Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Craig Kauffman: Late Philippine Paintings

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Untitled, 2009, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Craig Kauffman lived and worked in the Philippines for most of his later years. His love of Asian culture, which began during the early 1950s, grew stronger as he traveled to many countries in the 1980s. He settled in the Philippines after visits to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan. At first, he lived in the huge metropolis of Manila, and while there he painted exotic still life images, reveling in sensuous floral colors. As the years went on, he came full circle, and going back to his curving line and early still life paintings. And in another way, he continued with a thread that is common to all of his work: sensuality of color.

Untitled, 2009, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

These paintings show repeated imagery: a looping, curving line is bounded by the edges of the dark canvas, energized by the use of bright colors and metallic glitter. Numbers, which first appeared in 1988, now re-appeared, this time more densely packed. And the still life imagery, of flowers and simple vases, are overlaid and interwoven. Sometimes, the curving lines were simplified to just a pair of circles, perhaps punctured by a straight line. Other times the circles morphed into a bubble-flower, defining a growing form.

Untitled, 2009, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 46 x 28 inches

1966 Washboard to Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth

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Craig Kauffman, Untitled, 1966, Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed colored plastic, 56 x 31 x 4 inches

Copyright: Estate of Craig Kauffman / Artists Rights Society, ARS/NY

For Black History month, we want to acknowledge connections that artists and collectors made to supporting racial equality. 1968 was a tumultuous year in American history, as the tragic April 4th assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was a stunning event for the nation. Tensions brought about widespread demonstrations and unrest. Artists in many regions reacted, and made efforts to support Black communities and organizations.

In Los Angeles, a group of collectors and artists held an art auction to benefit L.A.’s Black Congress on April 26, 1968. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the auction was held at the home of Elyse and Stanley Grinstein, and included significant works donated by artists. Maurice Tuchman, curator at LACMA, organized the auction, aided by collectors, artists, and volunteers. Tuchman stated, “I hope the auction sets an example for what people can do in their own (business and professional) areas of activity toward improving race relations.”

Artists including Robert Irwin, Peter Alexander, and John McCracken participated. Craig Kauffman donated a 1966 Untitled Washboard to the auction, and it was purchased by the Fort Worth Art Museum through the Benjamin J. Tillar Memorial Trust. The above example is one of eight Kauffman Washboards in public museum collections.

Quote from Trimborn, Harry, Art Auction raises $37,600., Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1968, p. 19-20.

A Plastic Presence

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Image: Untitled, 1968, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic,
44 ¼ x 89 5/8 x 14 inches
Photo by John Glembin, Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum

By the late 1960s, Craig Kauffman’s work was fully acknowledged by curators, critics and major museums. In addition to Barbara Rose and Lucy Lippard, another critic who admired Kauffman was Robert Pincus-Witten. The major Artforum critic wrote about Kauffman’s show at Pace in 1969, noting “a search for an exquisite affinement of sensuality–an elusive counterpart to a poised and unsullied spiritual neutrality.”

In 1969-1970,  an inclusive show was presented at the Jewish Museum, titled “A Plastic Presence.” Organized with the Milwaukee Art Center, the show included one work by each of 49 artists from all parts of the United States. Notably, the curators were inclusive of women, such as Eva Hesse, Louise Nevelson, Helen Pashgian, Sylvia Stone and others.

Reviewing the exhibit at the Jewish Museum for Artforum, Pincus-Witten wrote, “Craig Kauffman, one of the West Coast artists I most admire, was handsomely represented by an attenuated and scrupulous lentil-like work of the kind shown in his last New York exhibition.”

First quote from Pincus-Witten, Pincus-Witten, Robert. “New York.” Artforum 7, no. 8 (April 1969), p. 70.

Second quote from: Pincus-Witten, Robert. “Frank Lincoln Viner, Craig Kauffman, DeWain Valentine, Peter Alexander, Bruce Beasley, Robert Bassler, the Gianakos brothers and Eva Hesse.” Artforum (January 1970), p. 69.

