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Always a painter

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Like so many of the artists who came into prominence during the 1960s, Craig Kauffman began as a painter, and consistently identified as one. His friends in New York, such as artists Robert Morris and Donald Judd, also had been painters in their early careers. And his colleagues in L. A., such as Larry Bell and Robert Irwin, were painters before they transitioned to their work with perception, environments, and site-determined works.

In a 1969 interview with Alan Solomon, transcribed by Matthew Simms for the Archives of American Art, Kauffman confirmed this by saying, “I don’t think of myself as a sculptor and I don’t even think Larry thinks of himself as a sculptor, and we’ve been classified as that lots of times, and you know when I think of myself I don’t really like those terms and I don’t think Bob does either.”
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Untitled, 1968
Acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic
22 1/4 x 52 1/4 inches

Le mur s’en va, 1969
Acrylic lacquer on plastic
73 x 48 x 8 1/2 inches

Collection of Art Institute of Chicago

Courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago © Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Craig Kauffman’s Color

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By 1971, Kauffman continued his interests in process art and forming plastic, but changed the way that the paint was applied, sometimes in a loose, uneven manner. Applied from the back, the color combination of green, yellow and red is reminiscent of the color of French painters like Matisse used after their travels. Kauffman stated, “I love colors in Mexico and Mexican buildings and all that stuff…and it mostly exists in my mind. I have never been to Mexico City. I have just been to Tijuana and Baja.” But Kauffman was also very much aware of how painters like Matisse were influenced, in a similar way, by the colors they saw in North Africa.

In an interview with Michael Auping, Kauffman recalled, “Well, I moved back out here [Laguna Beach] and then I went into forming those pieces that were only seen in Paris: some bars, and there were some that are like boards. They’re actually done over boards, put on sort of like the boards on a house around here…some of them were sprayed in sort of this uneven way. Then others were poured into this channel from the back.”

 

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Illustrated:

Craig Kauffman Untitled, 1971

acrylic lacquer on press formed plastic

48 x 96 x 2 inches

Photography courtesy Sprüth Magers

Photo by Timo Ohler, copyright Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artists Rights Society ARS New York

Quotations from:

Auping, Michael. Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait. Craig Kauffman Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1976.

Written by Frank Lloyd

March 26, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Robert Morris and Craig Kauffman

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Craig Kauffman and Robert Morris had a long friendship, dating back to April of 1958 when they both exhibited at the Dilexi Gallery, Opening Group Show, in the North Beach section of San Francisco. The two artists met up again several times, especially in New York during the late 1960s.

Their frequent discussions resulted in a short-lived collaboration for the exhibition Using Walls (Indoors) at the Jewish Museum in 1970, which remained open for only one day, and which Kauffman described as a combination of both of the artists’ ideas. Only a few years prior, Morris begun making process-oriented felt pieces, in which he hung strips of industrial felt on the wall and allowed gravity to determine their shape. This influenced Kauffman’s conception of his series of Loops, in which sheets of spray-painted Plexiglas seem to casually droop over a wire.

In Kauffman’s work, the environment constantly shifts as the viewer moves around each object. The light that moves across the curved edges of each piece facilitates the full comprehension of their forms. This draws comparisons to Morris’s own textual formulations in his influential Notes on Sculpture series, which advocated a phenomenological reading of the art object, how they change under varying conditions of light and space. The colored shadows of the hanging Loops and the cast plastic forms that project into space directly implicate both the viewer and their supports.

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The photos above show the installation on the first floor of the exhibition curated by Frank Lloyd, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, Sprüth Magers London, January 19—March 31, 2018.

Installation views: Sprüth Magers, London, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, January 19–March 31, 2018.

Photo Courtesy Sprüth Magers
Photography by Stephen White

Craig Kauffman and Donald Judd

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Craig Kauffman and Donald Judd met in the mid-1960s, when both had studios in Manhattan. They were friends and exchanged works, with Judd acquiring a 1967 translucent orange Plexiglas wall relief by Kauffman. Over the last 50 years, curators and critics have often noted the similarities in their use of industrial materials, serial imagery, with hybrid objects that present the relationship of sculpture and the wall.

Donald Judd used the phrase “specific objects” to describe his own work, a format which operated between painting and sculpture. Like the work of Judd, Kauffman’s three-dimensional plastic paintings occupy this liminal category. Their volume suggests that they are sculpture, but their presence on the wall reinforces their status as paintings. The unity of color and form, achieved through the use of industrial materials, is a point of similarity between the two artists’ objectives.

