Posts Tagged ‘John Mason’
Over the years, my gallery has taken on all sorts of guises, from exhibition space to lecture hall. But perhaps its most elegant makeover is when it becomes a private dining room. We’ve put together the menu, gone over the guest lists, and had the catering company plan the meal for dinners from 20 to 100 people. It’s a great way to get friends of the artists and the gallery’s supporters to gather in the space with the art.
The largest of these dinners was held in 2000, on the occasion of the Peter Voulkos show of bronzes, a massive and monumental group of work. I took the suggestion of my neighbor, Patricia Faure, and set the dinner up in her space—just to the east of the gallery. We had 100 guests—far more than originally planned, but a truly significant group of people who had known Peter during the previous five decades. As usual, the late Henry Hopkins (who had known Voulkos since the 1950s in Los Angeles as well as the 70s and 80s in San Francisco) served as the toastmaster. Guests ranging from Frank and Berta Gehry to Sid Felsen and Joni Weyl gathered to honor the legendary Voulkos.
Another dinner was just under 50 people, honoring artist Larry Bell in February, 2008. Larry was kind enough to talk about his show of new works on paper, and our guests were treated to a fabulous sit-down dinner. We had the honor of hosting the Director of MOCA, Jeremy Strick and his wife, as well as many of Larry’s oldest friends, including Stanley and Elyse Grinstein and John Mason. Among the others were collectors and curators, all seated in a refined and elegant setting amidst the luminous new collages.
More recently, we co-hosted a dinner honoring Ed Moses, during his 2010 exhibition. Ed invited some of his long-time friends, and we invited some of his long-term supporters. This time, the connections made at the dinner resulted in the placement of a Moses painting at a museum! For this event we moved the feast next door, but still the style remained—a kind of transformation of the gallery space into a small and intimate private restaurant. It’s that kind of personal experience, and sense of community, that makes the art world rewarding.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that arts education is central to the mission of the gallery. In the past, we’ve hosted artist talks and interviews, exhibition walk-throughs, and even a class on collecting. Last Saturday, the gallery hosted one of our most popular events yet – a conversation between ceramic artists Adrian Saxe and Richard Shaw.
Visitors packed into the gallery on the morning of the 9th, happy to get a chance to hear from these two master ceramists and professors of art. I knew this event was going to be big – we received around 50 RSVPs – but I had no idea that nearly 70 people would ultimately arrive. Curators, collectors, and artists including John Mason and Henry Takemoto were all in attendance.
With some of their recent works arranged on plinths around them, Saxe and Shaw spoke to the audience about their methods and influences. Although their work is quite different in style and content, the two artists share a sense of humor and an interest in contemporary culture, which comes through in their art. Richard Shaw’s trompe l’oeil still lifes in porcelain whimsically combine everyday objects, appropriating mass culture as well as drawing on personal experiences and memories. Adrian Saxe works primarily in the vessel tradition, where he sees an opportunity to deal with challenging and complex social and cultural content in a format that is appealing and accessible.
As their conversation wound down, the artists graciously fielded questions from the audience. If you weren’t able to make it out to Santa Monica to hear from them in person, don’t worry! We filmed the event and will soon make a video available online. I’ll be posting it here when it’s ready, so stay tuned.
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/
My gallery is well known for specializing in contemporary ceramics. That’s been beneficial in gaining attention from other worlds, particularly the professions of design and architecture. Just recently, Don Chadwick, the designer of the world-famous Aeron chair came to see us again at the gallery. He’s interested in the use of the hand by our artists, and, in turn, I asked him to autograph my Aeron chair.
Architects also seem to be fascinated with ceramics. Could some of the interest from architects be related to the plasticity of the material? Two architects that I know have an affinity for the intimacy of small scale sculpture, and close relationships with artists. When Frederick Fisher was designing my gallery, he told me that he conceived of the large volume of space as a container of smaller sculptural forms. His knowledge of individual sculptors led him to design a series of appropriately scaled modular boxes within the larger building. This intersection of architecture and art specifically referenced ceramic sculptors’ work, as Fred included works by Adrian Saxe and Roseline Delisle in his first concept sketches.
Frank Gehry also has a long history with ceramic sculpture. From his early encounters with Glen Lukens at USC to his recent design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s retrospective for Ken Price, Gehry has maintained an interest in the scale and tactile intimacy of forms made in clay. Gehry’s art collection includes works by Ken Price and George Ohr, and he has been friends with ceramic artists Peter Voulkos, John Mason, and Billy Al Bengston for decades. He was also the architect for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, a museum which holds a collection of pottery by George Ohr.
Inspired by the Getty’s holiday card – a video narrated by James Cuno outlining the Getty’s accomplishments of 2012 – I decided to take a look at the happenings of the past year here at the gallery.
In January the gallery opened Peter Voulkos in L.A.: Time Capsule, a show that critic Peter Frank hailed as “…the kind of show Pacific Standard Time has been all too short of: an intimate look at the taste and thinking and working methods of an influential figure. Everything in the show, drawn from the artist’s daughter’s collection, was small in scale and dated from the later 1950s…” in the Huffington Post.
