Some athletes are legendary because of their innate ability—just think of Ken Griffey Jr. with his gorgeous swing, and the perfection of his follow-through. Sure, lots of players have hit home runs, but that kind effortless movement was truly a thing of beauty.
According to all reports, Craig Kauffman was just as naturally gifted as a young artist. He participated in his first professional group show at age 19, in the best gallery in Los Angeles, Felix Landau. By 1953, still approaching his 21st birthday, Kauffman had his first one-man show at Landau. He also was given a praising review in the national magazine Art News by a leading critic, Jules Langsner, who wrote:
“The exhibition splits into two distinct groups: soft, serene, cerebrally-organized abstractions (like the Ode to Crafts series) and the more recent, highly charged linear evolutions on the other. Either way, Kauffman is precociously gifted.”1
Just five years later, when the seminal Ferus gallery had opened, Kauffman was included in another group exhibition, this time a painting survey of Northern and Southern California abstract artists. While noting the similarities and differences of the two camps, Langsner again singled out Kauffman for praise:
“Craig Kauffman is very much in evidence with an effervescent painting, also untitled. Here vertical rectangles of vivid reds, yellow, blues shimmer on a field of white. Full of bounce, the picture has the added interest of subtlety of line. Exhibiting infrequently, this artist has not received his due”.2
So, it’s not surprising that, after Kauffman’s passing, in another group exhibition currently on view at Samuel Freeman gallery, the Los Angeles Times Critic Christopher Knight should single out Kauffman’s work at the conclusion of his review:
“He navigates the void using a delicate, dappled line that constructs a sturdy visual architecture from the most fragile subject matter — orchids, a tropical flower with thousands of taxonomies. His still lifes catalog exotic blooms that are tall, willowy and weird. Kauffman has been called the most naturally gifted painter produced in the first generation of major postwar Los Angeles artists, and here it’s easy to see why.”3
1 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 51, no. 9 (January 1953), p. 53.
2 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 56, no. 10 (February 1958), pp. 47–50.
3 Knight, Christopher. “Uncharted seas in ‘How to Build a Foghorn’ at Samuel Freeman.” Los Angeles Times (August 9, 2016)
I feel very lucky to have known Harrison McIntosh. Even when I was a teenager during the 1960s in Pasadena, I recall seeing his work. I remember being attracted to the simple yet classic forms, the blend of Scandinavian and Asian that was described so well by Christy Johnson and Hal Nelson yesterday at the memorial.
Little did I know that, much later in life, I’d have the chance to get to know Harrison, much less get to represent his work, and know his marvelous wife Marguerite. When I first called and talked to Harrison, I was thrilled to make an appointment for a studio visit. As I stepped into their house above Padua Hills for the first time, it felt like a dream, to be welcomed into the home of a studio craft legend. I recall feeling like I was walking into the pages of a magazine. We agreed to a show.
When we first presented his work in a one-man show in 1998, there was a remarkable welcome from the other artists in the gallery. The most meticulous of craftspeople—including Adrian Saxe, Ralph Bacerra, and Roseline Delisle—all came to pay their respects to Harrison. Each artist took time to examine and praise the details of Harrison’s work; they lifted lids to show the precision of the fit, they turned the pots over carefully, to show me how perfect the foot was, and pointed out how every proportion was exactly right. Later, visiting artist Gustavo Pérez from Mexico wanted to get an autograph, and pose for a picture with his hero—whose work he had only seen in books.
But I represented Harrison late in his long and productive career. When I wanted another show in 2002, there were fewer new pots in the studio, and Harrison’s eyesight had, sadly, declined. I suggested that we augment the works from the studio with some classic works from private collections. Harrison agreed, but with one condition: that he would be able to examine them and approve of their quality and condition. Of course, I agreed. So, before the show, Marguerite drove Harrison to the gallery in Santa Monica, and I presented the additional work.
To my astonishment, he promptly sat down on the carpet of the back room, and felt—with both hands—the pots, carefully holding and rolling the forms, touching the incised lines—caressing the shoulder, the foot, and the lip.
If ever there were proof of the tactility of ceramics, this was the moment for me. I’ll never forget it. And to make it even more surprising, Harrison told me the year of each piece with perfect accuracy. Tactility is primal, and though artists often talk about the touch and feel of clay, that day Harrison showed me the touch and feel of memory.
