Posts Tagged ‘Craig Kauffman’
Some athletes are legendary because of their innate ability—just think of Ken Griffey Jr. with his gorgeous swing, and the perfection of his follow-through. Sure, lots of players have hit home runs, but that kind effortless movement was truly a thing of beauty.
According to all reports, Craig Kauffman was just as naturally gifted as a young artist. He participated in his first professional group show at age 19, in the best gallery in Los Angeles, Felix Landau. By 1953, still approaching his 21st birthday, Kauffman had his first one-man show at Landau. He also was given a praising review in the national magazine Art News by a leading critic, Jules Langsner, who wrote:
“The exhibition splits into two distinct groups: soft, serene, cerebrally-organized abstractions (like the Ode to Crafts series) and the more recent, highly charged linear evolutions on the other. Either way, Kauffman is precociously gifted.”1
Just five years later, when the seminal Ferus gallery had opened, Kauffman was included in another group exhibition, this time a painting survey of Northern and Southern California abstract artists. While noting the similarities and differences of the two camps, Langsner again singled out Kauffman for praise:
“Craig Kauffman is very much in evidence with an effervescent painting, also untitled. Here vertical rectangles of vivid reds, yellow, blues shimmer on a field of white. Full of bounce, the picture has the added interest of subtlety of line. Exhibiting infrequently, this artist has not received his due”.2
So, it’s not surprising that, after Kauffman’s passing, in another group exhibition currently on view at Samuel Freeman gallery, the Los Angeles Times Critic Christopher Knight should single out Kauffman’s work at the conclusion of his review:
“He navigates the void using a delicate, dappled line that constructs a sturdy visual architecture from the most fragile subject matter — orchids, a tropical flower with thousands of taxonomies. His still lifes catalog exotic blooms that are tall, willowy and weird. Kauffman has been called the most naturally gifted painter produced in the first generation of major postwar Los Angeles artists, and here it’s easy to see why.”3
1 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 51, no. 9 (January 1953), p. 53.
2 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 56, no. 10 (February 1958), pp. 47–50.
3 Knight, Christopher. “Uncharted seas in ‘How to Build a Foghorn’ at Samuel Freeman.” Los Angeles Times (August 9, 2016)
This week, the Frank Lloyd Gallery announced the closing of the public exhibition program at Bergamot Station. As of February 14, the gallery will close its doors, and move to a private space in Pasadena. The current show, of Peter Voulkos and Craig Kauffman, will be the last. After a long and successful program of over 190 exhibitions, the founder and director, Frank Lloyd, sat down to talk with Kelly Boyd and answer a few questions:
Q.: Why would you want to leave the gallery business?
A.: Well, after nineteen years of exhibitions, publications, and sales, I am finally moving on. I consider it more of a transition. I have to leave behind this accomplishment, and forge ahead with another job, as the full-time representative of an artist’s estate. I also have very personal reasons for the move, since I need to be close to my 91-year-old mother.
Q.: But what about your artists? What will happen to them?
A.: When I started the gallery, I had a specific mission of presenting ceramic artwork in a fine art context. The gallery functioned on three levels: as a commercial venue for individual artists, as an educational resource for the community of Southern California. I wanted to preserve a legacy of ceramics in Los Angeles. Finally, the gallery served as a forum for dialogue among artists, collectors and critics. I think it succeeded on all those goals.
Later, as the gallery expanded, I showed artists from other countries, including England, Mexico, France, Holland and especially Japan. Then, I further expanded the program to include contemporary painters and sculptors, because I thought they all came out of the same time period in L.A., the innovative post-war period. In many ways, ceramics, along with assemblage, led the way back then. Voulkos, Mason and Price were examples of fearless leadership and grew out of a common bond.
Q.: But the artists, what will happen to them? You didn’t answer my question.
A.: Oh, you’re right! I’m pleased to say that, for several reasons, ceramics has regained its rightful spot in the mainstream. Just today I had the pleasure of reading a review in the Boston Globe about an exhibition of 200 years of American ceramics at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Featured were Cheryl Ann Thomas and Adrian Saxe. Also, an artist that I represented for 16 years, John Mason, has now regained his position in the art world, with shows like the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time, the recent Whitney Biennial, and his representation by David Kordansky.