Synthetic materials

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Violet-Green, 1964, Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic, 47 x 35 1/4 x 5 inches, Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art

© 2022 The Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society ARS/NY
Red-Blue, 1964, Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic, 89 5/8 x 45 1/2 x 5 inches, Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

© 2022 The Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society ARS/NY

We have just watched a documentary film produced by PBS, which noted the supposed lack of respect given to West Coast artists by New York critics and curators. That’s not necessarily true, as our research shows. Major galleries like Pace showed the Southern Californians, and some knowledgeable critics responded, with a sense of history of synthetic materials in art. Don’t forget that Kauffman’s first group show in New York was a big success. The exhibit titled “5 at Pace” included two vacuum-formed works, both of which went to East Coast museums. “Red-Blue”, 1964 was immediately acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, through the Larry Aldrich fund. “Violet-Green”, 1964 was acquired by Frank Stella and Barbara Rose, and later donated to the Cleveland Art Museum. And the show was very positively reviewed by a major New York critic, Lucy Lippard.

Writing for Art International, Lippard praised Kauffman’s innovative work. Her piece “New York Letter” starts with “We have been a long time in picking up [Naum] Gabo’s pioneering suggestions about synthetics as prime sculptural media. They have been used in isolated instances for the past 40 years, but only now is their potential beginning to be fully realized. The bold colors and spatial experiences possible with opaque and transparent surfaces, and their flexibility and variety, are made to order for the current time.” Singling out Kauffman for praise, she wrote: “Kauffmann is the most original of the five, partially due to his technique of vacuum molding plastic into a relief colored from behind with acrylic paints. the single forms on solid grounds are semi-biological, semi-mechanistic, a combination peculiar to Picabia, who is brought to mind.”

Edward Ruscha, William Reynolds, Larry Bell and Tony DeLap were also included in “5 at Pace,” held March 9–April 3, 1965

Quote from: Lippard, Lucy R. “New York Letter.” Art International IX, no. 4 (May 1965), pp. 52–59.

Radiant Color

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Photography: Vicki Phung Smith
©  Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Craig Kauffman’s wall relief paintings are his most well known work. Throughout his career, Kauffman explored the use of unorthodox materials, and continually sought new forms. Art historian Susan C. Larsen has noted, “Kauffman’s work has maintained its radiant color and its emphasis on certain sensuous physical properties of his materials.” Throughout his career, by integration of sprayed color and shape, he achieved the lush presence of his formed acrylic wall reliefs. Kauffman returned to working in plastic intermittently, inventing new forms and methods of production. Each series was different in form or coloration. For his last series in 2009, he produced hexagonal reliefs that inverted his more familiar bubble form. Concave instead of convex, this delicately colored work opens out from a sensual, glittering center. With a gently opening hexagonal shape, the pieces recalled flowers to most viewers, and were certainly one of the most beloved.

Reviewing the 2010 exhibit at Frank Lloyd Gallery for the Los Angeles Times, critic Christopher Knight wrote, “When hung on the wall, the bowl-like relief performs as a subtle light-catcher, while complex shadow-patterns cascade down the wall. Variously translucent, transparent and reflective, the acrylics refract and shatter ambient illumination.”

Craig Kauffman
Untitled, 2009
drape formed acrylic with acrylic lacquer and glitter
36 x 40 x 8 inches
private collection

Written by Frank Lloyd

December 21, 2021 at 12:28 am

Sunshine and Noir

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Untitled, 1968
Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic
43 x 89 x 15 inches

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

In 1997, the first major European survey of art from Los Angeles was organized by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark. Titled Sunshine and Noir: Art in Los Angeles 1960-1997, the exhibit traveled to Wolfsburg, Germany, then Rivoli, Italy, and finally to the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Los Angeles. This was a significant breakthrough for the recognition of all 47 of the artists, and wide exposure to a European audience. There had been European shows before, such as the 1967 presentation of Ed Ruscha, Lynn Foulkes, John McCracken and Craig Kauffman in the Biennale at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

This was a wide and inclusive survey, although the Los Angeles version differed from the European exhibit. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight commented, “Whatever its shape, “Sunshine and Noir” is an important show to see, for anyone concerned with contemporary culture, if only because it’s the first to take stock of a landmark phenomenon.”

At UCLA, Kauffman was represented by a 1968 work, illustrated above.

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Green-Red, 1965, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic, 89 ½ x 45 ¾ x 5 ½ inches.
Cover of Art in America, July-August 1966.