In the 2018 Sprüth Magers exhibit Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, Donald Judd’s work was contextualized by the inclusion of the stack piece Untitled (Bernstein 80-4) (1980) and the floor piece Untitled, DSS 234 (1970). In the same ground floor room, curator Frank Lloyd placed the 1967 Craig Kauffman, which Judd had owned, along with a 1969 Kauffman Untitled Wall relief. Writing for Flash Art, critic Alex Bennet noted:

“Kauffman’s work on show demonstrates an unchallenged desire for phenomenological observation, a project of formal pleasure that distends from concerns of figure and ground, wall and support, industrial procedure and material contingency. The ground floor features Kauffman’s bulging biomorphic and bullishly lusty vacuum forms, shellacked and uniform like candies in chronic tangerine or extravagant duotone: ridged carnation pink protruding from a lacquered jade. Each one has its own resolute charm.”

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Installation view: Sprüth Magers, London, Crossroads: Kauffman, Judd and Morris, January 19–March 31, 2018.

Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman

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Over the past 60 years, Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman have appeared in 153 group exhibitions together. With similar concerns of transparency and luminosity, the artists also share an interest in the perceptual world of sensual phenomena.

Starting with the Los Angeles County Museum in 1959, and running through 2019, many of these shows were at museums. Curators from the 1960s such as John Coplans (Pasadena Art Museum) and Kynaston McShine (MOMA) were responsible for significant exhibits in the early years. In a legendary 1969 MOMA show by curator Kynaston McShine, Bell and Kauffman were shown with their friend and colleague Ron Davis, as well as Robert Irwin and John McCracken.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York,  Five Recent Acquisitions, June 25–October 12, 1969.  Organized by MoMA curator Kynaston McShine. Works by Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, and John McCracken.

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Photo: Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art archives

A Minimal Future at MoCA, 2004

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Craig Kauffman was included in several exhibits with seminal Minimalist sculptors, during the 1960s and more recently.  In 2004, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles presented “A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958–1968,” including the work of forty American artists in an historical and scholarly examination of Minimal art, organized Curator Ann Goldstein. The catalogue essay (by Susan L. Jenkins) states “Like Judd’s “specific objects,” Kauffman’s vacuum formed plastic works exist in a space between painting and sculpture, although Kauffman has always considered himself a painter. The three-dimensionality of the earlier illusionistic paintings was now thoroughly replaced by the literal presence and three-dimensionality of works that increasingly projected from the surface of the wall.” These photos of the MOCA installation show Kauffman’s work in the company of his colleague John McCracken’s sculpture.

Installation view of “A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958–1968” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2004. Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photography by Brian Forrest.

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Written by Frank Lloyd

September 21, 2018 at 6:12 pm

Using Walls (Indoors), and Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space

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P.1970.2_HR - InstallCraig Kauffman remained a painter throughout his career. Still, Kauffman experimented with various painting media, as well as doing two very significant  installations–one in New York and one in Los Angeles. In 1970, following  Kauffman’s involvement with colored reflections on the wall—the “Loops”—he worked in collaboration with Robert Morris during the Spring 1970 show at the Jewish Museum, “Using Walls (Indoors).” The Curator Susan Tumarkin Goodwin stated, “For many artists, working directly on the wall seems to be a natural extension of  their previous use of canvas.” This process-oriented piece marks the beginning of a brief period when the artist conceived of, and produced, work  related to installations or environments.Kauffman_1970_UCLABy 1971, Kauffman was included in an exhibit at the UCLA Art Galleries, titled “Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space.” In an interview 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.” Henry J. Seldis of the L. A. Times described an “…exhilarating set of sensate experiences…” on the walls of the gallery space.
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Kauffman at MoMA

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603.1965Craig Kauffman has a long history with The MoMA. Kauffman’s work was first acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in 1965, through the Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund. This large-scale vacuum formed plastic work was shown at the MoMA in 1966 in “Recent Acquisitions: Painting and Sculpture,” as Red-Blue, and again in 1967 during a show titled, ” The 1960’s: Painting & Sculpture from the Museum Collection.”

Kauffman’s second major work in the MoMA collection was acquired in 1969, when legendary curator Kynaston McShine organized the show “Five Recent Acquisitions,” which included works by Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, and John McCracken. This 1968 wall relief painting has been exhibited at the MoMA six times, and loaned to important surveys from the collection such as “American Art since 1945: A Loan Exhibition from The Museum of Modern Art,” a 1972 exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Red-Blue, 1964, Synthetic polymer on vacuum formed plastic, 89 5/8 x 45 1/2 x 5 inches, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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Installation view of American Art since 1945: A Loan Exhibition from The Museum of Modern Art, September 15–October 22, 1972 at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art.

