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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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What is a wall?

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Craig Kauffman remained a painter throughout his career, over 50 years. Still, Craig experimented with various painting media, as well as doing some installations. In 1971, for instance, Kauffman was included in a significant exhibit at the UCLA Art Galleries, titled Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space. His kauffman-loops-installation_2conceptual drawing in the catalogue shows the installation piece: a mirrored trough of water, activated by fans, and illuminated by overhead lights. The result? It was the “moving reflection on wall of circulating water.”

This 1971 reflection piece for the show at UCLA followed Kauffman’s involvement with colored reflections on the wall—the Loops—and his work during the 1970 show at the Jewish Museum, Using Walls. In an interview during 1971 with Frederick S. Wight for the UCLA catalog, the artist speculated about his work at that time, saying “…now I’m thinking of doing things on a wall that run from corner to corner which really make the whole wall the piece…the emphasis isn’t on a unified form where it is more spread out if you want to call it that. The piece is less important than what it is doing to the wall.”

kauffman-loops-installation_1Kauffman had also written a statement, printed in the Pasadena Art Museum’s catalog for his 1970 survey exhibit. It’s a much stronger, poetic and political stance.  Here it is, complete with the original omission of capitalization:

what is a wall? it is always something for bumping one’s head against.  the real wall, of whatever material, be it brick, studs sixteen inches on center, cement, adobe, flat or curved, is something to reckoned with.  it is also an idea which separates us from each other.  walls divide worlds.  whether of bamboo or iron, walls are our creations.  even the invisible walls that surround each of us denote our space, our identity.  “c’est une chose mystérieuse la mur.”  thing of mind or reality?  crazy jane said, “what a terrible thing for a young kauffman_pasadena-art-museumgirl to be a wall.”  it is terrible to be any inanimate object but to become a wall is perhaps the worst.  to walk into a wall and never come out is very possible.  it is as if the wall calls to us to come in and stay in its cold interior.  destroy the wall with color a la leger?  cover the wall with paintings?  make protrusions from it, poke holes in it? perhaps we should play with walls, with illusions, shadows, in order to render them passable to our substance.  to walk through a wall is not just for houdini.  perhaps we can all enter and come out safely.

craig kauffman

Written by Frank Lloyd

October 14, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Frederick Fisher and Partners

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I was very pleased to learn recently that the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles has honored Frederick Fisher with its 2013 Presidential Gold Medal. In selecting this year’s honorees, the Board chose to recognize individuals who take on leadership roles in advancing the practice of architecture in Los Angeles.

Install_5 copyThis honor is well deserved by Fred and his partners David Ross and Joe Coriaty. Frederick Fisher and Partners designed my gallery at Bergamot Station, back in 1996. Fred’s great to work with, as he and his firm really know about art spaces. He was immediately sensitive to my needs as a gallery owner, going so far as to include small drawings of Adrian Saxe and Roseline Delisle artworks in his preliminary drawings. He accepted the challenge of intimate viewing spaces within a large volume of space. I’ve witnessed the level of attention to detail that Fred extends to all his clients, so it’s not a surprise to see him recognized like this.

Fred’s other art spaces included the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, the Broad Art Foundation, The Erburu Gallery at the Huntington, the Oceanside Museum, and L.A. Louver Gallery. Congratulations to Frederick Fisher and Partners on the award and the recognition from his peers!

Architectural Inspiration

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DSC_0667In light of the upcoming Getty-sponsored series, Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the ways art and architecture intersect. It’s not uncommon for artists to have interest in architecture and design, and our gallery artists are no exception. For example, Craig Kauffman had deep roots in architecture, maintaining a lifelong interest in the field. Coming of age in post-war Southern California, Kauffman had some early exposure to the kind of modern architecture that would go on to characterize the region. His first significant personal contact came in 1949, while he was still in high school. Anna Victoria Dahlstrom, a friend of his sister Wilhelmina, lived in a newly designed house by John Lautner in Pasadena. The Dahlstrom residence featured curving walls, exposed beams and an extensive use of glass, all of which made a great impression on the young Kauffman.

Enrolling in the USC School of Architecture in the fall of 1950, Craig Kauffman even wrote a paper on the architecture of Lautner, with whom he felt an affinity. Although he left USC after his first year to study art at UCLA, Kauffman carried his architectural interests with him throughout the rest of his career.