Also early in the year, Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, 1956—1968 debuted at Scripps College. I contributed to this major Getty-sponsored exhibition by serving as co-curator and lead essayist for the show, which was singled out by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp on Artnet as “…something of a model for what PST has accomplished, putting into relief the important contributions made by California-based ceramicists during the ‘50s and ‘60s.” By year’s end, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight recognized the show in his “Best of 2012” list of art museum exhibitions, writing that: “Together, ‘Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975’ … and ‘Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968’ … made for the most thorough telling of the tale of a distinctive revolution in postwar art. One laid out the rich panoply of modern ceramic conventions, the other cheerfully smashed them.”
Drawing on Japan’s significant history with ceramics, the gallery presented Sugimoto Sadamitsu’s work in February. Sugimoto-sensei is regarded as the greatest living master of the Iga and Shigaraki styles, and his work was highlighted in a 1989 exhibition that celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of Sen no Rikyu, the legendary early master of the Tea Ceremony. Sugimoto-sensei’s work represented Shigaraki and Iga masterpieces of the Momoyama period for use in the movie made in that year titled Rikyu, a well-received treatment of the life of this master of the Tea Ceremony. Our show was the first appearance of Sugimoto-sensei’s work in the western United States.
We also brought an unprecedented show of paintings from the late 1980s by Craig Kauffman to the L.A. audience in April. Never exhibited together in the artist’s lifetime, these paintings showed Kauffman’s interest in unorthodox application of paint and his love of the physicality of painting, accompanied by his brilliant color sense. Kauffman considered the 1989 works, which became known as the Numbers, to be a continuation of his use of calligraphic line, and an integration of sensuous color with architectural form. It was a memorable show.
This summer we mounted Jennifer Lee’s fourth solo show in Los Angeles. Jennifer Lee’s pottery is carefully colored with oxides incorporated into the stoneware body of the vessels, so that the interiors and exteriors work together. Referring to her unique pigments, Sir David Attenborough noted: “Because she does not use glaze, her subtle colours and misty shades come not from a veil draped over the pot but from within its very substance, as in the face of a cliff.” The quiet elegance of her pots never fails to make an impact on viewers. Indeed, Leah Ollman of the Los Angeles Times wrote in August that, “For all the calm they invoke, the pieces are charged with the motion of the swirls that encircle them…Their implicit movement suggests the shy whirl of demure dervishes.”
In the fall, the LACMA retrospective of the late Ken Price was a landmark exhibit for the artist. In every way, from the innovative design of the exhibition to the superb publication, the tribute to Ken Price signaled the significance of ceramic sculpture in the development of contemporary art in Los Angeles. In a related exhibit, the gallery presented a show of small works, which was described by David Pagel of the Los Angeles Times as a “dazzling solo show at Frank Lloyd Gallery.”
November brought the release of the gallery’s major monograph on Craig Kauffman, entitled Sensual Mechanical. Written by biographer Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the publication was praised by Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times as “…a gorgeously illustrated and highly informative monograph published by Frank Lloyd Gallery, which represents the artist’s estate. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s 2011 book ‘Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s’ sketched the city’s first flush of artistic maturity. Here she chronicles for the first time and in illuminating depth Kauffman’s life and the complete evolution of his luminous art.”
It’s easy to think that the birth of the Los Angeles art scene is just beginning to be fully appreciated. After all, the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 has drawn to a close, having given an enormous audience the chance to learn about the range of styles and materials during this period.
However, this view overlooks the ways in which these West Coast artists were appreciated in their own time, and the substantial recognition they gained at a much earlier date. Artists from the Los Angeles area and the West Coast were exhibited throughout the world in shows including Ten from Los Angeles at the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion, 1966, Los Angeles 6 by the Vancouver Art Gallery, 1968, and 11 Los Angeles Artists by the Arts Council of Great Britain in London, 1971.
Not only were these West Coast artists important, they were important together, and could be shown together without making distinctions between media. The image you see here is an exhibition announcement for Kompass, a 1970 show at the Kunsthalle Bern in Bern, Switzerland. The poster announces that the show consists of “American Art of the West Coast,” and lists the artists represented, including Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Bruce Conner, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Ed Kienholz, Frank Lobdell, John Mason, John McCracken, Bruce Nauman, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Hassel Smith, Clifford Still, Wayne Thiebaud, Peter Voulkos, Doug Wheeler, and William T. Wiley.
Seeing such a diverse group of names together really illustrates what was happening on the West Coast. The pluralistic approach of these exhibits reflects an understanding of the multiplicity of styles and mediums that thrived in the Los Angeles scene of that period.
