Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Posts Tagged ‘Art Institute of Chicago

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.





Connecting Threads in Art

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Kauffman_Galerie Darthea Speyer_announcement_1976 copyIt’s always so interesting to me the way art historical threads can weave together, revealing a complex network of connections between artists, curators, dealers, and patrons. Following these threads can take you deep into the history of an artist and his work, and show you details you might have overlooked. For example, I’ve recently been looking into the time Craig Kauffman spent in Paris in the 1970s, and have discovered some interesting things. Kauffman exhibited new work at the Galerie Darthea Speyer in 1973 and 1976 in a space in Saint-Germain-des-Prés designed by Darthea Speyer’s brother, A. James Speyer.

An architect who studied under Mies van der Rohe in the 1930s, A. James Speyer became the Curator of Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961, and remained there until his death in 1986. It was under his tenure as senior curator that the Art Institute of Chicago acquired their two outstanding works by Craig Kauffman. The first work, a 1969 Loop titled Le Mur s’en Va I, was bought outright in 1970 through the Twentieth-Century Purchase Fund. The second piece, an Untitled bubble from 1968 was donated to the museum in 1979 by Baxter Travenol Laboratories.

The title of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Loop is Untitled Loop_Blue Green_1969 copyimportant, because Le Mur s’en va (The Wall Goes Away) refers to Craig Kauffman’s original name for the Loop series. These works, suspended several inches in front of the wall, create an unusual visual ambiguity. The fields of luminous color compete with their own shadows, tinted images of the works cast in reverse on the walls. The works, and the walls, seem to dematerialize in the face of this optical uncertainty.

Kauffman made a compelling statement about his works’ relationship with the wall for his 1970 survey show at the Pasadena Art Museum. He’s referring specifically to works that cast colored reflections, but I think it reveals something fundamental about his beliefs about painting, and even hints at the direction he eventually moved in during the 1970s. I’ve published this before, but feel it’s worth repeating:

“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 girl 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 à la léger?  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