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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.

Peter Voulkos: Untitled, 1961

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

What is it about the presence of a stunning piece of pottery? What makes us sense the rhythm of relationships, and what communicates the tactile nature of the medium of ceramics? I’ve wondered why, out of the thousands of pots I’ve had the chance to view and to hold, some stand out. At the very top of my list is a 1961 vase by Peter Voulkos. Let’s take a deeper look at one pot.

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Untitled, 1961 is a superb example of the strong, quickly thrown, and sparsely glazed vase form—modified by sgraffito and loosely brushed glazes. First of all, it’s large: a little over 13 inches high, by 7 inches wide. It’s also important to feel the weight of the piece (12 pounds), to understand the mass of clay that was used; this is not a dainty flower vase, but one that has a rustic, raw heft.  When handling this thrown cylindrical vessel, I noticed how throwing marks remain on the white glazed interior. Large, and almost conforming to the size of fingers, those marks are interrupted on the inside by four long vertical creases, evidence of the fingers pulling up and pushing out—creating a four-sided vase, with a slight bulge at the mid-point. While other potters might have paddled the thrown cylinder into such a shape, Voulkos cut the outer shape four times with a taut wire to make this form’s sides. He rapidly and intuitively set up the structure, ready for his next step.

By changing the tapered cylindrical form into a four-sided open vessel, Voulkos gave himself the chance to place four simple, but deeply incised marks: a circle, an “X”, a vertical slash and a horizontal slash. These are evidently cut into the surface with a knife: an incision for the “O” and the “X”, and a deeper knife cut for the horizontal and the vertical slashes. The latter two are pushed out from the interior, opening the wounds and widening the cuts, but never altering those gestures after making them. In this way, the pot reveals the synergy of Voulkos’ hand and his effortless mastery of the properties of the medium. Take a look at the four sides here:

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Color is reduced to a familiar palette of simple glazes, common to Voulkos’ work during this period. As he once described, there was a bucket of black glaze, a bucket of white glaze, and a bucket brown, sometimes one of blue. That was all.  But it’s the loose, painterly way they are handled that makes them contribute to the improvisational nature of the piece. In fact, the glaze treatment is perfectly in tune with the incisions made into the surface, some of which remain on the sand-colored, groggy clay body—left totally raw. As for spontaneity: just let the drips fall where they may.

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What does this all mean? First of all, we see the skilled physicality of his dance with the material. Voulkos worked deliberately, with improvisation and without preconception. His previous experience (during the years 1949 to 1954 he won 29 prizes, medals and competitions for his technical skills) gave him the fluid and confident gestures within material and form, as if he were a musician improvising on a theme. The second thing to notice is the presence of the hand, and the trace it leaves. Ceramics are the most tactile of mediums: haptic communication, the most basic, is everywhere in this piece. Holding the piece gives me a direct understanding of its form, and my hands can trace the movement of his.

What do the marks mean? Probably nothing. It’s ludicrous to say that we know. They are an expression that is simple and probably void. Voulkos may have just been saying that: nothingness, as shown in the zero; a crossing of lines, as shown in the X, and two basic properties of horizontality and verticality. An aesthetic can be understood, though, by the striking simplicity and placement of the marks.  There is a rightness to those gestures, not laden with references or meaning—just a record of the interaction of an individual with his medium, with effortless perfection.

Is that Zen? Some may claim that it is, but as it turns out, that’s a pretty dubious and probably false idea. There’s very little hard evidence that artists of his circle had a deep understanding of Zen Buddhism. Yes, Shoji Hamada had famously done pottery demonstrations in his tours of the U.S. with Yanagi Sōetsu, but their message was about the preservation of Japanese folk handicraft (Mingei). And in 1954, it is possible that Voulkos saw works by Rosanjin, a well-known Japanese ceramicist, on exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park.  While a few potters (like Paul Soldner and Mac McClain) report that they passed around thin paperbacks about Zen (possibly by authors D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts) or listened to lectures, none had formally committed to the life of a Zen Buddhist monk. And, for that matter, none had traveled to Asian countries to see monasteries or kiln sites, until Ken Price went to Japan in 1962. Later, Paul Soldner traveled and met the Raku family, finally learning that his version of American Raku had misunderstood the centuries-old tradition.

There were joking references in the air, which loosely interpreted the rustic simplicity of works reproduced in books, but a deeper understanding of the rigorous discipline eluded most of the ceramic artists. Los Angeles painter John McLaughlin was a true student of Buddhism (and an authority on Japanese prints); McLaughlin had first hand experience. Later, one of the original artists in the Ferus gallery, Alan Lynch, became a Zen monk, in a Zen community in Paris and then in North Carolina. But Voulkos was much more known to be a heavy drinker, and preferred to play Flamenco music.

On the other hand, perhaps Voulkos was a master, in a different dimension: that of a no-rules consciousness, where the mind is free of concepts, and open to the void.  He embodied pure skill and simple but marvelous intuition. So, indeed, does this vase.

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Kauffman in Paris

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ckc0078I was talking to a Los Angeles dealer last week, and we recalled the European history for West Coast artists. So much has been forgotten, but the first wave of the West Coast to hit Europe was much stronger than you might imagine. It’s amazing to recall that artist Larry Bell had, very early in his career, one-man shows in London, (at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1966); in Paris at the legendary Ileana Sonnabend (1967) and the following year (1968) Larry was included in Documenta IV at the Museum Fridericianum, Kassel.

For Craig Kauffman, a remarkable series of shows is recorded. The first time Kauffman showed in Paris was at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, with a group that represented the United States for the Cinquième Biennale de Paris. Organized by James Demetrion (who would eventually become the Director of the Hirschhorn museum), it was a selection of just four artists: Llyn Foulkes, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken and Ed Ruscha. It’s easy to see just how prescient those choices were, as each artist had a distinctive voice then, and each has become more significant in the present. Kauffman was represented by a series of 1967 vacuum-formed acrylic wall paintings, with a rounded double-lip protrusion in the center of a transparent colored relief.

Kauffman also had one-man shows with kauffman_galerie-darthea-speyer_announcement_1973Galerie Darthea Speyer,
in 1973 and 1976. Darthea Speyer (the sister of legendary Art Institute of Chicago Director James Speyer) was an established dealer in Paris, and someone who Kauffman had met on his second trip to Paris in 1959 to 1961 (Kauffman also lived in Paris, on Rue Git le Couer, in an apartment near the famed Beat Hotel). Darthea Speyer was very supportive and responsive to Kauffman’s work, and maintained an interest throughout her career. Works were placed in Parisian collections.

In 1977, Craig also showed at Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, for the Biennale de Paris, Une Anthologie 1957-67. We’re researching this show, and will soon be including works exhibited in 1977 in our catalogue raisonne.

The more recent exhibits for Kauffman have both been at the Centre Pompidou. First, in 2006, was Los Angeles: 1955-1985, Birth of an Art Capital. Curated by Catherine Grenier, this was a large survey of the groundbreaking developments in Los Angeles during those 30 years, and the Pompidou reported that attendance broke all previous exhibition records. Kauffman attended the opening, along with many of the L. A. artists.

This year, Kauffman’s work was included in the Pompidou’s Beat Generation exhibit. Fittingly, the curators selected a 1962 painting on paper (and mounted on board) titled Git le Couer #3, bringing Kauffman’s past history with the City of Lights to a full circle. When Craig and his second wife lived on that Parisian street, I wonder if he could have imagined that his work would hang in a Parisian museum?