Archive for December 2008
I am fascinated by the way that artists talk about their work. Almost two years ago, painter Ed Moses was interviewed by Kristine McKenna at the gallery. She asked him, “What did you do in these paintings that you’ve never done before?”
Ed Moses: Nothing. I don’t believe in change—I believe in mutation, and every painting I make comes out of the painting that preceded it. There’s one thing in my work that never mutates, however, and that’s the fact that I don’t conceive of imagery when I work. I never think pictorially—what I do is work physically. I like pushing and shoving paint around, but I’m not trying to express anything and I don’t want to be creative—that’s a word I’ve always hated. What I want to do is hang out with the materials until something appears that I had nothing to do with.
As for this new work, I’ve always liked watercolors and always wanted to make them big, and I’ve been painting wet into wet for the last twenty years. Truthfully, I’m baffled as to why people are responding to these paintings so much more enthusiastically than they have to other work I’ve made using the same technique. I guess every dog has his day, even a dirty dog. All my friends have had their day, but I never have, so now is my moment. I don’t think it has anything to do with the work, though. I think it’s just my turn.
Kristine: How do you know when a painting is finished?
Ed Moses: It lights up.
A poster from Peter Voulkos’ first show in Los Angeles hangs over my desk. This bold graphic image, advertising the exhibition by the acclaimed young Voulkos, marks the beginning of a regional legacy, which would prove to have international significance. At the Felix Landau Gallery on March 26, 1956, the role of the gallery in promoting contemporary ceramics began a new phase. Felix Landau was, by most accounts, the best gallerist in town. He began to exhibit Voulkos in a gallery that also showed the finest painting and sculpture of the time. Collectors, curators and critics–outside of the insular world of potters–saw Peter’s ceramics at this exhibit.
The poster shows, of course, the influence of Picasso. The artist had seen reproductions of work by Picasso, Miro and Artigas. Bold brushwork and a kind of abstract still-life motif dominate the hand-formed graphics. This bridge to Picasso and the world of painting was appropriate to the gallery, since works by Miro, Klee and Matisse were shown in Los Angeles at the time. In fact, as historian Henry Hopkins has noted, Picasso’s work was exhibited at Frank Perls Gallery in the 1950s. Voulkos showed pottery and paintings at Felix Landau’s gallery, and the 1956 show caused a sensation. It is important to note that the show was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and Craft Horizons in 1956, and the work was purchased by several prominent collectors in Los Angeles.
Many writers have focused on the years when Voulkos taught at Los Angeles County Art Institute, later called Otis Art Institute. This is a story that has become, in the words of one critic, “a favorite bedtime story”. Yes, there was a great confluence of talent in the company of a charismatic and inventive leader in the Otis group. However, in order for the work to reach a wider audience, and for value to be assigned to that work, the commercial gallery was absolutely essential. The works on this page show that beginning.
The exhibition at Felix Landau Gallery marks the beginning of the influence of Voulkos’ work. How did the gallery make a difference? It gave his work a wide exposure to an art audience, it provided a forum for discussion and it made connections with collectors, curators and critics. The successful gallery exhibition serves as an example for other artists, and can even inspire another dealer. Decades later, this legacy is an inspiration to the mission of my gallery. I will be continuing to write about this legacy in future posts.
For Angelenos, it was scary enough to consider the fate of the Museum of Contemporary Art. But suppose we didn’t have the great coverage of that story from the L.A. Times and Culture Monster? Now that would be devastating. Throughout the crisis, we were kept informed by Christopher Knight, Suzanne Muchnic, and Diane Haithman. Despite the recent cutbacks at the city’s newspaper, we are blessed to have such first-rate journalists and editors willing to devote the space to a cultural issue. Tyler Green has posted an aggregate of current MOCA links.
What does an art dealer do on his day off? Well, on Monday I took my mother to a museum. We’ve often gone to railroad baron Henry E. Huntington’s Library and Art Collections in nearby San Marino. I first went there as an eight year old. In the early visit, I took home a reproduction of Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, but on Monday I was delivering a seminal work by Peter Voulkos. Who knew that I’d return, decades later, as a lender to an exhibit?
After we checked in the 1954 Voulkos, Hal Nelson, who is now a guest curator of American Art, gave our museum tour. We met briefly with the Director, John Murdoch. We learned that the desk of Hal Nelson was once the personal desk of Mr. Huntington. We admired the Peter Voulkos, which was properly unwrapped and inspected by the Registrar. But wait a minute, you may ask, what’s a Voulkos doing at the Huntington?
The Huntington’s reputation was built on the library and the British aristocratic portraits, to be sure. There are fantastic gardens, too. But, as it turns out, the Huntington’s collection of American art has grown impressively over the past 20 years. Now it includes paintings, sculpture and decorative arts from the late 17th through the mid 20th centuries. The curators are busy preparing the Scott Gallery and the Erburu Gallery for a May 26th opening. It’s then that I will see the Voulkos, in the company of Glen Lukens, Laura Andreson, Otto and Gertrud Natzler, and Harrison McIntosh.
