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News for Craig Kauffman

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Photo copyright The Museum of Modern Art

On Plexiglass at MoMA

Installed by Starr Figura, curator of Drawings and Prints, On Plexiglass is now on view on the 4th floor, in the David Geffen Galleries. The scholarly context and wide range of artists brilliantly shows the history and use of the material. As the MoMA demonstrates, acrylic plastic was invented in the early 1930s, and was widely used due to the properties of being lightweight, stable, transparent and malleable. Other artists from the MoMA collection include Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy, Claes Oldenburg, Bridget Riley, Robert Rauschenberg, Barnett Newman, Jesus Rafael Soto and more. Kauffman’s Red-Blue work was acquired in 1965.

Photo copyright Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Light, Space, Surface: Works from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The first venue for this traveling exhibit is the Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy Andover, from November 23, 2021 to March 20, 2022. Organized by LACMA, this exhibition explores the art of Light and Space as well as related works. In the 1960s and 1970s, various Southern California artists began to create works that investigate perceptual phenomena: how we come to understand form, volume, presence, and absence through light, seen directly through other materials, reflected, or refracted. Many used industrial materials—including sheet acrylic, fiberglass, and  polyester resin—in their work. Light, Space, Surface draws on LACMA’s deep holdings of this material. Featured artists include Craig Kauffman, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Judy Chicago, Mary Corse, Fred Eversley, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, James Turrell, and Doug Wheeler.

Photo by Paul Salveson courtesy Parker Gallery

The De Luxe Show

Craig Kauffman’s work was recently included in a re-creation of an important 1971 racially integrated exhibition at Parker Gallery in Los Angeles and Karma Gallery in New York. Kauffman was represented at Parker Gallery by a 1968 Untitled bubble, now in the collection of the Orange County Museum of Art. Originally presented in an abandoned movie theater located in a Black area of Houston, The De Luxe Show was one of the first racially integrated shows in the United States. The organizers brought major art to an underserved neighborhood, allowing residents to see work that was not available in their familiar surroundings. Featuring emerging and established abstract modern painters and sculptors of the time, the exhibition was curated by Peter Bradley with the backing of collectors and philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil.

Photo by Gabriel Seri, copyright The Estate of Craig Kauffman, Artists Rights Society, New York

Current online show of prints at FLG

Our current online exhibition concentrates on a series of lithographs by Craig Kauffman, completed at Cirrus Editions in 1980-81. Kauffman worked directly with Cirrus founder, the master printer Jean Milant. As author Hunter Drohojowska-Philp observed, “In 1980, Kauffman transferred his excitement over his collaged silk paints to prints. For the paintings, he drew a black ink line around each white paper strip that he cut out and glued to the silk surface. But to emulate the effect in lithography was far more complicated. The rest of the print was created using a brush and washes of color. These prints are close approximations of the paintings made around the same time — the interior of a room with a vase of flowers, or a pear on a table, or two faces in profile looking at one another. They are highly abstract, however, and the images are not easily deciphered.”

Always a painter

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Like so many of the artists who came into prominence during the 1960s, Craig Kauffman began as a painter, and consistently identified as one. His friends in New York, such as artists Robert Morris and Donald Judd, also had been painters in their early careers. And his colleagues in L. A., such as Larry Bell and Robert Irwin, were painters before they transitioned to their work with perception, environments, and site-determined works.

In a 1969 interview with Alan Solomon, transcribed by Matthew Simms for the Archives of American Art, Kauffman confirmed this by saying, “I don’t think of myself as a sculptor and I don’t even think Larry thinks of himself as a sculptor, and we’ve been classified as that lots of times, and you know when I think of myself I don’t really like those terms and I don’t think Bob does either.”
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Untitled, 1968
Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic
22 1/4 x 52 1/4 inches

Le mur s’en va, 1969
Acrylic lacquer on plastic
73 x 48 x 8 1/2 inches

Collection of Art Institute of Chicago

Courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago © Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

1966 Wall Reliefs

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Craig Kauffman was very much aware of developments in mainstream modern art of the 1960s. The intersection of painting and sculpture was producing a kind of hybrid art that, by 1965, became known by several critical terms (Primary Structures, ABC art, Literalist art, reductive abstraction, and eventually, Minimalism.) This was an art produced by industrial processes, without evidence of the artist’s hand or a sense of school or style. Artists abandoned traditional media and used new materials, to support their aesthetic and philosophical or perceptual investigations. For Kauffman’s wall relief paintings, the choice of material was obvious, as he had already been using sheets of industrial material, acrylic plastic.