I’m proud of showing Larry Bell since 2006, and now he’s with an international powerhouse gallery, White Cube. Even a less well-known ceramic artist from Japan, Satoru Hoshino, is having a show with Dominique Levy. Others that I’ve shown, like Betty Woodman and Ken Price, both had retrospective exhibits at the Metropolitan. Back in 2003, Dave Hickey for Artforum named Ron Nagle’s show at my gallery one of the top shows in the world. Now, he’s been in the Venice Bienniale and had a survey at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. Adrian Saxe continues to win awards and recognition from critics and organizations.
Q.: Is that because of what you did? Do you take credit for that?
A.: No, I think the artists should get all the credit, I’ve always thought that. But the art world is increasingly aware of these artists, now, and there is a feeling of some vindication. I get some satisfaction out of seeing these artists, who I showed and believed in, get the change in visibility. I think it’s due to several factors, actually. I just felt it was going to happen, twenty years ago when I started the gallery. The exhibition program was all about the place of these artists and that history.
Q.: What exactly are the factors you’re referring to?
A.: First is the obvious trend: Young artists have been using the ceramic medium, and they have no real material hierarchy. That’s a major factor. Younger artists will use anything; they are, quite fortunately, not bound to the old prejudices against clay. Critics have been champions of this use by young artists as well as the use by recognized artists. And curators have recognized the value of the work—look at the tremendous reception for the retrospective of Ken Price, for instance. The curators at major museums are making a big difference in the public’s perception.
Q.: What other examples?
A.: Well, the gallery showed the ceramic work of a major woman sculptor, Lynda Benglis. We had two quite visible and successful shows of Betty Woodman’s work, well in advance of the retrospective at the Met. We’ve shown a significant number of women, including the early group like Vivika Heino, Laura Andreson and Beatrice Wood, then more contemporary artists like Cindy Kolodziejski, Jennifer Lee, Marilyn Levine, Betty Woodman, and Elizabeth Fritsch, as well as sculptors like Lynda. Cheryl Ann Thomas is another example. We didn’t just show the men!
Q.: What part of the gallery are you most proud of?
A.: Oh, that’s easy: the publications. I’ve taken that job seriously, working with writers and a legendary graphic designer. In many ways, I was lucky to work with a superb graphic designer, the late Joe Molloy, and he mentored me through the process of publishing. I still have a huge stash of our publications, in which we published the writing of Kristine McKenna, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, and the art historian Francis Colpitt.
I’d also have to say that every day in my gallery was enhanced by the architecture, designed by Fred Fisher. It’s a sad thing to leave this space, so perfectly designed.
Q.: So, that’s a regret. What was your biggest disappointment?
A.: Lack of attendance. We work our butts off, and then the attendance is poor.
A.: Yes, and it’s a great memory. The big crowd pleasers were clearly deserving: Adrian Saxe’s shows—any of them! And then, we had people return again with their family, just to see the stunning and heartfelt works of French sculptor Georges Jeanclos. The first show of Peter Voulkos in 1999, that had people lined up just to get in. All were extremely gratifying to present. But lately, the attention has shifted and we are working on other projects.
Q.: Will you be busy? Is there enough work in your new job to keep you busy? Or are you retiring?
A.: This is a common question. The truth is, with an artist of this significance, Craig Kauffman, there is more than enough research, conservation, and publication to keep a full staff busy for a decade. The representatives of artist’s estates, and many foundations, are dedicated to the job of preserving and protecting the legacy and work of an artist. We’ll have plenty to do.
Q.: Won’t you miss the gallery business?
A.: I’ll miss the people. I have a number of passionate colleagues. That’s something I learned: many art dealers are passionate and committed individuals. We are fortunate to have them. I must say that there should be more recognition for the patrons and the dealers. I started by coming from the artists’ side—and now I’ve learned more about the collectors and the dealers. Art world news is often about hot young artists, the big money that is spent, and the connections to celebrity, all of it coming in a steady stream on new portal sites, traditional news media, and social media. But the thing that sustains it all is the hard work and passion of the artists, dealers, and patrons. I’d hate to see an art world without art galleries.