A little while ago, the gallery’s January show was reviewed in the Huffington Post by Peter Frank. Like the HuffPo folks say, these short reviews are sometimes in the traditional Haiku form of 5x7x5 syllables. But other writers might produce a sonnet, and some might take to free-form verse. It’s amazing how writers like Peter Frank can pack a lot of content into a small space. For anyone who missed it, here’s the text:
“Peter Voulkos in L.A.: Time Capsule” is the kind of show Pacific Standard Time has been all too short of: an intimate look at the taste and thinking and working methods of an influential figure. Everything in the show, drawn from the artist’s daughter’s collection, was small in scale and dated from the later 1950s, the time at which Voulkos adopted and promulgated a painterly approach to ceramics, liberating the craft from functional restraints and allowing it to present itself as sculpture – or even painting. None of Voulkos’ own canvases were included, but several paintings by friends and students spoke tellingly to and with Voulkos’ pots and plates and planks and those of his colleagues, including John Mason, Ed Kienholz, and the late Kenneth Price. Billy Al Bengston’s work from this time in oil, ink, and clay is of special remark here – the Pop painter considers Voulkos his greatest teacher, and these items bespoke that influence. Henry Takemoto was the one name here emerging from obscurity, with rough-and-tumble plates every bit as funky and muscular as Voulkos’. What became of him?”
We also made a video walk-through of the show, and this gives those who missed it a chance to see it up close:
There have been some truly pivotal moments in L.A. art history. Some of the groundbreaking achievements were in ceramics, it’s often noted. The biggest move, to my mind, was when John Mason and Peter Voulkos rented a studio on the corner of Glendale Blvd. and Baxter Street in 1957. The first things they made were large-scale sculpture. They adapted industrial technology, and had a huge kiln built that could match their ambitions: “I could stand upright in [the kiln] and a number of friends could stand upright in it also,” Mason has recalled.
Mason’s first sculptures, made in that Glendale Blvd. studio, were vertical, closed forms, with a shape that resembled a spear. Then, over the next few years, he made several huge steps forward, moving into uncharted territory with the medium of fired clay. Mason began to make massive rough-hewn walls; he soon broke into a kind of totemic verticality. Eventually, he built huge cross forms and solid, mysterious geometric shapes.
He did this by developing innovative ways of working, including pushing clay onto a huge easel to make wall reliefs, and compacting the material around a wooden armature to make the vertical sculptures. By 1959 he would use just the weight, gravity and plasticity of the raw clay to build a major work, which will be shown in the main exhibit at the Getty, “Crosscurrents”: the Blue Wall.
“It wasn’t until I started to work on the floor that I began to just cut and slam clay down on the floor and then take pieces or parts of slabs and add them to make a more linear organic form. One of the first was the Blue Wall, which was over twenty feet long and eight or nine feet across,” Mason has recalled.
John Mason will be featured in the upcoming Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions, an initiative of the Getty. Mason emerged in the mid-1950s as one of the leaders of a revolution that transformed clay from a craft to a fine art medium. Since that time, Mason has had a distinguished career as a sculptor. Mason’s work over the past six decades presents one of the most compelling arguments for abstract sculpture. His line of thought and consistency of execution mark the work of a master builder. Mason “knows how to get the most out of a relatively simple three dimensional form,” according to art critic Suzanne Muchnic. Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980 is a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California, coming together for six months beginning in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a major new force in the art world. Each institution will make its own contribution to this grand-scale story of artistic innovation and social change, told through a multitude of simultaneous exhibitions and programs.
A key figure in the development of significant sculpture in Los Angeles, John Mason will be featured in a number of Pacific Standard Time museum exhibitions. At the main exhibit, Mason’s massive 1959 Blue Wall will be prominent. We are pleased to announce the upcoming schedule, and provide links to the exhibitions:
J Paul Getty Museum: Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970
October 1, 2011—February 5, 2012
Laguna Art Museum: Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971
October 30, 2011—January 22, 2012
American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA): Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975
November 11, 2011—March 31, 2012
Pacific Asia Museum: 46 N. Los Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum
November 18, 2011—April 8, 2012
Scripps College: Clay’s Tectonic Shift: Mason, Price and Voulkos, 1956-1968
January 21, 2011—April 8, 2012
The press is coming…about Pacific Standard Time. For those who are willing and able to devote some time, there are lots of resources. Want to read about the big Getty-sponsored initiative? You’ll have choices, and can read about dozens of exhibits, personalities, legends and history—in print and on line. Start with the Los Angeles Times and the Getty’s own massive site, and just follow the links. Or, take a look at the October issues of several magazines, including Art in America, or Art and Auction, coming out soon. As big print presses roll and little digital pixels emit, the world will have a hard time avoiding Pacific Standard Time. For backgound, look to the excellent article by Jori Finkel in today’s L.A. Times, and be sure to read Hunter Drohojowska Philp’s introduction to the artists and the time period. Or, take a look at the critic’s notebook about the upcoming “Crosscurrents” show at the Getty Museum, written by Christopher Knight.
For those with an eye for classic black and white photos, there’s an archival photo show from the Times. And for further reading and more images, it’s fun to meander around the section titled “People” on the main Pacific Standard Time site. Whatever you do, don’t forget that the artists from the Frank Lloyd Gallery, like Larry Bell, John Mason, Peter Voulkos and Craig Kauffman, are absolutely central to the development of contemporary art in Los Angeles.
From left to right: Vivian Rowan, Larry Bell, Avilda Moses, Ed Moses, the late Patricia Faure and the late Craig Kauffman. Photo taken in 2006 and copyright by Alan Shaffer.