As I said, I was lucky to know him late in his career. Still wanting to have all of his work recognized, I presented the late sculptural works in 2005. These were rounded discs, sculptural spheres, and oval forms mounted on chromed steel bases. The sculpture fulfilled a vision of the late twentieth century, no longer tied to pottery traditions, but developed from content and themes of unity—which had always been present in his work.
Titles gave these forms greater understanding: “Yin and Yang”, “Nature’s Union”, and “Mass in Space”, the works had a calm, balanced view of man’s place in Nature. Consider the form of “Raindrop”, a meditation on a single drop of water, a source of life.
It was the gentle spirit of the man that I will remember. His calm and balanced way of being was reflected in the work. He was a dignified, kind, and peaceful man, and may he rest in peace.
Among the advantages of our new location in Pasadena, the nearness of the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collections is surely at the top of the list. Last month, I met some friends for a walk through the world-renowned Desert Garden at the Huntington, and I also attended an evening lecture on the Japanese tea ceremony.
The Huntington is a marvelous resource for visitors, of course. I’ve been going there since I was 8 years old. Now, I share a dual membership with my 91 year old mother. I’m also proud to know some of the curatorial staff. But this last week I found out that there are more intimate scholarly presentations, often by resident scholars, during lunch time.
Yesterday’s noon-time conversation was in the Munger Research Center, with journalist and well-known art critic Tyler Green. His subject was Carleton Watkins. I learned that Tyler Green has been a resident scholar at the Huntington, and is preparing a biography. Green grew up in the Bay Area, and, prior to his career as a journalist, saw a Carleton Watkins show at SFMoMA. Once he learned that the Getty’s Weston Neaf had completed a major catalogue raisonne of Watkins’ work, he set about working on the biography. His research is aided by the Huntington.
For me, it was fascinating (though yes, it’s a short conversation, exactly one hour). Original photographic materials augmented the presentation, and the conversation was fact-filled, thesis-driven and revelatory. In addition, most of the approximately 25 people in the room were either curators, researchers, or photographers, making the usual question and answer period at the end more like a seminar.
Among the common questions I’ve heard, since I closed our public exhibition program, is this one: “Who will show ceramics in Los Angeles?” To answer that, it’s time to count the number of current or upcoming shows:
I’m very proud to see that our friends at Latin American Masters have already selected a survey titled Cerámica Contemporánea, an exhibition of twenty-six ceramic works of art by Mexican artist Gustavo Pérez. Their press release states, “Despite a modesty of means and scale, Gustavo Pérez’s ceramics have achieved worldwide recognition, including a 2012 retrospective at Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.”
Just reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, an exhibit at Acme is titled “Hard and Soft”, and includes the work of four women artists, all demonstrating the flexibility and form of clay, that most plastic of materials. Selected by Vicki Phung Smith, it was characterized by Leah Ollman as a show where “Fluidity and fixity serve as the primary poles between which all of these works dance and tease and strike their own marvelously precarious balances.”
In fact, ceramics shows are all over the galleries. Keep in mind that Shoshanna Wayne Gallery still represents the work of Kathy Butterly and Arlene Schechet. Over at Edward Cella, who is moving to a new location on South La Cienega soon, there is the work of Adam Silverman and Brad Miller. L. A. Louver has, for a long time, presented various artists working in clay. Their sculptor Richard Deacon makes major works in fired clay, and the younger Matt Wedel is prominently featured.
An upcoming show at AMOCA will present approximately 300 works from the permanent collection of the museum. Curated by Jo Lauria, it marks the 10th anniversary of the AMOCA, and presents the wide array of possibilities of the medium.
There are many more, and there will be dozens—if not hundreds—to follow! It’s a great time to see ceramics, from the finely crafted to the freely formed, in Los Angeles. Don’t mourn the loss of our program, just get out and see the art!
This week, the Frank Lloyd Gallery announced the closing of the public exhibition program at Bergamot Station. As of February 14, the gallery will close its doors, and move to a private space in Pasadena. The current show, of Peter Voulkos and Craig Kauffman, will be the last. After a long and successful program of over 190 exhibitions, the founder and director, Frank Lloyd, sat down to talk with Kelly Boyd and answer a few questions:
Q.: Why would you want to leave the gallery business?