In the early 1970s, Kauffman made the significant decision to FKN082 copyleave the medium of painting on plastic, for which he was well-known, and begin a new body of work. The constructed paintings of 1973 – 1976, currently on display at the gallery, illustrate this new direction and have an undeniably architectural presence. Framed out in jelutong wood, Kauffman has made the physical supports the subject of these paintings. In an interview in 1977 with Michael Auping, referring to these works, Kauffman stated that “the structure is the image, the beginnings of the image.”

FKN372 copyKauffman’s decision to reveal the internal architecture of a painting, and focus on it, is akin to an architect’s use of exposed beams in a residence. Rather than conceal the means by which these works were constructed, Kauffman highlighted their physical structures. He also allowed for some neutral areas between the strips of jelutong, which function as windows through the works to the wall where they are hung. Many of the forms he used in this series are drawn from his architectural vocabulary, and some explicitly relate to his earlier architectural studies, like this Concert Hall Workshop from 1954 (seen above). They also refer to the type of vernacular architecture that attracted Kauffman, including the shacks on the beach he saw during his visits to Baja.

What is California Design?

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CHM041Yesterday, a journalist asked me “What is California Design?” My response was to send her the first chapter of Wendy Kaplan’s excellent essay in the LACMA publication, “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965.” Kaplan’s book (now in its fourth printing!) accompanies the touring exhibition which debuted at LACMA last year, and is set to open in Tokyo in March.

But as I thought about the question of definition, I realized Blog 052that California Design has some strong antecedents and a marvelous mix of influences. In fact, Kaplan said it best herself when she wrote that, when speaking about California Design, scholars are “referring not to a single aesthetic but to a loose, albeit clearly recognizable, group of ideas.”[1] It’s a movement that was fed by European émigrés, including architects Schindler and Neutra, as well as Marguerite Wildenhain and the Natzlers in ceramics. Another component was the modern craft movement, which emphasizes the connection to the hand and the recognition of the beauty of every-day objects, when imbued with a refined aesthetic. Being on the edge of the Pacific Rim, California also absorbed the aesthetic and philosophy of Asian culture in the post-WWII environment. And certainly, most accounts include the open and unbounded atmosphere for expression on the West Coast, not to mention the inviting climate.

Blog 054European immigration to California came in two primary waves, the first beginning in the late teens and 1920s and the second consisting of war-time refugees, fleeing the Nazis. R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra were both early émigrés, who found in California an accommodating climate and a clientele interested in their theories of indoor/outdoor living and the use of modern materials such as steel and glass. The conditions of California were particularly amenable to the casual outdoor living promoted by these transplanted Modernists, who worked to tailor their visions to the desires of Californians.

These modern homes needed to be filled with the CHM030furniture and objects of everyday life, and the modern craft movements had a marked influence in this regard. Designers and artists strove to make their work accessible to the middle class, giving rise to the designer-craftsman. In her volume, Kaplan writes that “The concept of the designer-craftsman, though not unique to California, was most successfully realized there, particularly in ceramics.”[2] Ceramists such as Harrison McIntosh embodied the idea that everyday items can be imbued with elegance and dignity, and that using these well-designed objects adds enjoyment to one’s daily life. Influenced by the Bauhaus-educated Marguerite Wildenhain, who fled the Nazis in 1940, McIntosh focused on simple and graceful silhouettes for practical usage.

CHM047 copyOpenness to new ideas is no doubt one of most important factors in the development of the style that came to be known as California Modern Design. A willingness to try new things led to an exciting synthesis of influences. California’s proximity to Asia led to heightened interest in the aesthetic and philosophy of Asian culture after the Second World War. Furniture and the decorative arts in particular were influenced by Pan-Asian motifs.

Thus, the question “What is California Design?” is not one that can be answered simply. California Design, like California itself, reflects the complex set of factors that shaped a region during the middle of the 20th century.


[1] Kaplan, Wendy, Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965, (Los Angeles: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MIT Press, 2011), 33.

[2] Ibid., 39.

A Tactile Medium

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FPZ353 copy2My 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. delisle_1999-installation_14_2Could 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.

Ohr_OKeefe_Museum5Frank 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.

Craig Kauffman: The Numbers Paintings

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A rhythmic, wandering line has been present in Craig Kauffman’s paintings since the 1950s. Based in his experiments with skipping, dotted lines made with ink on paper, the line in those paintings displayed a loose, calligraphic hand that seems to define form, yet also describe a suspended space. In the Numbers paintings from 1989, Kauffman employed that line again to make numerals, boldly drawn in paint and hovering over a colored ground of imagery.

