Archive for July 2013
I’m often asked, “where can I see ceramics in Los Angeles?” One of the first places to look is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The museum has been acquiring ceramics for decades, and their collection ranges from Pre-Columbian figures to a mural by Henri Matisse, to a Peter Voulkos sculpture.
I was reminded of this by the current issue of “The Insider”, LACMA’s members’ magazine, which features the Henri Matisse ceramic mural La Gerbe, a gift of Francis L. Brody, in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary. La Gerbe, a 1953 commissioned work, is a ceramic tile mural installed on the plaza level of the Ahmanson Building. The Matisse has its own spot, just to the left as one enters from the Plaza. It’s something that inspired Pablo Picasso to say, “Only Matisse could have made something this beautiful.” 1
In the Art of the Americas building, the large Pre-Columbian collection is on view, as well as a selection of modern and contemporary ceramics from the Decorative Arts Department on the third floor. Many works in the LACMA collection were donated by Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits, a large gift that includes work by several of the artists represented by the gallery.
My favorite piece is Peter Voulkos’ 5,000 Feet, a muscular, dark vertical work that was first exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1958. Made of stoneware clay and iron slip, it stands 45½ inches tall and is almost two feet in depth. The piece, now prominently displayed at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum’s permanent collection of “American Art Since 1950”, is a clear demonstration of the methods Voulkos used. He seemed to build these forms from the ground up, taking the wheel-thrown cylinders and shaping them into appendages on the central form. The body of the massive 5,000 Feet is built ruggedly, composed of wheel-thrown and paddled shapes, growing to its top with thinner, jagged forms. This powerful, expressive work won the Junior Art Council Sculpture Prize Award and the Purchase Award, 1959, Annual Exhibition of Los Angeles and Vicinity, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 2
1 Picasso, Pablo, quoted in The Insider 3 (Summer 2013): 13.
2 Lloyd, Frank, “Vanguard Ceramics: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos.” In Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968, edited by Mary Davis MacNaughton, 19-39. Claremont: Scripps College and Getty Publications, 2012.
When a writer is moved by a particular artist’s work, their writing seems to flow from them naturally. The artist currently on display at the gallery, Cheryl Ann Thomas, has been the inspiration for some evocative art writing. This doesn’t surprise me at all, as her work is open to interpretation as it draws you in.
Here are two of my favorite quotes about Cheryl Ann Thomas:
Writing for Art in America in 2009, Constance Mallinson described Cheryl’s work: “Although completely useless as vessels, the resulting forms are exquisite and very delicate, richly open-ended in their associations. Often suggesting organic forms like hives, cocoons, seashells, eggs, husks, and seedpods, the pieces are, due to their monochromatic coloration, just as likely to evoke artifacts uncovered at archeological sites.”1
More recently, Elaine Levin wrote an insightful review for Ceramics: Art and Perception and commented on a specific piece, seen here. She noted that “The rhythmical swirl of the frayed and tattered strands creates open spaces for unexpected lightness. At the same time, the sculpture is the embodiment of fragility and vulnerability.”2
1 Mallinson, Constance, “Cheryl Ann Thomas,” Art in America, (March 2009): 154.
2 Levine, Elaine, “Fragility and Loss,” Ceramics: Art and Perception no. 85 (2011): 30.
I recently viewed the superb show “Beyond Brancusi” at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It’s a very carefully selected show (just twenty works plus “Bird in Space” upstairs), entirely from the NSM holdings of modern art. There are three sections of the exhibit, demonstrating “…the transformative notion of space, and, secondarily, materials, that Brancusi presents.”
Entering the Norton Simon, one descends the center staircase to the basement, into the Special Exhibitions area. Part one includes nine works; Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Isamu Noguchi (all marble) as well as Louise Nevelson, Gabriel Kohn, Charles Mattox and Guy Dill (wood and other materials). These sculptures set up the relationship to Brancusi in ways both direct (Hepworth and Moore) and tangential.
Relationship to sculptural volume and the use of larger masses in space abounds in the second room. The scale and industrial materials of Minimalism expand the exhibit in works by Donald Judd (two from Judd), Robert Morris (a felt piece), and John McCracken as well as Carl Andre’s modular floor piece and Larry Bell’s big dark cube. This is a compact view of the major power of the Minimal era.
It’s in room three where the show gets really interesting, as far as sculptural space is concerned. That’s because the work of Helen Pashgian, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman and DeWain Valentine present ways in which our perception of space is heightened or altered. The Robert Irwin disc—in aluminum sprayed with a luminous, magical shifting aura of pale color—is installed at the far end wall, framed by the room openings of the previous sections.
Back upstairs in the permanent collection, Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” is highly polished bronze, and the progenitor is “reflecting life itself” according to the artist. That might be a good way to view the whole show. Certainly, the emphasis on spatial relationships dominates, and the significance of materials or process is secondary in the show. It’s the work of Norton Simon Museum curator Leah Lehmbeck, and definitely something to see.