My gallery is well known for specializing in contemporary ceramics. That’s been beneficial in gaining attention from other worlds, particularly the professions of design and architecture. Just recently, Don Chadwick, the designer of the world-famous Aeron chair came to see us again at the gallery. He’s interested in the use of the hand by our artists, and, in turn, I asked him to autograph my Aeron chair.
Architects also seem to be fascinated with ceramics. Could some of the interest from architects be related to the plasticity of the material? Two architects that I know have an affinity for the intimacy of small scale sculpture, and close relationships with artists. When Frederick Fisher was designing my gallery, he told me that he conceived of the large volume of space as a container of smaller sculptural forms. His knowledge of individual sculptors led him to design a series of appropriately scaled modular boxes within the larger building. This intersection of architecture and art specifically referenced ceramic sculptors’ work, as Fred included works by Adrian Saxe and Roseline Delisle in his first concept sketches.
Frank Gehry also has a long history with ceramic sculpture. From his early encounters with Glen Lukens at USC to his recent design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s retrospective for Ken Price, Gehry has maintained an interest in the scale and tactile intimacy of forms made in clay. Gehry’s art collection includes works by Ken Price and George Ohr, and he has been friends with ceramic artists Peter Voulkos, John Mason, and Billy Al Bengston for decades. He was also the architect for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, a museum which holds a collection of pottery by George Ohr.
When Frank Gehry took a ceramics class in college, it marked a turning point. His ceramics teacher at the University of Southern California, Glen Lukens, clearly recognized Gehry’s interest in architecture. Since Lukens was building a house designed by architect Raphael Soriano, he invited the young Gehry to visit the site one day. That’s when Gehry got excited about architecture: “I do know a lightbulb went off when I saw Soriano,” he recalled.
Since that time, Gehry has maintained his interest in ceramics, too. He made ceramic works during his student days at USC, and he has collected work by Glen Lukens, Ken Price and George Ohr. He has been friends with Peter Voulkos, John Mason, Billy Al Bengston and Elsa Rady for decades. He was the architect for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, as well, and that museum will hold a collection of pottery by George Ohr.
This exhibition, on view from July 24 through August 21, grew out of a conversation between Frank Lloyd and Frank Gehry. It started as a casual idea, and grew into an exhibition—works chosen by Gehry, by people that he knows and respects. It marks an opportunity to see a variety of approaches to ceramic art, in a selection by a world-class architect. The exhibit also demonstrates, once again, the integration of the ceramic arts into the larger world of Southern California art and architecture.
For those following this blog, it must be clear that one main theme has been the cultural maturity of Los Angeles. When I take a look at my own writing, that theme seems to be consistent. I recently came across this article (published February 4, 1983) from my days as a reporter for the Orange County Register. It’s interesting to note that the Santa Monica Museum, our neighbor here at Bergamot Station, has recently received funding from the Getty Research Institute for a 2012 exhibition about Beatrice Wood. The Getty announcement stated: “While Wood’s later ceramic works have been the subject of local exhibitions, the Santa Monica Museum of Art will now focus on her transition from Dadaism to Californian/Indian spiritualism and its impact on her artistic persona.”
CSF exhibits Beatrice Wood collection
Art Review: Beatrice Wood exhibition, Main Art Gallery, Cal State Fullerton.
By Frank Lloyd
Contemporary art watchers will recognize the name of Beatrice Wood in association with the New York Dada movement. Followers of West Coast ceramics will know her as a seminal practitioner of the art of lusterware. And gallery spectators will sense in her work a woman with an intuitive use of color and form that is at once seductive and humorous, vivid and subtle.
The current exhibition of Beatrice Wood at Cal State Fullerton was organized in celebration of the artist’s 90th birthday. Throughout her long career, she has absorbed influences from diverse sources. The ideas of Marcel Duchamp, which radically challenged our perception of the art object, figured prominently in her early drawings and paintings. The teachings of theosophy, followed by many artists and writers in the early part of this century, have had a strong effect on her life. The West Coast crafts revival movement, with its recognition of carefully crafted ceramics as fine art, will be in evidence in this exhibition.
Wood began her artistic career by studying art in Paris in 1910. She was enrolled at the Academie Julien, which was, at that time, a famed liberal institution. Her interest in painting, however, soon gave way to her pursuit of an acting career. She attended the Academie Francaise, but her theatrical studies were cut short by the ravages of World War I. By 1916, she had moved to New York, where she began to build her career as an actress.
It was in New York that Wood met the two Frenchmen who were to change the course of her life: Henri-Pierre Roche and Marcel Duchamp. Wood had been visiting the French composer Edgar Varese in the hospital when she encountered them. She was immediately impressed by the intelligence and charm of Duchamp, and later became an intimate member of the Dada group. Under Duchamp’s direction, she resumed painting.
Wood’s entry to the Independent’s Exhibition of 1917 at the Grand Central Palace was received with scandalous attention. She had painted the nude torso of a young woman taking a bath. A piece of soap had been glued onto the canvas at a strategic location.
It was not until 1938 in Los Angeles that Wood became interested in ceramics. She had purchased a set of luster cups, but still needed a teapot. Since she was unable to find what she wanted, she decided to make it. She later studied with Glen Lukens at the University of Southern California. She also studied with Gertrud and Otto Natzler. She was an enthusiastic student, and had her first ceramics studio in North Hollywood.
In 1948, she moved to Ojai, where she built a studio and continued to develop her ceramics. She later moved to the Happy Valley Foundation, where she has been involved with the school of theosophy since 1946. The Foundation was established by Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti and Annie Besant.
The development and refinement of Beatrice Wood’s mature work came in Ojai. The uncommon in-glaze luster technique is her contribution to contemporary ceramics. The rich, vivid and saturated colors are characterized by great depth and complexity. Her open and expressive handling of the medium marks her as a modern ceramist—but one that ties into an ancient tradition.
What does an art dealer do on his day off? Well, on Monday I took my mother to a museum. We’ve often gone to railroad baron Henry E. Huntington’s Library and Art Collections in nearby San Marino. I first went there as an eight year old. In the early visit, I took home a reproduction of Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, but on Monday I was delivering a seminal work by Peter Voulkos. Who knew that I’d return, decades later, as a lender to an exhibit?
After we checked in the 1954 Voulkos, Hal Nelson, who is now a guest curator of American Art, gave our museum tour. We met briefly with the Director, John Murdoch. We learned that the desk of Hal Nelson was once the personal desk of Mr. Huntington. We admired the Peter Voulkos, which was properly unwrapped and inspected by the Registrar. But wait a minute, you may ask, what’s a Voulkos doing at the Huntington?
The Huntington’s reputation was built on the library and the British aristocratic portraits, to be sure. There are fantastic gardens, too. But, as it turns out, the Huntington’s collection of American art has grown impressively over the past 20 years. Now it includes paintings, sculpture and decorative arts from the late 17th through the mid 20th centuries. The curators are busy preparing the Scott Gallery and the Erburu Gallery for a May 26th opening. It’s then that I will see the Voulkos, in the company of Glen Lukens, Laura Andreson, Otto and Gertrud Natzler, and Harrison McIntosh.
Recently mentioned by Christopher Knight in his top 10 for 2008 list, the renovated Main House is impeccable. Now, as another sign of the cultural maturity that Knight discussed, we’ll see the links of early California ceramic pioneers, in the context of Arts and Crafts. There’s also an installation of works by the early 20th-century Southern California architects, Charles and Henry Greene.