Recently mentioned by Christopher Knight in his top 10 for 2008 list, the renovated Main House is impeccable. Now, as another sign of the cultural maturity that Knight discussed, we’ll see the links of early California ceramic pioneers, in the context of Arts and Crafts. There’s also an installation of works by the early 20th-century Southern California architects, Charles and Henry Greene.
Bob Graham was a gentleman. Always immaculate in a white shirt with the cuffs rolled back just slightly, he stood tall, proud and strong. A generous host, he would make sure that his guests were properly welcomed. I will always think of him, at a large party, standing and holding a cigar. He was a powerful presence.
Yesterday I got the sad news of his passing. I thought about how I would honor his memory. As I dressed today, the first thing I did was to roll back my sleeves, just twice. The next thing I did was to visit his work, and revel in that power and that presence. This man was an incredibly prolific humanist.
I drove downtown to see The Great Bronze Doors of the Cathedral. On a clear Sunday, the monumental doors are the perfect portals, standing testament to the sculptor’s architectural knowledge. I thought of the integration of the panels, referencing the heritage and culture of the city. I walked over to the Music Center to see the Dance Door, a work that was originally commissioned by Frederick and Marcia Weisman. It reminded me of Marcia Weisman’s essential role in the founding of MOCA, during the redevelopment of Bunker Hill. And, at LACMA, the bronze Graham column stands tall and strong in the angular gallery that contains the permanent collection of ceramics in the American Galleries.
Graham’s last show was at my gallery. It came about fairly quickly, and at the suggestion of his studio manager Noriko Fujinami, included work from the 1970s and recent drawings. I let people know about the show by sponsoring a spot on our local NPR radio station. Artist Tony Berlant heard that radio spot, and commented to me, “I liked hearing about Bob’s show on the radio. It made it sound like a real cultural event.” Indeed, it was a cultural event, and one that bonded me to a true gentleman and great sculptor.
The last time I saw Bob was in his new building, sitting in the upstairs studio. He was still immaculately dressed, though he had recently fallen. I brought a bottle of wine, and suggested that fine tequila and cigars would have been better. We laughed together, and he said he would drink the wine. Most of all, he wanted me to see the new work in the studio.
It’s time for Top Ten lists. Critics and commentators in every form of media have been coming up with their year-end lists, from sports to movies to art. But today’s list of the Top Ten houses in Los Angeles really caught my attention. Like music to my ears, this is another confirmation of the legacy of residential architecture in Southern California. Not surprisingly, the number one consensus choice of the panel of experts was Schindler’s Kings Road house. The extended on-line photo essay is a delightful architectural tour.
One of my favorite gifts this season came from my neighbor Craig Krull, who shares my dual passions for architecture and the history of Los Angeles art. Krull presented me with a copy of Julius Shulman’s photo essay on the building of the photographer’s own house in the Hollywood Hills. This spiral bound gem is a limited edition of Shulman’s original prints, detailing the construction of his Raphael Soriano home. Each print is reproduced with the photographer’s stamp. It reminds me of the times I went to new home construction sites as a kid, with my father pointing out the footings and framing.
Visitors to my gallery have often asked, “How did you get into ceramics?” It’s a good question, and I have a simple answer. My friend Rob Forbes turned me on to ceramics, when we were college buddies at U.C. Santa Cruz. Rob’s passion for pots was something he shared with me, as I was a painter. He gave me my first (and still the only) hands-on demonstration at a local studio. I made my only ceramic artwork, a small commemorative tile with the name of a legend in baseball, Roberto Clemente.
Today I recalled this because of the way we learn about art–it’s often a shared experience, a way of generously expanding our perceptions or investigating the world. My friendships with artists are probably the biggest reward of owning the gallery, as the artists continually point out the ways they see the world. Their natural storytelling, pointedly ironic anecdotes, and active guides to attention give meaning and relevance to our time together.
Since that early exposure from my pal Rob, I’ve had lots of help in learning about ceramics–almost all of it from Adrian Saxe, John Mason, Peter Voulkos, Peter Shire, Tony Marsh and all of the artists at my gallery. I’m about as lucky as any ceramics student could be. But, I have to give credit where credit is due (and Rob jokingly reminds me of that). Forbes continued with ceramics, earning an MFA and teaching art and design, before embarking on a successful career in the world of business. As founder of Design Within Reach, he became worldwide design maven, and now he has a new venture called Studio Forbes.
One of his many contributions to the world of design was to re-publish George Nelson‘s How to See: A Guide to Reading Our Man-Made Environment. If you can get a copy of this, it’s a book that can change your world-view. As Forbes notes in his introduction, Nelson’s “…active mind and perpetual appetite for seeing and learning kept him engaged with the world, seeing the results of modern industrial society.”