Archive for October 2010
Santa Monica College is host to lots of art and culture. Not just KCRW, my constant companion NPR radio station—something that I’ve mentioned before in this blog. Santa Monica College also is the home of the Broad Stage, another of the generous philanthropic gifts from Eli and Edythe Broad. In the same complex at the Broad Stage is the Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery. Within the last year and a half, the small college-and-community gallery has presented shows by Gwynn Murrill and Edith Baumann. Coming up soon, from November 2nd to December 4th, is a show by Peter Shire.
It’s a long distance between Echo Park and Hokkiado, but back in 1992 Peter Shire bridged that oceanic gap. Not just by his travel, but in his sculpture. In a fantastic series of teapots, Peter melded stainless steel and ikebana, and mixed bolts with bamboo. As always, a post-modern constructivist sensibility was lightened by a sense of humor. This series of work, made in Japan in 1992, takes the familiar domestic object into the zany and bizarre world of Shire’s mechanical fantasy.
The playful seriousness and serious playfulness of Peter Shire was clearly evident. He continually re-invented the form of the teapot during the 1980s, and this series of works shows him at the height of his powers. Although it was decades ago that Peter Shire turned his attention to the form of the teapot, these constructed works show an artist’s delight in composition and construction.
Strong and stable at the base, the teapot-sculptures stand and support a variety of shapes. Next to the simple stainless steel planes are vibrant colored palette shapes and perforated swords. Who else would have thought to combine the hardness of the stainless steel with the organic and leafy bamboo? Who else would have kept his own color sense? Peter combined his own history with color and was pushed by Japanese colors—perhaps the deep color of a plum blossom or a leafy green.
Peter’s father, Hank, was also a consummate craftsman. Shire’s attention to detail reflects that love of the finely crafted object. So that’s the mix we see in this work: a blend of something Eastern, something Western—and a mix of the nuts and bolts of construction with the lightness and air of bamboo. One can sense the delight and playful hand of the artist.
Last winter an exhibit at MoMA’s PS1 in Long Island City caught my attention. The show focused on a single year, 1969. There were amazingly diverse works, ranging from early videos by Bruce Nauman to the minimalist sculpture of Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre. The political upheaval of the late sixties was almost palpable in the show; there were many ways that the curators made it felt. Here’s a segment of the MoMA curatorial statement:
“Central to the exhibition is the re-staging of MoMA’s 1969 exhibition, Five Recent Acquisitions, organized by noted MoMA curator Kynaston McShine, highlighting then-recently acquired works by Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, and John McCracken. This exhibition within an exhibition is further contextualized by photographs by Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, among others, in addition to exhibition catalogs, books, and archival documents which depict the events, excitement, and anxieties of the period. By juxtaposing the meditative space of the white cube gallery of the transplanted MoMA exhibition with the tumult of the outside world, 1969 reflects the expansive concerns held by artists of the time.”
Our current exhibit of Loops by Craig Kauffman has reminded me about the year 1969, since that’s when the Loops were made. I was also reminded of the curators and collectors from New York City that recognized Kauffman’s work. It was not just Kynaston McShine from MoMA that understood Kauffman’s importance. The work was acquired by the Whitney Museum in 1967, and Kauffman was included in Barbara Rose’s A New Aesthetic at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1967. It’s a part of history that Kauffman participated in shows such as A Plastic Presence in 1969 and Using Walls in 1970, both shows at the Jewish Museum in New York. He was included in the Whitney Sculpture Annual in 1969, and the Albright Knox acquired a piece in that same year. The architect Philip Johnson had long before included Kauffman in his collection, housed in his compound in Connecticut. (That’s Johnson shown in the center below, with a Kauffman painting on the right.)
Craig Kauffman should not be simply categorized as a Los Angeles artist. His work captured a kind of light, a sensibility and a use of materials that were central to the time period. And he should not be simply categorized as a West Coast artist whose concerns were the finish of an object, or the effects of light. One of his best friends at that time was the sculptor Robert Morris. Kauffman and Morris had collaborated on a project, as Kauffman recalled in an interview with Michael Auping (for the Oral History Project at UCLA, 1984):
“Bob and I did do a piece in common. We did a piece at the Jewish Museum, a wall piece. In 1970, about the time of the Cambodian [invasion], because as soon as it went up, the next day [May 14, 1970], we closed it. We kind of voted, all the artists. It was called “Working with Walls” [Using Walls]. It was a combination of his very didactic theory about three strips and how [they] should be poured; and there were these rounded plastic pieces that were on the wall. And then we sprayed red, yellow and blue, and we poured red yellow and blue. So, it was sort of a process, plastic, transparent thing. So, it was a combination of both of our ideas.”
One evening this summer at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Irving Blum spoke. Elsa Longhauser, Director of the museum, invited guests to ask Irving questions. Though the Ask Irving event was designed around the exhibit by Andrew Lord, Irving gave a personal statement about his life, his career, the art he admires, and what he collects.