In the third exhibition to be drawn from the Estate of Craig Kauffman (1932-2010), the Frank Lloyd Gallery presents a series of paintings by Kauffman made in 1989. Kauffman’s interest in unorthodox application of paint and his love of the physicality of painting are accompanied by a brilliant color sense. Kauffman considered these works, which became known as the Numbers, to be a continuation of his use of calligraphic line, and an integration of sensuous color with architectural form. The paintings demonstrate a masterful range of painting’s language: dark versus light, the organic and architectural, and luminosity with density.

The large-scale paintings—some as tall as ten feet—were made following Kauffman’s first move to the Philippines. A rich landscape and powerful native forms from his new-found home are interwoven with the layers of numbers.  Images of volcanos, ethnic figurative sculpture (Santos) and architecture (Four Kubos) are included in the backgrounds of the works. With these allusions to elements from his new environment, as well as his use of the bifurcated canvas, Kauffman again made use of his broken, skipping line. As biographer Hunter Drohojowska-Philp has written, “Most are divided vertically, like Asian scrolls, and painted in two contrasting colors such as white and red. The outlines of orchids, volcanos or houses with pitched roofs are repeated like a fabric pattern while the thin, curling numbers are overlaid. The iconography is drawn from his exposure to Philippine culture.”[1]

Kauffman retained the unusual line from his early drawings. In an essay for Craig Kauffman drawing retrospective in 2008, curator Jay Belloli wrote:

In these linear works on paper, Kauffman began an approach to drawing that he has employed more and more frequently over the years. At the time, the top of a bottle of Pelikan ink had a rubber squeeze attachment similar to an eye dropper, so an artist could draw up small quantities of ink and put them in a bowl or shallow tray for easier use. Kauffman used the squeeze attachment directly as a drawing tool. The line that resulted was uneven, sometimes broken, and it revealed the direct and somewhat uncontrolled way in which it was made. This approach to ink drawing was like a Western means of creating some of the spontaneity associated with Asian calligraphy. [2]

The vertical composition of the Numbers paintings can also be strongly associated with Asian calligraphy. This clear structure of marking from top to bottom, and the reference to the format of a scroll, belies the artist’s life-long fascination with the arts of Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Indeed, his move to the Philippines provided him with easy access to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and his viewing of landscape paintings made with ink was made possible. “Japanese calligraphy is organized in columns and rows,” Belloli wrote, “and Japanese painting as one or several simple recognizable elements.” The format of the Numbers paintings not only recalls the influence of Asian painting, but also provides an expansive view of pictorial space, which Kauffman skillfully divides into a space for a specific purpose: a combination of linear and architectural form.

Architecture was one of the artist’s passions since his teenage years. Kauffman was highly influenced by reading Kindergarten Chats, by Louis Sullivan and A New Vision, from Material to Architecture, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. These books lay out the foundations of modern art. Intended to inform readers about the elements of Bauhaus design, the text by Moholy-Nagy merges theory, art and design. The influence on Kauffman, and on his desire to create a new way of seeing the world through art, was profound.

Kauffman’s architectural elements in the Numbers paintings also reflect his own practical experience of building. In the later decades of his life, Kauffman designed several homes, including four in the Philippines and one in the Central California town of Arroyo Grande. His eye and hand were naturally drawn to architecture, a profession he considered when he first entered college at the University of Southern California. The Numbers paintings contain some of the simple architecture of the Philippines, known as Kubo bamboo houses.

The paintings present a merging of all of these elements: architecture, calligraphy, and painting. They are held together by the network of lines, executed in an architect’s italic block numbers. But the unity is also achieved by Kauffman’s extraordinary ability with brilliant color combinations—from the rich reddish column on the left to the subtle whites and greys on the right, or the overlays of red and green.

These eight paintings were not shown in Los Angeles, although some were included in the large survey of Los Angeles painting, Abstraction, mounted by the Nagoya City Art Museum in 1990.[3] That Nagoya exhibit included the work of Kauffman, Sam Francis, John Altoon, John McLaughlin and Ed Moses. The eight major paintings in the current show are accompanied by five works on paper.

—Frank Lloyd


[1] Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Craig Kauffman: Sensual Mechanical, Frank Lloyd Gallery and the Estate of Craig Kauffman, 2012, p. 73.

[2] Jay Belloli, Craig Kauffman: A Retrospective of Drawings, Armory Center for the Arts, 2008, p. 14

[3] Noriko Fujinami, Abstraction: John Altoon, Sam Francis, Craig Kauffman, John McLaughlin, Ed Moses, Nagoya City Art Museum, 1990.

Written by Frank Lloyd

April 19, 2012 at 10:21 pm