Q.: How would you sum up the last 19 years?
A.: In five words or less? A lot of hard work. But seriously, when I started, I wanted to make a statement: a gallery with a sense of history, that presents itself as a strong and relevant component of the contemporary art world. Although it was originally media-specific and became known as a specialty gallery, everything we exhibited had a relationship to painting and sculpture. We presented ceramics as a vital part of the regional and national scene and we also proposed links between historical precedents and contemporary ceramics. That was the reason for the expanded program, and it succeeded in many ways. I think the last show is a good way to finish the statement, and I’ll continue to try to set the record straight.
My inbox is filled with year-end lists and 2014 top ten rankings and rants. Should I add to that clutter? In a year that was filled with accomplishments for the artists and the gallery, it’s at least time to take a moment and make note of some things. I was reminded of the winter ritual by my friend Jennifer Lee’s photo.
Starting with the gallery’s blog, it’s amazing to see just how far-reaching the digital world has taken us. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I wonder: How does mobile computing affect the way that the public interacts with museum shows? How does the rise of corporate-owned art news aggregators affect the perception of art and the way that people see exhibitions? When people “share” art on social media, is that an effective way to communicate? Which media translate the best in the new digital age?
This blog was viewed in 102 different countries in just the past year. Most of our visitors were from the U.S., but the U.K. and France were not far behind. But, what did the viewers comment on the most? A post titled “The Two Californias”, in which I talked about the oft-cited but misunderstood division between the northern and southern regions of the state. The post was popular, for a while. But, an older post, about the mid-century architecture of the Pasadena area and Richard Neutra, continues to draw an on-line audience.
All told, over 16,000 people viewed the blog! Among the things they read about: Cheryl Ann Thomas and her exhibits and museum acquisitions, the incredibly intricate and highly humorous work of Adrian Saxe, and the continued efforts of the gallery on behalf of the Estate of Craig Kauffman. We’ve had a full year and are ready to turn the page. Please keep following us!
I currently have on view an early drawing by Craig Kauffman that visitors are really responding to. From 1961, this drawing is one of a series of works on paper that Kauffman produced while he was traveling in Europe – to Copenhagen, Paris and Ibiza between 1959 and 1961. In Paris, Kauffman met the abstract artists Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, as well as Darthea Speyer, who later became his Paris dealer. The works that he developed during this period reveal his continuing interest in Abstract Expressionism, coupled with an awareness of Japanese Zen sumi ink painting.
This piece, along with several others from the same timeframe, was included in the 2008 exhibition Craig Kauffman: A Retrospective of Drawings, at the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena. Kauffman carried these drawings with him during his travels, in several large portfolios, so they required some conservation before they were ready to be shown. For this task, I hired the late Victoria Blyth Hill, retired Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Conservation Center, and longtime friend of the gallery. Her work on this project was everything I had hoped for, as she approached the pieces with sensitivity and expertise. With a “less is more” philosophy, the work was cleaned and stabilized, before being archivally framed to protect it against future damage.
Conservation is a major aspect of the Estate of Craig Kauffman’s responsibility to protect the legacy of the artist. Working with a team of selected conservators, we are trying to provide guidelines for the care and keeping of Kauffman’s work in all mediums. Given the diversity of his long career, this is a significant task, but one that is imperative if his work is to survive. The Estate of Craig Kauffman’s new website, www.craigkauffman.com, now has a conservation tab, where museums and private collectors can direct their conservation inquiries.
Sometimes I look for unifying themes within the gallery’s exhibition program. It’s obvious that we specialize in contemporary ceramics, and we clearly favor a sense of place—the West Coast of the U.S. But what’s fascinating to me is that several of the gallery’s artists have a connection to France, and to French culture.
How? Let me explain.