In his “Washboards” from 1966, Kauffman also addressed some of the issues which were important to the more theoretical Minimalist art: serial artworks, industrial multiples, and anonymity. But where the New Yorkers’ materials were hard and cold—steel, lead and wood—Kauffman’s supple plastic was colored and full of curves. John Coplans had noted that Kauffman’s use of plastic was much more organic than the materials of his colleagues Larry Bell and Donald Judd, because he was able to curve the material by a thermoplastic process known as vacuum forming. Coplans wrote that, “the very nature of the process enhances the sensuousness of the material: it is transformed from a hard, flat crystalline sheet into a sinuously curvilinear profile.”


Craig Kauffman, Untitled, 1966
acrylic on vacuum formed colored plastic,
55 1⁄2 x 31 x 6 inches

Photo by Brian Forrest, courtesy of Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Copyright Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society, ARS New York

Written by Frank Lloyd

April 10, 2020 at 8:49 pm

Craig Kauffman’s Color

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By 1971, Kauffman continued his interests in process art and forming plastic, but changed the way that the paint was applied, sometimes in a loose, uneven manner. Applied from the back, the color combination of green, yellow and red is reminiscent of the color of French painters like Matisse used after their travels. Kauffman stated, “I love colors in Mexico and Mexican buildings and all that stuff…and it mostly exists in my mind. I have never been to Mexico City. I have just been to Tijuana and Baja.” But Kauffman was also very much aware of how painters like Matisse were influenced, in a similar way, by the colors they saw in North Africa.

In an interview with Michael Auping, Kauffman recalled, “Well, I moved back out here [Laguna Beach] and then I went into forming those pieces that were only seen in Paris: some bars, and there were some that are like boards. They’re actually done over boards, put on sort of like the boards on a house around here…some of them were sprayed in sort of this uneven way. Then others were poured into this channel from the back.”


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Craig Kauffman Untitled, 1971

acrylic lacquer on press formed plastic

48 x 96 x 2 inches

Photography courtesy Sprüth Magers

Photo by Timo Ohler, copyright Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society ARS New York

Quotations from:

Auping, Michael. Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait. Craig Kauffman Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1976.

Written by Frank Lloyd

March 26, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Robert Morris and Craig Kauffman

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Craig Kauffman and Robert Morris had a long friendship, dating back to April of 1958 when they both exhibited at the Dilexi Gallery, Opening Group Show, in the North Beach section of San Francisco. The two artists met up again several times, especially in New York during the late 1960s.

Their frequent discussions resulted in a short-lived collaboration for the exhibition Using Walls (Indoors) at the Jewish Museum in 1970, which remained open for only one day, and which Kauffman described as a combination of both of the artists’ ideas. Only a few years prior, Morris begun making process-oriented felt pieces, in which he hung strips of industrial felt on the wall and allowed gravity to determine their shape. This influenced Kauffman’s conception of his series of Loops, in which sheets of spray-painted Plexiglas seem to casually droop over a wire.

In Kauffman’s work, the environment constantly shifts as the viewer moves around each object. The light that moves across the curved edges of each piece facilitates the full comprehension of their forms. This draws comparisons to Morris’s own textual formulations in his influential Notes on Sculpture series, which advocated a phenomenological reading of the art object, how they change under varying conditions of light and space. The colored shadows of the hanging Loops and the cast plastic forms that project into space directly implicate both the viewer and their supports.


The photos above show the installation on the first floor of the exhibition curated by Frank Lloyd, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, Sprüth Magers London, January 19—March 31, 2018.

Installation views: Sprüth Magers, London, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, January 19–March 31, 2018.

Photo Courtesy Sprüth Magers
Photography by Stephen White

Craig Kauffman and Donald Judd

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Craig Kauffman and Donald Judd met in the mid-1960s, when both had studios in Manhattan. They were friends and exchanged works, with Judd acquiring a 1967 translucent orange Plexiglas wall relief by Kauffman. Over the last 50 years, curators and critics have often noted the similarities in their use of industrial materials, serial imagery, with hybrid objects that present the relationship of sculpture and the wall.

Donald Judd used the phrase “specific objects” to describe his own work, a format which operated between painting and sculpture. Like the work of Judd, Kauffman’s three-dimensional plastic paintings occupy this liminal category. Their volume suggests that they are sculpture, but their presence on the wall reinforces their status as paintings. The unity of color and form, achieved through the use of industrial materials, is a point of similarity between the two artists’ objectives.

