one can see major works at LACMA (5,000 Feet, 1958), the UCLA Sculpture Garden (Gallas Rock, 1960 and Soleares, c. 1959), and the Norton Simon (Black Divide-Butte, 1958). At the Norton Simon, Black Divide-Butte is installed outside, to the right of the entrance—you don’t even have to go into the museum, though it’s got the best collection of art in the Western United States. The wise educational staff at the Norton Simon recently used the piece as an example of sculptural expression with clay for a children’s class. I find it especially interesting to note that, even when teaching children, the museum staff emphasized that “participants are encouraged to use symbols and abstract elements to create their own works of art in clay.”
Throughout California, there are many more examples of Voulkos’s artwork. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art regularly displays Tientos, 1959 in their second floor gallery. And across the bay at the Oakland Museum, the collection includes Little Big Horn, 1959, the piece that knocked people out in the first room of last year’s Pacific Standard Time show, “Crosscurrents” and set the stage for the artists that followed.
Lest you get the idea his work is concentrated in the West, there’s plenty of Voulkos on the East Coast, too. His work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hirschhorn, as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Or take, for instance, the MFA Boston, which boasts four works in their permanent collection. The awesome and monumental Camelback Mountain, 1959 is clearly the most important Voulkos work in the MFA Boston collection, and it’s prominently placed in the Saundra and William H. Lane Galleries. The interesting thing to me is this: the MFA Boston curators agree with me that Camelback Mountain is an example of American abstract sculpture. The work is placed in the “Abstraction” section of the galleries and its neighbors are some of the greatest painters of the 20th century: Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell. Pictured here is Sevillanas, also from 1959 and in the same style as Camelback Mountain.
The MFA Boston wall text reads: “This gallery features works from the decades between 1940 and 1970, when art in the United States captured the attention of the world. Many styles flourished, but even at the time the growth of abstract art seemed the most important story. For decades, artists had explored the idea that art need not represent the physical world— that it could also be non-representational, or abstract.”
When I read these words, I am proud to have brought this kind of abstract sculpture to audiences in Southern California. And I am especially proud of the work that I did when working with Kirk Delman and Mary MacNaughton for the Scripps College exhibition, “Clay’s Tectonic Shift.” Our collective effort was enormous, and our intention was clear: to do original scholarly research leading to an exhibition, sponsored by a research foundation, at an educational institution. We did exactly that, and assembled an unprecedented exhibition that lives on in a highly informative publication. It was about abstract sculpture, and it was a success.
One of the most gratifying aspects of my work at the gallery is seeing our artists’ works included in museum exhibitions and collections. Whether the pieces are on display for a temporary show or are being added to the permanent collection, it’s great to see artists get the recognition they deserve. I’m also interested in the ways curators perceive and present works that are familiar to me – often shedding new light on their significance or illuminating connections with other artists.
Right now, Canton Collection by Richard Shaw is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as part of their exhibition “New Blue and White.” Referring to the tradition of blue and white porcelain, a practice with its roots in the Islamic world as well as Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the show explores how contemporary artists draw inspiration from this rich history. A signature trompe-l’oeil work, Canton Collection is a great example of appropriating historical practices for contemporary purposes. Shaw hand-painted original designs in the style of Chinese blue and white porcelain on the vessels he fabricated for this piece, but they can’t be used for their traditional purposes. Permanently attached to each other, the vessels allude to functionality but ultimately deny it.
Another gallery artist on display at a major museum is Craig Kauffman at the Museum of Modern Art. With several works in their permanent collection, Kauffman’s 1968 Untitled bubble has a prominent position in MoMA’s fourth floor gallery. Acquired for the museum by legendary curator Kynaston McShine, Untitled was first exhibited in the 1969 show “Five Recent Acquisitions,” alongside works by Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin and John McCracken. This ground breaking show was re-staged by P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in 2010 as part of their large-scale “1969” exhibition, which sought to explore the art of this tumultuous period. Back home at MoMA, Untitled really makes a statement about the early critical response to Craig Kauffman’s work.
Larry Bell also has great representation in museum collections across the country. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has on display a 1964 Untitled cube, bequeathed to the museum in 1981 after the death of Joseph Hirshhorn. Bell has an installation on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum as well. Made in 1987-1988, this ten foot high room installation can be seen on the third floor of the east wing, where its reflective properties play with visitors’ visual perceptions. A large-scale installation was recently included in the PST show “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface,” held at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in late 2011.
A question I am asked frequently at the gallery is: “Where else can I see ceramics in Los Angeles?” I’m happy to tell visitors that there are more opportunities than ever to see ceramic art in the city, both in museums and at mainstream art galleries. Over the past several years, I have noticed a distinct rise in the number of institutions that represent or exhibit artists who work in ceramics.
For visitors who want to go to museums, I always recommend the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Not everyone is aware that LACMA has significant ceramic holdings across a wide spectrum of cultures and time periods. Ceramic artworks play a role in their Japanese, Chinese, Islamic, and Decorative Arts and Design collections, just to name a few. As an encyclopedic museum, LACMA is well positioned to provide a compelling context for the clay works on display.
