Archive for May 2009
A friend of the gallery sent me the Ferus book, a publication of the Gagosian Gallery in New York. The book was published on the occasion of their Ferus exhibition in 2002. It’s a handsome record of the artists and exhibits, and contains an interview with Irving Blum as well as an article about Andy Warhol—written by the late, great curator Kirk Varnedoe.
In addition to the brilliant graphic design (by Bruce Mau of Toronto), there are classic black and white photos (a number are by the late William Claxton, who is best known for his images of Jazz musicians). The graphic record of announcements and posters speaks about the vision of the gallery program. Then, there’s the insight into the legendary Irving Blum himself. Sure enough, in the interview I found a reference to something I’ve posted before: the tremendous influence of Peter Voulkos on artists in L.A. during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In the interview, Roberta Bernstein stated to Irving Blum: “Peter Voulkos was an important influence on many of the artists who showed at Ferus, “ and Irving responded, “Absolutely. Billy Al Bengston studied with Peter and Peter was always an enormous presence. He had a profound influence even among the painters.”
I’ve been going over a lot of texts recently, and the passage reminded me of something from Barbara Isenberg’s essay about the Otis years, included in the publication celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary:
“Bengston thinks that every artist in Los Angeles’ fabled Ferus Gallery was influenced by ceramics at the time, and Ferus’ director, the dealer Irving Blum concurs. “Billy Al would do a show and if Ken Price or John Altoon came in and thought it was hot potatoes—that meant something. The artists informed each other, and I think the Ferus scene would have been far less energetic without the Peter Voulkos influence.”
This is quite a testament to the magnetic power of Peter Voulkos on the L.A. scene—especially when one realizes that Voulkos never even showed at Ferus. His work was first represented by Felix Landau, and then by David Stuart.
I was stuck in traffic this morning, a common experience in Los Angeles. When faced with an endless line of tail lights, I usually just listen to NPR or select a CD. Traffic is tough, so I’ve developed a golden rule for the L.A freeways: stay in your lane, and don’t hit the car in front of you. So, there I was—stranded, with my attention focused on the bumper of the car ahead—and I happened to scan the personalized license plate: WKNDOG.
It’s a game we frequently play with personalized plates: What on earth does that stand for? Weekend Dog? Weakend Dog? Walkin’ the Dog? I looked for more clues—and perhaps a dog in the front seat. But, alas, I was stuck behind the car (obeying my number one traffic rule) and couldn’t identify the driver. Then, suddenly, I noticed the license plate frame, and there was my clue, because the frame read: “I’m not over the hill; I’m just on the back nine.”
Not over the hill, just walking the dog and on the back nine. What a great attitude, I thought. Longevity has been on my mind lately because of my rapidly advancing age. As I consider the issues of productivity and stagnation, I’m looking for moments of inspiration. The personalized license plate was certainly one—a pleasant reminder of walking a dog combined with a simple sports analogy.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate—this gallery has presented the work of legendary artists such as Beatrice Wood, who continued to work in the studio until she was 105. I have witnessed the incredible burst of energy and power in the monumental late works of Peter Voulkos. And this month, I have received some more inspiration, in the form of the paintings of Ed Moses.
Ed has produced what several viewers have said could be the work of a young man—perhaps in his twenties. For a painter who is so well known for large-scale abstract work, to venture into the territory of decorative patterning and figuration is risky. What 83-year old do you know who would take this much risk? His productivity is astounding, with a vitality and inventiveness that few can match—at any age. It seems to me that he has a key to longevity.
Last week I hopped on an early morning Amtrak train from Penn Station to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. The short trip on the Northeast Regional is common for commuters, but unusual for me. I was in New York on business, and I had reserved a full day for art viewing in Philadelphia. My day-long plan included a timed-entry ticket to the Cézanne and Beyond exhibit, a tour of the collections in the Philadelphia Museum, and a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art.
I arrived in plenty of time for Cézanne and Beyond, a show that made me believe again in painting, museums, and exhibitions. It’s worth every inconvenient wait, and it’s worth every moment when your view gets blocked—that’s the way it is with blockbuster shows. This brilliant exhibit juxtaposes and connects the painters that follow Cézanne’s pivotal move into the flattening of space, the structure of painting, and repeated study of subject matter. I was blown away by room after room, but especially struck by the last sequence. Ellsworth Kelly, Piet Mondrian, and Jasper Johns followed the shifting density and light of Cézanne’s painting of a large pine. It was a stunning juxtaposition—simply categorized as “Trees”.
I thought about writing more about the Cézanne and Beyond show, but wound up becoming overwhelmed by the crowd and the chattering acoustiguides. As I’ve noted before, I like my museum experience to be a bit sparer. So it was best for me to retreat through the other galleries—with superb collections but without so many people.
I wandered upstairs to find the Art of Japanese Craft exhibition, a delightful collection that is the gift of connoisseur Frederick McBrien III. It is in 3 galleries, just off the large skylight indoor garden area that contains the Japanese teahouse. How wonderful to come to a quiet area within the building, and what a great location for the show. This is a sensitively assembled collection of a true connoisseur, our gallery friend and patron, Fred. The wide range of works extends from a waterfall ink drawing on silk scroll to exquisite lacquered containers, as well as contemporary ceramics.
The nature-based imagery of Japanese craft of the Meiji period (and beyond) is strongly represented in this collection. The emphasis on the revival of Japanese craft shows in the delicate woodcarving and extraordinary inlaid lacquer ware. More recent porcelain vessels evoke nature through shape and process, and present new reflections of the craft.
There is a wonderful description and video of the tea ceremony just outside the special exhibit, which tells the function and purpose of the tea ceremony. Since is it based in the deliberate observation of detail and the contemplation of nature, the tea ceremony celebrates the imperfections and processes of nature. The Way of Tea teaches appreciation of fleeting moments; concentration on the sounds and the movements teaches attention to detail. I had found a respite from the urban environment and the crowds.