Archive for January 2009
It has been a little over two years since I expanded the gallery exhibition program, providing a context for the major figures in West Coast art. Today I recalled the shows that we have put together, especially since the pivotal “Sculpture from the Sixties” exhibit in November and December of 2006. I was reminded when I recently read Christopher Knight’s “Top Ten” list for 2008, because he used the term “cultural maturity”.
What Knight wrote about was the recognition of L.A.’s history and the projects that are documenting movements and artists. In late 2008, the Getty Research Institute announced grants to “nonprofit institutions in Southern California interested in planning exhibitions relevant to the history of art in the Los Angeles area during the postwar period…” A series of exhibitions, under the name of “Pacific Standard Time” will be held throughout Southern California from September 2011 through June 2012.
I’ve been working on the gallery’s exhibition program for the past 13 years, and have presented many shows that pointed to the history of L.A. art in the postwar era, especially our shows of the seminal contemporary ceramics movement. It’s really gratifying to see the recognition for these artists, who boldly broke the rules and broke ground for successive movements. I’ve also represented work by a group of innovative artists in other media from that era.
Some of them posed, along with the late Patricia Faure and friends, for this photo at the gallery. From left to right are Vivian Rowan, Larry Bell, Avilda Moses, Ed Moses, the late Patricia Faure, and Craig Kauffman.
Every one of these people, as well as John Mason, appears in a documentary film titled “The Cool School”, which was released last year. Documenting the formation, rise and fall of the legendary Ferus gallery, the film was reviewed in the New York Times and Variety.
At the gallery, we get lots of questions. The most frequent questions are about the artist and the technique used, of course. Those queries are easy to answer. But people also want to know about the pictures we use on the announcements. We’ve learned that many of our fans are keeping a collection of those mailings, and admire our graphics.
So, here’s a little peek behind the curtain, a look at something behind the scenes. Most of the photographs that we use on our announcements are by Anthony Cuñha. Few realize just how much effort goes into each shot. Tony is a master of lighting, because…well, that’s his medium. Here’s our friend and photographer, setting up the shot and documenting a Peter Voulkos plate. This session is at the gallery, and Tony is ably assisted by ace art handler, Steve Rivers.
Peter Shire’s work is laced with color; bright hues and bold contrasts are essential elements in all of his sculpture. I’ve noted before that Peter’s large-scale sculptures are currently on view in West Hollywood. But they can also be seen in Elysian Park, and his work is prominent in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Today’s LACMA blog, Unframed, has a wonderful post about Shire’s work.
Jayme Odgers, a fellow artist and designer, thinks that the Shire’s experiences in Italy had a dramatic effect on the sculpture and the color. He says, “My sense is his contact with Sottsass Associati broke Peter wide open. As we know, Americans tend to have a more restrictive attitude toward artists/designers while the Europeans have an expansive viewpoint. European artists/designers are ‘allowed’ to paint, sculpt, design showrooms, furniture, fabrics, wall coverings, work in glassware, or whatever they deem necessary to fulfill their creative wishes. Once Peter got involved with Ettore Sottsass, Aldo Cibic, Marco Zanini and their peers he embraced their expansive viewpoint and enlarged his worldview exponentially to include sculpture, furniture and beyond.”
My own perception of the color includes the key that the peach is Peter’s favorite fruit. On the peach, yellow transitions to a rosy red, with the leaves as a green accent. We had a conversation about color:
Frank: Where does the color come from?
Peter: People always say, oh, you live in a Mexican neighborhood; the sort of Caribbean colors, Mexican colors, and that’s always served well for press purposes, and sounds good.
Frank: Is there another story?
Peter: My Dad was trained as an artist, and actually graduated as an illustrator. He was a natural illustrator, a natural draftsman. He graduated in 1932 from Pratt. My Dad went to art school, and he studied a thing called the Munsell color wheel, and he had all these diagrams. He was a very academic guy, a very diligent guy. And so when they painted our house, he and the architect selected the colors, and actually most of the colors, these really outré colors, came, first, there. And they built a modernist house, redwood with turquoise trim. The kitchen was grey, whitish chartreuse, salmon on the cabinets-on the lowers-a pea-green counter, Formica counter, and it sort of went off that way, with these other colors. My room was salmon, and my brother’s was a sort of Cerulean blue. And I think the redwood and the turquoise with the chartreuse thrown into the kitchen, the rest of it was wood, and the floors were asphalt and a kind of maroon.
Yesterday’s shocking announcement by Brandeis University to sell the collection and close the Rose Art Museum has generated a storm of blogs and articles. I try to write responsibly about things that I know. So, as dismayed and bewildered as I might be about the news, I am just going to point readers in the direction of the stories–from the first article in the Boston Globe to the most respected blogs and journals on line. I feel sure that this issue will generate a huge, continued reaction throughout the art world and the halls of higher education. I haven’t previously posted an aggregate list about a news item, but here’s my first. I’ll follow the story through these sources and others:
Pairings are sometimes fortunate–a lucky draw at the poker table, the unexpected blind date that clicks. Yet, the success of tennis partners at a doubles match is the result of very timely and thoughtful matchmaking. So, when curators pair up artists for exhibits, we hope there has been some thought, too. I work at this, and it’s hardly random. So, here are my thoughts about the simultaneous shows of Kurt Weiser and Cindy Kolodziejski. It’s our next show.
Both artists use contemporary ceramic forms as a support for figurative painting. Both artists are taking something we know (a globe in the case of Weiser, a bedpan in the case of Kolodziejski), and altering it to fit their purpose. While Cindy Kolodziejski continues to explore the fertile territory of human sensuality, Kurt Weiser pushes into a surreal and fantastic world on his odd-shaped globes.