In the 2018 Sprüth Magers exhibit Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, Donald Judd’s work was contextualized by the inclusion of the stack piece Untitled (Bernstein 80-4) (1980) and the floor piece Untitled, DSS 234 (1970). In the same ground floor room, curator Frank Lloyd placed the 1967 Craig Kauffman, which Judd had owned, along with a 1969 Kauffman Untitled Wall relief. Writing for Flash Art, critic Alex Bennet noted:

“Kauffman’s work on show demonstrates an unchallenged desire for phenomenological observation, a project of formal pleasure that distends from concerns of figure and ground, wall and support, industrial procedure and material contingency. The ground floor features Kauffman’s bulging biomorphic and bullishly lusty vacuum forms, shellacked and uniform like candies in chronic tangerine or extravagant duotone: ridged carnation pink protruding from a lacquered jade. Each one has its own resolute charm.”


Installation view: Sprüth Magers, London, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, January 19–March 31, 2018.

Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman

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Over the past 60 years, Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman have appeared in 153 group exhibitions together. With similar concerns of transparency and luminosity, the artists also share an interest in the perceptual world of sensual phenomena.

Starting with the Los Angeles County Museum in 1959, and running through 2019, many of these shows were at museums. Curators from the 1960s such as John Coplans (Pasadena Art Museum) and Kynaston McShine (MOMA) were responsible for significant exhibits in the early years. In a legendary 1969 MOMA show by curator Kynaston McShine, Bell and Kauffman were shown with their friend and colleague Ron Davis, as well as Robert Irwin and John McCracken.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York,  Five Recent Acquisitions, June 25–October 12, 1969.  Organized by MoMA curator Kynaston McShine. Works by Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, and John McCracken.

Photo: Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art archives

Design Attitude

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Ever since his high school days with his friend Walter Hopps, Kauffman was interested in jazz, often attending live concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area, including venues like the Burma Lounge. By 1952 Kauffman reunited with Walter Hopps at UCLA, and they joined up with another jazz enthusiast, Jim Newman, who was then attending Oberlin college. They joined others in forming a venture called Concert Hall Workshop. Their stated purpose was to promote jazz at public venues. With his architecture skills, Kauffman drew the plans for a future concert hall, and served as the graphic designer. Kauffman’s lively, bold designs for the programs are shown here. At this time, Kauffman said, “It was more of a Moholy-Nagy attitude, somewhere between design and architecture.”

Craig Kauffman also was a co-founder of Syndell Studios, along with Hopps, Newman, Ben and Betty Bartosh, Michael Scoles and Shirley Nielsen. Syndell Studios produced the legendary “Action 1: Concert Hall Workshop presents Action Painting of the West Coast.” Craig Kauffman designed the announcement for this, with graphics that showed Constructivist influences, and Kauffman and others show mounted the Action I show on the Santa Monica pier, while Hopps was in the Army.



Written by Frank Lloyd

July 1, 2019 at 6:56 pm

A Minimal Future at MoCA, 2004

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Craig Kauffman was included in several exhibits with seminal Minimalist sculptors, during the 1960s and more recently.  In 2004, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles presented “A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958–1968,” including the work of forty American artists in an historical and scholarly examination of Minimal art, organized Curator Ann Goldstein. The catalogue essay (by Susan L. Jenkins) states “Like Judd’s “specific objects,” Kauffman’s vacuum formed plastic works exist in a space between painting and sculpture, although Kauffman has always considered himself a painter. The three-dimensionality of the earlier illusionistic paintings was now thoroughly replaced by the literal presence and three-dimensionality of works that increasingly projected from the surface of the wall.” These photos of the MOCA installation show Kauffman’s work in the company of his colleague John McCracken’s sculpture.

Installation view of “A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958–1968” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2004. Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photography by Brian Forrest.

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Written by Frank Lloyd

September 21, 2018 at 6:12 pm

Using Walls (Indoors), and Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space

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P.1970.2_HR - InstallCraig Kauffman remained a painter throughout his career. Still, Kauffman experimented with various painting media, as well as doing two very significant  installations–one in New York and one in Los Angeles. In 1970, following  Kauffman’s involvement with colored reflections on the wall—the “Loops”—he worked in collaboration with Robert Morris during the Spring 1970 show at the Jewish Museum, “Using Walls (Indoors).” The Curator Susan Tumarkin Goodwin stated, “For many artists, working directly on the wall seems to be a natural extension of  their previous use of canvas.” This process-oriented piece marks the beginning of a brief period when the artist conceived of, and produced, work  related to installations or environments.Kauffman_1970_UCLABy 1971, Kauffman was included in an exhibit at the UCLA Art Galleries, titled “Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space.” In an interview with Frederick S. Wight for the UCLA catalog, the artist speculated about his work at that time, saying “…now I’m thinking of doing things on a wall that run from corner to corner which really make the whole wall the piece…the emphasis isn’t on a unified form where it is more spread out if you want to call it that. The piece is less important than what it is doing to the wall.” Henry J. Seldis of the L. A. Times described an “…exhilarating set of sensate experiences…” on the walls of the gallery space.