Ceramic artists are also being exhibited in contemporary art galleries with increasing frequency – a development that I welcome! Showing ceramic art alongside work in other mediums demonstrates the position of ceramics within the larger art historical conversation. The hierarchy of materials is loosening up and artists are feeling freer than ever to work in clay materials. Some local galleries that have been recently showing ceramics are; ACME., with works by Matthias Merkel Hess, Julia Haft-Candell, and Christopher Miles; L.A. Louver, who has shown Ken Price, Ben Jackel, Matt Wedel, and Tia Pulitzer; and Couturier Gallery, featuring the artists Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Rose Cabat, and Jay Kvapil. Other galleries that have been exhibiting ceramic art include Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Edward Cella Gallery, and Marc Selwyn Fine Art.
About a year ago, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion about the change in status of contemporary ceramics. The position and ranking of ceramics in the world of contemporary art has been shifting for over 60 years. Great artists have made the biggest difference in overcoming prejudices, and have been quite blunt about their assessment of how the art world perceives their work. Ken Price, for instance, succinctly noted that in the middle 1950s, the material hierarchy was established, saying that, “In those days, clay as an art medium was dead and buried.”[i]
The first task for the panel, I thought, would be to enumerate the ways that such a lowly ranking was overcome. In the current environment, a viewer can see contemporary ceramics in major museums and hundreds of galleries. How and why has this happened, and what were the forces for this change? I believe there are some clear reasons:
First, the lack of material hierarchy in the work of young artists made it clear that a new attitude about media exists (this is especially evident in curated exhibitions such as the award-winning show at the Hammer titled “Thing”, or the traveling show from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia titled “Dirt on Delight”). This seems to be coming from two sources: university and art school-trained artists who are the product of interdisciplinary programs; and the popular culture at large. Younger artists have adopted the contemporary music world’s sampling techniques—piecing together disparate parts and re-mixing them. Old school ideas of purity and media specificity just don’t apply anymore.
Second, critical acceptance has accelerated profoundly. These days, art journals and newspapers have major critics such as Roberta Smith, Christopher Knight, Dave Hickey, Christopher Miles, Leah Ollman and Peter Schjeldahl championing both ceramics shows and individual ceramic artists. Dozens more reviews are being published in mainstream art journals, rather than being segregated into craft-specific publications.
A third reason for the new standing of ceramics in the public’s eye is a burgeoning maturity of curatorial vision and the building of significant collections (both regional and in major encyclopedic museums). This also involves recognition of the rich traditions of other countries. The organization of group exhibitions and acquisitions by major museums including the Met and LACMA are also indications of ceramic art’s rising status.
Fourth, of course, is the fact that the use of ceramic materials continues to grow. Major artists since Picasso have worked seriously in clay, but now it’s nearly ubiquitous, as artists from contemporary art—even Jeff Koons and Ai Wei-Wei—use the medium.
Finally, there has been shift in the historical and curatorial perception of some major artists and their respected position in the overall canon. Just consider the Betty Woodman retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the recent LACMA retrospective of the late Ken Price, which travels nationally to the Nasher and then the Metropolitan, with each venue designed by the great architect Frank Gehry.
We are now in an era when a major critic (Roberta Smith) in the New York Times writes about a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in these terms:
“The show’s determination to integrate ceramics into the art mainstream is nothing new. But its refusal to do so simply by slipping some universally agreed-upon ceramic exceptions into a show of painting, sculpture and so forth is close to groundbreaking. “Dirt on Delight” argues for ceramics as a more than worthy subject. It reminds us that the art form incorporates quite a bit of painting and sculpture, thank you, and has one of the richest histories of any medium on the planet. Ceramics also plays well with all kinds of artistic ideas and needs no propping up by supposedly serious fine art or, incidentally, by much in the way of explanatory labels.” [ii]
[i] Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, A Life in Clay (interview with Ken Price), Artnet online magazine, http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp10-22-08.asp
[ii] Roberta Smith, Dirt on Delight, New York Times, May 19, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/arts/design/20dirt.html/
I’ve written about the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s exhibition Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface before, but I recently stumbled upon a couple of videos that reminded me of the beauty of the show. MCASD has produced five beautifully shot and insightfully narrated videos that document some of the challenges and successes of their 2012 exhibition. Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman and De Wain Valentine are all highlighted in these videos, which give viewers a chance to relive Phenomenal.
Curator Robin Clark and research assistant Christie Mitchell provide illuminating commentary, on the works as well as the kinds of practical decisions that needed to be made. The discussion of natural versus artificial lighting is particularly interesting, as many of the artworks are inherently light-responsive.
I especially like the video that pairs Robert Irwin with Craig Kauffman, as the artists were friends and colleagues who enjoyed an exchange of ideas. The Larry Bell video explains the delicate process of setting up his five-paneled installation from 1970. It’s great to hear Larry talk about the experience of installing an older work, and to see the pleasure he still takes in the piece.
If you haven’t seen all of the videos produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for Phenomenal, I encourage you to take a look at the following link: http://www.mcasd.org/exhibitions/phenomenal-california-light-space-surface-0. Just click “Media” to find the available videos.