Archive for February 2009
Sometimes I think that art dealers are misunderstood. Are we just glorified shopkeepers? I’ve heard that said. Are we ruthlessly competitive with each other? I’ve heard that said, as well. But something to remember is this: we are usually following our passion for art. That is why the quote from Roberta Smith, in my last post, was so welcome: “They help artists do what we all hope to do: make a living at something they love.”
As for the competition, the truth is, we are all out on the dance floor together, and we try not to step on each other’s toes. We are colleagues. Many dealers do significant business with each other, and some become friends, partners and neighbors. I fall into that camp.
I was lucky enough to move to Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, around thirteen years ago. I was looking for a way for the artists to reach a wider audience. It was also my chance to double the space of the gallery, provide better parking for our clientele, and place the work of our artists in a more prominent context. I knew the dealers Rosamund Felsen and Patricia Faure, and the space I took over was located between those two galleries. In fact, they campaigned for me to join them at Bergamot Station.
My great fortune was to move next door to Bobbie Greenfield. I quickly learned that she was the ideal neighbor—-a pleasant, sharing and kind woman with whom I immediately bonded. Over the years, we’ve shared our triumphs and our disappointments, and we’ve come to each other’s rescue in emergencies. She’s so responsible and trustworthy, and always sensitive to other’s needs. Full of humor and intelligence, Bobbie is also willing and able to pitch in and help with any project. One of my favorite quotes from Bobbie is: “How do you know the art dealer at the opening? She’s the one picking up the trash off the floor.”
For today, just a little food for thought. Here’s a quote from a review of the Art Show in New York, published February 19, 2009:
“In boom times art dealers tend to get demonized on the way up and the way down. They deserve it, some people say. But the art world’s zealously tended hierarchy—artists on top, art dealers at the bottom—has never been right.
Art dealers put their money where their vision is; only artists take greater risks. They help artists do what we all hope to do: make a living at something they love. If the non-artists in the realm of art achieve this state—and some of us are privileged to do so—it is partly because of the strange, tenuous, sometimes infuriating world that art dealers help construct, one day, artist or artwork at a time.”
—-Roberta Smith, “Rewards and Clarity in a Show of Restraint”, New York Times
Tonight I walked with Craig Kauffman through the snow-covered streets of Zürich’s old town, a picturesque Swiss city of small shops, cozy cafes, libraries and restaurants. We were invited to a party, and Craig and I were the only people from L.A.
We’ve just attended the opening for an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Actually, there were three shows assembled into one. Joined together, the “Hot Spots” meta-exhibition provides a look at three centers of art during the period of 1956 to 1969. Each city-center comes off as a harbinger of global contemporary art, rather than a regional phenomenon. It is generally accepted that early 20th century advances in painting and other arts were centered in Paris, followed by the dominance of New York in the post-World War II era. However, in this exhibition, none of the cities are named New York or Paris. It is also generally accepted that we have been (for the past decade or so) in an era of global exchange of artistic ideas, hastened by the proliferation of art fairs, the rise of emerging economies, and the rapid dissemination of digital information and images. It takes a European institution to have this curatorial vision—of the precursors to our current art world, and how they came to emerge outside of the dominant centers. Or, perhaps in takes two museums—the Kunsthaus Zürich is the host for the shows that were organized by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.
Los Angeles’ emergence as a world center for contemporary art was paralleled by developments on other continents. Strong movements in art, music, architecture and design in such cities as Rio de Janeiro, Milan and Turin marked the period following World War II. The heat of artistic activity can create new territory—hot spots—and the curators document that. What I sensed, a cross-pollination of international avant-garde, is evident in the selection and the presentation. It was amazing to see the concurrent global movements, such as geometric abstraction, the use of industrial materials, and the appropriation of popular culture.
Italian painters Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni are exemplary members of the Milan group that developed a monochromatic, minimal painting style. Within the decade of 1958 to 1968, other experimentations with shaped canvases and spatial concepts broke with the legacy of Italian art. In Turin, the Arte Povera artists used natural and artificial materials to characterize their works.
Brazilian design was created during this same time, and it featured a concise formal invention and an emphasis on construction. Leadership came from figures like Oscar Niemeyer. Rio de Janeiro’s experimental atmosphere gave the world new music and architecture, under the names of New Concretism, Bossa Nova, and Cinema Novo.
Los Angeles’ incredibly fertile period is represented in architecture, assemblage, painting, photography and sculpture. This is the fourth time that Craig Kauffman has been represented in shows about the formative years of Los Angeles. First, there was the Sunshine and Noir exhibit at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, which covered the years 1960-1997. Next was the Pompidou’s Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Artistic Captial. Last year’s Time and Place: Los Angeles was organized by the Moderna Museet and is one part of this three-segment show. On the way back to our hotel, Kauffman and I wondered aloud: Perhaps it is the perspective of time that gives clarity to the view. Forty to fifty years later, we can see the emergent global contemporary art world.
What makes an ideal museum experience? Perhaps the first thing I think of is the collection. Increasingly, as contemporary architects have designed museums, I have become more conscious of the effective presentation of art. I am more aware of the way that I move through a space, of the color and composition of the walls and floors. I am especially attuned to the use of natural light. I continue to seek that solitary and serene moment when a painting’s presence comes strikingly alive. For me, that ideal has been realized. It is the Fondation Beyeler.