A.: Well, after nineteen years of exhibitions, publications, and sales, I am finally moving on. I consider it more of a transition. I have to leave behind this accomplishment, and forge ahead with another job, as the full-time representative of an artist’s estate. I also have very personal reasons for the move, since I need to be close to my 91-year-old mother.
Q.: But what about your artists? What will happen to them?
A.: When I started the gallery, I had a specific mission of presenting ceramic artwork in a fine art context. The gallery functioned on three levels: as a commercial venue for individual artists, as an educational resource for the community of Southern California. I wanted to preserve a legacy of ceramics in Los Angeles. Finally, the gallery served as a forum for dialogue among artists, collectors and critics. I think it succeeded on all those goals.
Later, as the gallery expanded, I showed artists from other countries, including England, Mexico, France, Holland and especially Japan. Then, I further expanded the program to include contemporary painters and sculptors, because I thought they all came out of the same time period in L.A., the innovative post-war period. In many ways, ceramics, along with assemblage, led the way back then. Voulkos, Mason and Price were examples of fearless leadership and grew out of a common bond.
Q.: But the artists, what will happen to them? You didn’t answer my question.
A.: Oh, you’re right! I’m pleased to say that, for several reasons, ceramics has regained its rightful spot in the mainstream. Just today I had the pleasure of reading a review in the Boston Globe about an exhibition of 200 years of American ceramics at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Featured were Cheryl Ann Thomas and Adrian Saxe. Also, an artist that I represented for 16 years, John Mason, has now regained his position in the art world, with shows like the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time, the recent Whitney Biennial, and his representation by David Kordansky.
I’m proud of showing Larry Bell since 2006, and now he’s with an international powerhouse gallery, White Cube. Even a less well-known ceramic artist from Japan, Satoru Hoshino, is having a show with Dominique Levy. Others that I’ve shown, like Betty Woodman and Ken Price, both had retrospective exhibits at the Metropolitan. Back in 2003, Dave Hickey for Artforum named Ron Nagle’s show at my gallery one of the top shows in the world. Now, he’s been in the Venice Bienniale and had a survey at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. Adrian Saxe continues to win awards and recognition from critics and organizations.
Q.: Is that because of what you did? Do you take credit for that?
A.: No, I think the artists should get all the credit, I’ve always thought that. But the art world is increasingly aware of these artists, now, and there is a feeling of some vindication. I get some satisfaction out of seeing these artists, who I showed and believed in, get the change in visibility. I think it’s due to several factors, actually. I just felt it was going to happen, twenty years ago when I started the gallery. The exhibition program was all about the place of these artists and that history.
Q.: What exactly are the factors you’re referring to?
A.: First is the obvious trend: Young artists have been using the ceramic medium, and they have no real material hierarchy. That’s a major factor. Younger artists will use anything; they are, quite fortunately, not bound to the old prejudices against clay. Critics have been champions of this use by young artists as well as the use by recognized artists. And curators have recognized the value of the work—look at the tremendous reception for the retrospective of Ken Price, for instance. The curators at major museums are making a big difference in the public’s perception.
Q.: What other examples?
A.: Well, the gallery showed the ceramic work of a major woman sculptor, Lynda Benglis. We had two quite visible and successful shows of Betty Woodman’s work, well in advance of the retrospective at the Met. We’ve shown a significant number of women, including the early group like Vivika Heino, Laura Andreson and Beatrice Wood, then more contemporary artists like Cindy Kolodziejski, Jennifer Lee, Marilyn Levine, Betty Woodman, and Elizabeth Fritsch, as well as sculptors like Lynda. Cheryl Ann Thomas is another example. We didn’t just show the men!
Q.: What part of the gallery are you most proud of?
A.: Oh, that’s easy: the publications. I’ve taken that job seriously, working with writers and a legendary graphic designer. In many ways, I was lucky to work with a superb graphic designer, the late Joe Molloy, and he mentored me through the process of publishing. I still have a huge stash of our publications, in which we published the writing of Kristine McKenna, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, and the art historian Francis Colpitt.
I’d also have to say that every day in my gallery was enhanced by the architecture, designed by Fred Fisher. It’s a sad thing to leave this space, so perfectly designed.
Q.: So, that’s a regret. What was your biggest disappointment?
A.: Lack of attendance. We work our butts off, and then the attendance is poor.