During the years 1965 to 1973, Craig Kauffman was represented by Pace Gallery in New York. The early plastic works were very well received and the gallery placed Kauffman’s paintings in major public and private collections.  By the summer of 1966, Kauffman’s acrylic plastic wall relief paintings were featured on the cover of Art in America. Kauffman continued to exhibit at Pace in New York, and by 1967 his work had been acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Also in 1967, historian and critic Barbara Rose included Kauffman in the exhibit “A New Aesthetic” at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, along with Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Kauffman’s colleagues Larry Bell, Ron Davis and John McCracken. As Rose noted in her catalogue essay, “Shaping the brittle sheet plastic into a series of voluptuous curves, Kauffman achieves a kind of abstract eroticism that is purely visual.”

Installation view of Craig Kauffman exhibition at Pace Gallery in 1967. Photograph by Ferdinand Boesch, courtesy Pace Gallery.
Cover of A New Aesthetic. Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 1967 exhibition catalogue.

Copenhagen Contemporary

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Photo by Tim Davies

Opening on December 2nd at Copenhagen Contemporary in Denmark, the exhibit “Light and Space” is the first international look at a very influential art movement. As a foundation, included are works by Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Helen Pashgian and Mary Corse, Southern Californian artists from the late 1960s. By all accounts, a leader and innovator was Craig Kauffman. Shown above are two Kauffman works installed in the exhibition hall.

Kauffman was very much aware of the history of the use of plastic in art, going back to the Constructivists Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo, and proceeding to the Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy. Kauffman began to use the transparent material of acrylic plastic as early as 1963. After an initial group of works with flat plastic, Kauffman discovered the industrial process of vacuum forming, and proceeded to translate his sensuous forms into wall reliefs, painted on the reverse with sprayed acrylic lacquer.

The show also includes modern European artists who engage the viewer in perceptual awareness by the use of translucent or transparent materials, and interaction with the medium of light. Copenhagen Contemporary curators wisely expanded the show to include such artists as Ann Veronica Janssens, Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson. The exhibit covers over nearly 60 years of international activity by artists from many regions of the world.

Historical Knowledge

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Photo by: Susan Einstein

For all of his paintings on plastic, Craig Kauffman used the same substrate, commonly known by the brand name Plexiglas. The chemical name of the lightweight, stable and optically clear material is polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA. Kauffman was very aware of the history of the use of plastic in art, going back to the Constructivists Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo (who used an earlier plastic), and proceeding to the Bauhaus artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy. Craig Kauffman had been acquainted with Moholy-Nagy since reading “The New Vision” when he was a high school senior in 1949.

But the material wasn’t developed in Southern California. In fact, chemists around the world accelerated their efforts in plastics research in the 1930s. A German chemist named Otto Röhm and his team turned their attention to methacrylates, and discovered that polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) was a harder, transparent material than the previously researched plastics. The name Plexiglas was patented and registered as a brand in 1933, about the same time as another company developed Lucite in the United Kingdom.

Sometimes the popular myth states that artists in Southern California used materials developed after WW II. This is not true of Plexiglas. And sometimes the popular myth is that artists in Southern California were inspired by sun, surf and Hollywood glamour. This is not true of Kauffman. As noted by curator Carol Eliel, “Craig Kauffman is the only one of his peers who, in a substantial way, came to his artistic vocabulary through a historical knowledge of Modernism.”

Carol Eliel quote from: “Light Space Surface: Art from Southern California,” published by Los Angeles County Museum of Art and DelMonico Books/DAP, 2021

Hemispheres and Hexagons

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Macopa, 2007
Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic
34 x 38 x 12 in
Untitled, 2009
Drape formed acrylic with acrylic lacquer and glitter
36 x 40 x 8 in.
Installation view, (Bubbes) Danese Gallery, Late Work, 2010
 Installation view, (Flowers) Danese Gallery, Late Work, 2010

Kauffman’s late work was presented in a solo show at Danese Gallery, New York, in 2011. Among the strong reviews was a highly descriptive and praising analysis by Ken Johnson in the New York Times:

“In the late 1960s Mr. Kauffman…formed shapes resembling large hemispherical bubbles, which attracted much attention at the time. Recently he returned to the bubble form, and this show presents a half-dozen examples. Painted from behind in nacreous lacquers–in off-whites and tints of orange, yellow and green–they resemble giant pearls. He also created concave forms with glittery, six-sided centers that are like big flower blossoms. Also spray-painted from behind, they are exquisitely colored. Glowing misty yellow surrounds the magenta center of one; royal blue frames the emerald hexagon of another.”

–excerpt from Johnson, Ken. “Art in Review: Craig Kauffman, ‘Late Work.'” New York Times, October 1, 2010

Written by Frank Lloyd

October 21, 2021 at 9:27 pm

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