Adrian Saxe was influenced, even early in his career, by Sèvres porcelain. He saw examples at the Huntington, when he was in his early twenties. Saxe was attracted to the soft-paste porcelain characteristic of the factory,as well as the inventive forms, delicate painting, and skillful gilding. Then, in 1983, Saxe was selected by Georges Jeanclos to be the first resident at the Atelier Experimental de Recherche et de Création de la Manufacture National de Sèvres. Saxe returned to Sèvres in 1987 for a second residency, where he continued his explorations of the factory’s traditional techniques and materials.
Craig Kauffman made many trips to Paris. His first was right after his graduation from UCLA’s master’s program in 1956. During his six month stay, Kauffman took classes at the Alliance Française and visited museums and galleries. He returned to Paris in 1959 to 1961, while also traveling to other cities including Copenhagen and Ibiza. During this more extended visit, Kauffman met Darthea Speyer, who would later become his Paris dealer. Kauffman went back to Paris in 1973 for a solo show at Galerie Darthea Speyer, and lived in a studio in the Cité Internationale des Arts through the fall of 1975. After spending the spring of 1976 in California, he returned to France, to work in his studio and exhibit new works at Galerie Darthea Speyer.
Three years ago, Larry Bell was honored by the Carré d’Art de Nîmes with a very significant survey exhibition. Yet this is not the first time Bell’s work was shown, or collected, by the French. History shows that Larry Bell exhibited in France many times, including at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in 1967 and 1974, the Palais du Luxembourg in 1993, the Centre Pompidou in 2006, and the Galerie Daniel Templon in 2010. It’s interesting to note that Larry’s brother, a famed economist, maintains a residence in Paris.
The gallery has also shown a major French artist: Georges Jeanclos. It was an honor to exhibit the work of such a renowned international artist on two occasions. His emotional work profoundly affected visitors, as the artist’s deft handling of his terra cotta materials evoked a powerful sense of the tragedy of human experience.
Artist’s Estates are charged with the responsibility to protect the legacy, be caretakers of the artwork, and preserve the reputation of the artist. Estates, of course, come in many different sizes and forms—from the large and well-funded Warhol Foundation, to the smaller and penniless widows of the unrecognized. Reputations are placed in trust. I’ve had the sometimes sad—but necessary—task of working with family and friends of several artists after a death. There are the inevitable meetings with lawyers, accounting and record keeping, and there is a significant job of responding to the queries of museums, curators, and collectors. But in the digital age, there is another important position: the protection and presentation of the images and information online.
I’ve written about the prevalence of the internet in the art world before, and it’s something that continues to interest me. The online presence of a gallery or artist can make a big difference in how they are perceived, by the general public, students, critics, and museums. I’ve observed that the first step by many during a research project is to do a quick search on Google or Wikipedia. Unfortunately, it seems that not many people go beyond this cursory overview of a topic. That needs to change.
With that in mind, the Estate of Craig Kauffman, working with my gallery, has launched a new website: www.craigkauffman.com. It features images of artworks, a selected exhibition history, primary-source documents and a chronology to guide visitors through Kauffman’s life and work. It is our hope that this website will be a resource that helps people look beyond the mythology to see the broad scope of his career. We made use of extensive archival materials and interviews, to try—again—to set the record straight.
For the installation of Los Gigantes, I included something new – a bench! Although I don’t often place benches in the gallery, this show motivated me to include one. The aesthetic of Los Gigantes is very spare, with only ten pieces on view. The works really fill the space though, and they all benefit from prolonged looking. For example, the more time a visitor spends with a Light Knot by Larry Bell, the more they understand the ephemeral, kinetic nature of the piece. Practically weightless, the Light Knot turns and sways with the slightest breath of air. Because it is so responsive to light and environmental conditions, the piece changes from moment to moment.
I encourage people to sit down and study the pieces, rather than rushing through. From the bench installed in Los Gigantes, you will see a painting by Ed Moses, framed by two luminous wall reliefs by Craig Kauffman. The subtle, translucent colors of the Kauffman pieces beautifully complement the stained surface of Moses’ painting. Viewed together, the works illustrate the impact of shimmering, sensual color in differing media.