I am in Zürich to attend the opening of an exhibition tomorrow. With a free day to explore, I chose to take an hour’s train ride to Basel today. A well traveled route for the sophisticated art traveler, but a first trek for me, this was a day trip worthy of an expedition. From the moment I stepped through the red stone walls, into the idyllic nineteenth century landscape garden, I was entranced by the scale and proportion of the building. With restraint and respect for the vistas and setting, Renzo Piano designed the Fondation Beyeler, which houses a superb permanent collection of about 200 works. The museum also presents curated exhibits.
I was fortunate to see two such exhibits today, both superb. The first featured artists’ visions of Venice—from Canaletto and Turner to Monet. Painters have been intrigued by the way that light plays on the surface of the water in Venice for centuries, and this show assembles works from private collections as well as museums. Especially stunning were Turner’s works and small but striking, immediately rendered paintings by Sargent. The ideal setting was the building itself, proving that the proportion of the galleries, the sequencing of the rooms, and the occasional open landscape vista are the work of a brilliant architect.
Another show, Visual Encounters: Africa, Oceania and Modern Art, turned the tables on the oft-told story of modern art. We are all familiar with the role that Primitive and African art played in the development of European Modernism. This show does not repeat that lesson, but rather demonstrates the sheer power, and visual presence of, large and highly powerful groups of sculpture from Mali, Nigeria, and other areas. Just a few highly select early 20th century works by Picasso, Giacometti, Rousseau, Brancusi and others are juxtaposed in a stunning way.
I reluctantly left the exhibit, stepped into the light snowfall, and had a delightful lunch at the nearby Berower Villa. I was still savoring the view of the Renzo Piano building with its light-suffusing roof.
“So, it’s all porcelain?” is the question we hear every day. Yes, it’s true. Richard Shaw’s ability to fool the eye is so great, that the first reaction is denial. I’ve found that words are helping to describe the process. But there’s nothing like a picture, especially for Shaw’s complex studio work. Here’s a wonderful video made by KQED in San Francisco.
Today’s Los Angeles Times review of Richard Shaw’s exhibit is nothing less than a rave. Leah Ollman’s thorough, insightful prose touches all of the parts that make up the whole. The review includes observations on Shaw’s technique, autobiography, humor, and predecessors. The writing is informed, inclusive and inspired, especially when Ollman considers the layers of meaning in Shaw’s constructions:
“The verism dazzles. Beyond the sophisticated trickery, however, there is wisdom, humor and tenderness. The house, the box and even the little paper plate are all vessels of one sort or another, a subtle nod to ceramics tradition. (Many works by Shaw conceal actual jar-like hollows within.) The cabin, a sculpture sitting on its humble pedestal, also reads as a metaphor for the artist’s self-made world, a shelter and refuge shaped by hand. At the same time, it’s all an assemblage of everyday stuff from the studio, the product, perhaps, of playful procrastination.”
Last year’s release of The Cool School, a documentary about the Ferus Gallery, was a milestone in the life of many of the gallery artists. It’s an important story for the city of Los Angeles, too. Although the rise and fall of the gallery is shown, one of the subtexts has not received all the attention that it needs: the place of ceramic sculpture within the gallery. For many years, I’ve been researching the way that contemporary ceramics entered the mainstream galleries in Los Angeles. In a previous post, I talked about the Felix Landau Gallery and the first exhibit by Peter Voulkos in 1956. I’ve also posted some comments by artists who were around at that time, such as Ken Price and John Baldessari. That was a fertile period in post-war Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles during 1956, an unusual and miraculous partnership developed. Artist Ed Keinholz and curator Walter Hopps had first worked together on the All-City Art Festival, an official city-sponsored show in Barnsdall Park. Their partnership was simple, and Keinholz laid down the parameters when he told Hopps, “I could use you. There are an awful lot of people I can’t stand to talk to and you’re going to have to talk to every one of them. You’re going to be in charge of bullshit”—by which he meant the theory and concept of what they were doing—“and I’m going to be in charge of work.” (quote from Walter Hopps, in Keinholz: A Retrospective, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996, p.31)
Both men had tried commercial enterprises independently, but when their fledgling galleries closed by the end of 1956, they decided to work together on a new gallery. To Hopps, “it seemed almost inevitable that we should pool our entrepreneurial objectives. After writing out an informal contract on a hot dog wrapper, we shook hands and formed a new partnership. We soon located a wonderful space behind the antique shop of Camille and Streeter Blair. It was on North La Cienega Boulevard, on county land, which meant it was under the authority of the sheriff instead of the city police. The area was a tenderloin district, full of prostitutes, gay bars, and—strangely—art galleries. Our gallery opened in 1957. We called it Ferus Gallery.” (Also from Walter Hopps’ retrospective catalogue on Ed Keinholz, previously cited.)
One of the first exhibitions at the new Ferus Gallery was a group show including the work by John Mason, Jerry Rothman and Paul Soldner, held from July 19th through August 15th, 1957. John Mason’s work would continue to be exhibited at Ferus, in a series of one-man shows in 1958, 1959, 1961, and 1963. At this time, the young Mason was thrust into a scene with “the undeniable energy of Southern Californians such as John Altoon, Billy Al Bengston, Wallace Berman, Craig Kauffman, and Ed Moses. Founders of the gallery—Walter Hopps and Ed Keinholz—and, later, director Irving Blum, projected an aura of professionalism and reached beyond the boundaries of Los Angeles to make Ferus a part of a national scene.” (From Larsen, Susan. Los Angeles Painting in the Sixties, Art in Los Angeles, Seventeen Artists from the Sixties, LACMA, 1981, p.19).