Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Archive for November 2017

Craig Kauffman and Chicago Architects

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I’ve written before about Craig Kauffman’s early interest in architecture, including his success as a high school senior, when he won an award for his submission to a student architectural contest, juried by Richard Neutra. Craig was then admitted to the University of Southern California School of Art and Architecture at age 18, primarily on the basis of this prize. Though he stayed at the school for just one year, his essential abilities and interest in architecture remained with him for a lifetime.

Years ago, Craig gave me a well-worn copy of Chicago architect Louis H. Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, a 1947 classic Documents of Modern Art publication, edited by Robert Motherwell, and designed by Paul Rand. Craig had kept this book in his personal library since his teenage years (it is the original edition). Craig’s interest in architecture underlined his paintings throughout his life, and is especially evident in his drawings, where his spare use of line defines form and indicates scale and perspective.

Craig’s notebooks filled with drawings for his work during the period 1966–1971 are especially rich in architectural references, as well as notations for the radical forms of these works, fabricated from the industrial material of plastic. Their relationship to developments in modern architecture seems clearly related to the inventive use of industrial materials, such as steel and glass, in defining unorthodox form. It’s fascinating to know that both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago hold major works by Kauffman, as the city’s architectural heritage dovetails with Kauffman’s interests. The two Kauffmans in AIC’s collection were acquired during the tenure of A. James Speyer, a legendary chief curator and director. The MCA Chicago collection’s three were acquired in 2013, as gift of the estate of architect Walter A. Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch.

Chicago’s architects must have felt some kinship with the inventive forms of Kauffman’s art and his use of new materials. James Speyer of the AIC was the architect for his sister Darthea Speyer’s art gallery in the Left Bank of Paris, where Kauffman had two solo shows. And Walter Netsch was a very prominent architect based in Chicago, who was most famous for his “sleek, functional structures” such as the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Completed in 1963, the soaring Air Force chapel captured great, and controversial, attention from critics and the public.

Walter Netsch “designed and built his famously fantastic and unusual Chicago home and filled it with unique objects and artwork,” according to one article. Photos show that Kauffman’s works were hung along with paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, and Kenneth Noland, as well as Larry Bell. The Netsch couple collected in depth and took pride in “living with art.” Walter Netsch passed away in 2008, and his wife Dawn Clark Netsch passed away in 2013.

What is it that attracted architects to Kauffman’s work? In addition to these Chicago professionals, Craig’s work is in the collection of famed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, who knew Kauffman since 1950, at the architecture school of University of Southern California. Was Kauffman’s early education so formative that he understood the modern language of architectural form? Or were his innate abilities similar to the spatial recognition that is a requirement of architectural practice? Did Kauffman speak their language?

Whatever the reason, Chicago—the city of great 20th Century architecture—is now home to five of the finest Kauffman works from the late 1960s. From his early reading of Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, to his later association with James Speyer and Walter Netsch, the artist entered the permanent collections of the two largest Chicago art museums.

 

 

 

 

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