A.: Yes, and it’s a great memory. The big crowd pleasers were clearly deserving: Adrian Saxe’s shows—any of them! And then, we had people return again with their family, just to see the stunning and heartfelt works of French sculptor Georges Jeanclos. The first show of Peter Voulkos in 1999, that had people lined up just to get in. All were extremely gratifying to present. But lately, the attention has shifted and we are working on other projects.
Q.: Will you be busy? Is there enough work in your new job to keep you busy? Or are you retiring?
A.: This is a common question. The truth is, with an artist of this significance, Craig Kauffman, there is more than enough research, conservation, and publication to keep a full staff busy for a decade. The representatives of artist’s estates, and many foundations, are dedicated to the job of preserving and protecting the legacy and work of an artist. We’ll have plenty to do.
Q.: Won’t you miss the gallery business?
A.: I’ll miss the people. I have a number of passionate colleagues. That’s something I learned: many art dealers are passionate and committed individuals. We are fortunate to have them. I must say that there should be more recognition for the patrons and the dealers. I started by coming from the artists’ side—and now I’ve learned more about the collectors and the dealers. Art world news is often about hot young artists, the big money that is spent, and the connections to celebrity, all of it coming in a steady stream on new portal sites, traditional news media, and social media. But the thing that sustains it all is the hard work and passion of the artists, dealers, and patrons. I’d hate to see an art world without art galleries.
Q.: How would you sum up the last 19 years?
A.: In five words or less? A lot of hard work. But seriously, when I started, I wanted to make a statement: a gallery with a sense of history, that presents itself as a strong and relevant component of the contemporary art world. Although it was originally media-specific and became known as a specialty gallery, everything we exhibited had a relationship to painting and sculpture. We presented ceramics as a vital part of the regional and national scene and we also proposed links between historical precedents and contemporary ceramics. That was the reason for the expanded program, and it succeeded in many ways. I think the last show is a good way to finish the statement, and I’ll continue to try to set the record straight.
Last week I received some gratifying news in the form of a very positive review of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston’s current exhibition, Nature, Sculpture, Abstraction, and Clay: One Hundred Years of American Ceramics. Sebastian Smee, writing for the Boston Globe, reviewed the show, which presents gifts from the Daphne Farago Collection and the Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons Collection, in addition to other new acquisitions.
In a show of more than 70 pieces, several artists represented by the Frank Lloyd Gallery were singled out for praise. For example, while describing Adrian Saxe’s 1989 work Float/Aloft, Smee writes that, “Purely formal and aesthetic concerns were overtaken by a new sense of self-aware play, extending into the realms of language, pop culture, and politics.” Ken Price and Ralph Bacerra are also identified as artists of particular stature, represented by works engaged in creative dialogue with the historical pieces on display.
The review closes with the MFA Boston’s newly acquired work by Cheryl Ann Thomas, December. Calling it “A highlight — and a great note to end on,” Smee goes on to say that the piece “is truly something to behold.”
My inbox is filled with year-end lists and 2014 top ten rankings and rants. Should I add to that clutter? In a year that was filled with accomplishments for the artists and the gallery, it’s at least time to take a moment and make note of some things. I was reminded of the winter ritual by my friend Jennifer Lee’s photo.
Starting with the gallery’s blog, it’s amazing to see just how far-reaching the digital world has taken us. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I wonder: How does mobile computing affect the way that the public interacts with museum shows? How does the rise of corporate-owned art news aggregators affect the perception of art and the way that people see exhibitions? When people “share” art on social media, is that an effective way to communicate? Which media translate the best in the new digital age?
This blog was viewed in 102 different countries in just the past year. Most of our visitors were from the U.S., but the U.K. and France were not far behind. But, what did the viewers comment on the most? A post titled “The Two Californias”, in which I talked about the oft-cited but misunderstood division between the northern and southern regions of the state. The post was popular, for a while. But, an older post, about the mid-century architecture of the Pasadena area and Richard Neutra, continues to draw an on-line audience.
All told, over 16,000 people viewed the blog! Among the things they read about: Cheryl Ann Thomas and her exhibits and museum acquisitions, the incredibly intricate and highly humorous work of Adrian Saxe, and the continued efforts of the gallery on behalf of the Estate of Craig Kauffman. We’ve had a full year and are ready to turn the page. Please keep following us!