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Installation view of The 1960’s: Painting & Sculpture from the Museum Collection, June 28–September 24, 1967 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Mason: Sculpture, 1958-1969

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I have known John Mason for over twenty years, beginning in 1993. Among the artists I’ve worked with, Mason stands out as a quiet, thoughtful mentor.  His pensive manner, and his encouragement over the years were consistent, understanding and supportive of me as I gained my footing as an art dealer. I’ve always said that my advantage in this business was to have the respect and encouragement of some of the first generation of major West Coast artists.

So, it’s with pride and a sense of history that I curated a survey of Mason’s work for Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery, which opened just two weeks ago and runs through the end of August. Mason is an artist who helped me in the beginning, not only by respecting my vision of the formation of a gallery, but by providing introductions to his peers—and this presentation signifies that long history. It was an honor to present such a monumental group of John’s work.

This show was intended to fill a gap for a new audience, as well as provide a view of works that haven’t been seen for decades in Los Angeles. One piece hasn’t been seen since the 1960s, and two others haven’t been publicly exhibited since the 1970s. In the end, works were sourced from seven different collections. As Hunter Drohojowska Philp said in her review on KCRW, it’s a “pocket museum survey.”

I would like to thank the partners at Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery—Maggie Kayne, William Griffin, and James Corcoran—for their steadfast support of this exhibition. They, along with their committed staff, made this possible. Colleen Brennan, Paige Huntley and Alexandra Lippman worked directly with me during the organization and assembly of the show, as well as the many contacts with lenders and the artist. Finally, I’d like to thank my staff, Kelly Boyd and Gabriel Seri, for their efforts to bring this exhibition to fruition. They worked behind the scenes for a year and half to coordinate the many moving parts involved in a show of this magnitude.  Kelly and Gabriel have also produced an online publication, which can be viewed and downloaded here.

Written by Frank Lloyd

July 31, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Peter Voulkos: Two Sculptures

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This is the second in a series of posts about Peter Voulkos, focused on individual artworks. All images used are copyright of The Estate of Peter Voulkos.

For anyone interested in the sculpture that Peter Voulkos made during his biggest breakthrough years of 1957 to 1960, several works are on view right now. In this post, we’ll take a look at just two of those. I recently went to the new SFMOMA galleries, where the curators have done a marvelous job of contextualizing his work titled Tientos, from 1959. It is wisely placed in a room with works by Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Jay DeFeo, and Philip Guston, and the sculpture more than holds its own in that company. The room is about expressive abstraction, and Voulkos is the sculptor among the painters. Taking wheel-thrown parts, which were sliced, joined, and rearranged as the sculpture was built, Voulkos formed this tall vertical piece.

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Tientos, 1959 clay with iron glazes 55 x 19 x 30 inches San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

For Voulkos, who was artistically a builder of form, this meant throwing a series of smaller vessel shapes, and then grafting those together to construct a massive sculpture. Formed by stacking and joining, these sculptures had a raw, primal power. In an interview I did with John Mason in July of 2010, (his studio mate during the late 1950s), his technique was succinctly described:

“Peter’s method of construction, he had already pretty much established when he was at Otis, which was to throw a number of units and let them set up into the leather state. And then begin to construct from those units using traditional methods of construction, which would be cutting, scraping, making a liquid slip, and softening those areas that were scored, and assembling the pieces.”¹

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Peter Voulkos photographed by Henry Takemoto at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1958.

Other elements of the large sculptures were made with a kind of slab building. My best source, again, is John Mason:

“He also would make slabs by putting clay on the concrete floor, first sprinkling a little grog or maybe some clay, and smoothing it out so that the clay would release from the concrete and then stamp it out…that became then for him a slab. As it set up, it was leather hard. While he was constructing with his other elements, he would use material from those floor slabs.”²

It’s important to see these sculptures in person, and encounter the human scale and raw detail of the surface. It’s also necessary to set the record straight about the materials used. In our 2010 interview, Mason made this clear, stating that: “This might be one place to clarify what I sometimes read, by people who should know better, that Peter assembled his pieces with epoxy resins. That’s totally false.”³

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Black Butte Divide, 1958, fired clay, 47 ½ x 41 x 32 inches, Norton Simon Museum

One place to see Voulkos’ sculpture in the Los Angeles area (near Pasadena, to be more precise) is at the Norton Simon. Before you enter the museum, to the right of the large Rodin bronzes, sits a 1958 work titled Black Butte Divide. The piece was added to the Pasadena Art Museum collection in 1958, as a purchase from the Voulkos survey show of paintings and sculpture.

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¹John Mason, interview with Frank Lloyd, July 2010, unpublished transcript, archives, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College.
²Ibid.
³Ibid.