Just a few days before that event, Irving stopped by my gallery to see a show. He’s a frequent visitor, and we talk about artists or his collection. I showed him a 1961 work by Peter Voulkos, and he was amazed. To my surprise, he asked to borrow it—he wanted to have it on stage for the Ask Irving event. Here’s what he said to the audience that night:
“By the way, I walked into Frank Lloyd’s gallery a couple of days ago to visit with him, and I saw this absolutely astonishing pot by Peter Voulkos. Now for me, Picasso is to painting what Voulkos is to the world of ceramic. He’s simply peerless. Absolutely peerless. And I’d like for you—there’s nothing that can really substitute for looking, and I’d like for you, when this is over—to examine the Voulkos pot and to begin to understand my feeling about it. The method of putting a clay collection together is not unlike collecting paintings. You assemble as much data as possible, and ultimately rely on looking and making comparisons. It’s important to have a visual vocabulary that you can rely on. I collect paintings as well as ceramic.”
To see and hear the whole conversation, visit the Santa Monica Museum’s website.
I attended a brilliant lecture Tuesday night. Not a typical slide talk, but rather a moving and multi-layered journal of inquiry. British ceramist, writer and historian Edmund de Waal gave a talk about an inheritance, a collection of miniature netsuke figures. Edmund’s discourse was charming, clearly intelligent, thoroughly researched, yet still—and profoundly—touching. At the Getty auditorium, he held everyone’s attention throughout the evening. He captured a sense of history, an appreciation of European culture, and the magic of great periods of painting. He also addressed the central tragedy of the 20th century.
His story centered on his family, their amazing history and their art collections. The Ephrussi family, a Russian Jewish family coming from near the Black Sea in the mid-19th century, moved to France and became patrons of the arts in Paris. They became collectors, and eventually moved to Vienna. But the family fell victim to the Nazi occupation of Austria, their lives were ruined and the art looted. Amazingly, the collection of tiny netsuke survived, because a loyal maid sewed the miniatures into her mattress.
The story was captivating. I was amazed by Edmund’s thorough research, his passion and his humor. He included several images of his own work. He managed to engage his audience on many levels, including touch (he passed around one of the valuable netsuke, the size of a walnut). The applause—an ovation, really—lasted for quite some time. It was a smart audience, too. How did I judge that? By the questions the audience asked about the Franco Prussian War, or the possibly Sephardic derivation of the Ephrussi name. The evening made many other recent art world talks seem rather inane. Somehow, Edmund de Waal has managed to weave a story of his family into the history of art and civilization over the past 150 years. I plan to read his book, The Hare with Amber Eyes.
Today’s New York Times review of Craig Kauffman’s show at Danese was glowing, to say the least. Ken Johnson’s concise and considered comments included the word nacreous, which is defined as “consisting of or resembling mother-of-pearl”, and aptly identifies the luminous and iridescent color in Kauffman’s work. Translucence and reflection are also things that Kauffman used in a subtle, sensuous way. Johnson’s review speaks eloquently about The Late Work of Kauffman, concluding that “Kauffman’s sculptures are as relevant today as ever.”
It is an important time for the recognition of the late Craig Kauffman (1932-2010), as his work will be shown in nine exhibitions during the span of a year. Right now, in London at the Thomas Dane Gallery, is the conclusion of an exhibit organized by Walead Beshty, titled Sunless. Kauffman’s work is represented by a superb example made in the late 1960s. Walead Beshty, a highly recognized young international artist, chose to include Kauffman’s work, proving Johnson’s observation that Kauffman is relevant today.
Opening next week is another group show, organized and assembled by the legendary Irving Blum. Blum has selected works by 21 major West Coast artists for an exhibit at Louis Stern Fine Arts in West Hollywood. In a brief introduction to the show, the critic Dave Hickey wrote about the “generosity of his eye, and the infectiousness of his enthusiasm” when praising the pleasure of the company of Irving Blum. Blum has known the work of Kauffman since 1958, of course, when Craig was a member of the original group of artists in the Ferus gallery. Blum selected two drawings for the show.
A survey of works on paper has been mounted by Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles, spanning several decades of Kauffman’s work. The sinuous line, luminous color, and unorthodox techniques of Kauffman’s works are evident in the drawings, lithographs and other works selected by Jean Milant of Cirrus. Milant, too, has known Kauffman’s work for decades, and produced a number of editions of prints. Cirrus, a seminal printmaking facility, worked closely with artists such as Ed Ruscha, Vija Celmins, Bruce Nauman and John Baldessari. The Craig Kauffman show of works on paper will run until November 6.
At my gallery, we will present a minimal installation of a group of works known as the Loops. Kauffman considered the 1969 works to be the simplest of his works. These paintings were made from a single sheet of clear acrylic plastic and painted with sprayed acrylic lacquer. Suspended and floating slightly away from a wall, they reflect Kauffman’s life-long interest in unorthodox supports for painting, as well as his sensuous color. In a 1976 interview conducted by the UCLA Oral History Project, Kauffman stated “the loops, which were plastic, hung out from the wall, from the ceiling on a wire, and cast a shadow on the wall…they contain this kind of foggy color inside of them.” This group was the last of several series of works made during the 1960s.
Later in October, Kauffman’s work will be featured, along with over 100 other artists, in a huge show at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art: The Artist’s Museum. MOCA’s permanent collection includes Kauffman’s work, and has been featured in such previous exhibitions as This is Not to be Looked At, and A Minimal Future? The ambitious idea of MOCA’s huge survey is to highlight regional innovators who have most profoundly influenced the international art community. This focused exhibit looks at the complexity and importance of West Coast practice over the past 30 years, so it’s no surprise that Kaffman’s work is included.