Cindy Kolodziejski continues to make vessels by recombining and manipulating antique forms. She once took commonplace vessels and altered them, from coffee pots, to laboratory glassware, to antique urinals. Now she’s taken that another step, and altered the bedpan, leaving a flat space in the back so that we see couples engaged in sex.
Cindy’s last works were clearly referential to Marcel Duchamp, who famously turned a urinal upside down and submitted it with the name of R. Mutt in Fountain, 1917. Cindy just starts there and then adds layers of imagery and metaphor. In addition to the provocative use of a container for bodily fluids, the artist entices the viewer by adding the tentacles of an octopus. The interiors and exteriors of the vessels are painted glimpses of couples engaged in sexual activity. Juxtaposing octopus with coitus, Kolodziejski sets up an unusual tension. There are mixed references to the sea throughout–including octopus tentacles and bubbles. Delving into the sexual psyche, the works have a mysterious brew of exquisitely rendered images.
Kurt Weiser has expanded his worldview onto globes. Bronze stands hold the oddly curved, almost pear-shaped orbs. He builds all of the elements for the works, and casts the porcelain as well as the bronze. The bending and flowing imagery has been described by Edward Lebow: “Weiser’s dog-eat-dog world is awash in odd sexual and scientific tensions between wanting and having, desire and controlling, seeing and seizing.” Weiser’s own statement is modest:
“The ideas and subjects of these paintings on the pots are for the most part just a collection of my own history of fantasy and view of reality. They are built the same way we dream: Around a central idea, a cast of characters and environments just seem to show up to complete the picture.”
From my viewpoint, both of these artists are figurative, both are dealing with the fantastic, and both are making connections by intuitive associations. It’s worth noting that both artists are also painting on ceramic surfaces that are curved and both are challenging themselves with the technical demands of the medium of ceramics. The show opens in three weeks, and I’m hoping to see some other sparks fly from this auspicious beginning.
Every day we pass through all kinds of doors. If I focus my attention on how many doors I use in my daily life, it’s mind-boggling. One day I tried to count, but lost track after this sequence: out my front door, into and out of the car door, in the elevator doors to my gym (and out again), in the locker room, out again, back to the car doors.
I figured I would do a little research. I looked for a definition, but words like “moveable barrier” didn’t help. I found a tattered copy of Architectural Graphic Standards, Student Edition. But dimensions and specifications were hardly the answer. Architects and builders speak in materials and physical dimensions —but I wanted poetry, imagery. So, I decided to take a tour of some exceptional examples in nearby Pasadena.
Early architectural influences are with me for a lifetime, and as I’ve noted before, I was lucky to grow up in South Pasadena, where the heritage is strong. It’s easy to find examples of great Craftsman doors—even the garage doors that Greene and Greene designed are superb. I revisited these double garage doors, framed with a massive masonry walls on a clear winter afternoon.
Inspired, I walked over to see another street-side monument to architectural design. La Miniatura, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1923 Millard House, was the first time the architect used hollow, pre-cast concrete blocks. On the north side of this perfectly sited house are the powerful wood doors, amazingly compatible with the Mayan monumentality of the building.
I recalled many other times I had become conscious of the passages we make in daily life, and how artists have addressed the idea. Some of the artists that I know have designed and sculpted the best solutions. I considered the inspired example of Georges Jeanlcos‘ doors to the Cathedral in Lille, France. I remembered my trip to see those doors with his son, Marc.
I once built an entire show around a pair of doors by John Mason. I rescued the massive doors that were made for a house in Laguna Beach. The 1963 commission, for the actor Sterling Holloway, was the entrance to his art collection. For our exhibit, I designed a simple post and lintel framework to hold the powerful portals.
There is a reason for my focus. For the past seven days, since I walked up to the plaza level of the cathedral last Wednesday, I keep seeing the image of the pallbearers surrounding the casket of Robert Graham. A group of men formed a rectangle around the casket. The body was moving through a portal, through a symbolic passage. There was such a profound presence to the sight of the procession entering the very doors that he designed and sculpted.
Sometimes I need a break from the stress of the electronic world. I use lightning-fast technology, I’m surrounded by computers, and I’m constantly turning to e-mail, voice mail, and yes–now I’m even blogging. There’s a sense of overload, and I crave a respite. So it’s good to know someone like the artist Jennifer Lee. In the digital age, Scottish-born Jennifer Lee seems to be from an earlier time. Her hand-formed pots, her hand-written letters, and her timeless aesthetic are from another world.
She’s now globally recognized for the work, and looking forward to an exhibit in Tokyo. Not just any show, however. It’s an exhibition that features 100 works by just 3 artists, and it’s a show that will give visitors “a taste of the limitless universe of U-Tsu-Wa (vessels).” Organized and designed by Issey Miyake, the show will be held in Tokyo at 21_21 Design Sight. It is scheduled for February 13 to March 10, 2009. There are three artists included in U-Tsu-Wa: Lucie Rie, Jennifer Lee, and Ernst Gamperi.
When I look at Jennifer’s work, I can see a stillness, a sense of quiet contemplation. In solitude, her works bring to mind a variety of images, mostly from the natural world. But, as Leah Ollman wrote about her work in the Los Angeles Times, “Their textures and pigmentation do not just evoke natural elements and processes, but convey an equivalency with them. Lee’s pots conjure the essence of sand, stone, silt and sedimentation. Breathtaking in their simplicity, they don’t just illustrate conditions of nature but elegantly, gracefully manifest them.”