Posts Tagged ‘Craig Kauffman’
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from my research is the number of times Craig Kauffman showed in San Francisco. In the first decade of his career, from 1951 to 1961, he participated in a dozen shows in S.F., far more than in Los Angeles. For a painter so closely identified by critics with L.A., that’s very surprising.
Three of these were early group shows, in a regional annual exhibit: The Annual Watercolor Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, held at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Many artists participated in such annuals in the early 1950s, because there were few places to exhibit, and the shows offered jurors, awards, and visibility. Kauffman also showed in the 1961 version of the watercolor show at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Important partnerships formed during the 1950s, notably through Syndell Studios and the collaborative organization of Action I, also known as the “Merry Go Round Show,” on the Santa Monica pier. Two of Kauffman’s good friends, James Newman and Walter Hopps, went on to establish galleries. Hopps, of course, partnered with Ed Kienholz to found the legendary Ferus gallery in 1957. Less noted but equally important in this period for Kauffman was Dilexi gallery, which was founded by James Newman.
It was there in San Francisco at Dilexi that Kauffman had eight early exhibitions, both group and solo. Interesting documentation from this time exists in the Archives of American Art, as well as in reviews published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Art News, and Art International. James Newman later donated a Kauffman painting, collected from Dilexi, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
I’ve written before about the ways that Northern and Southern California are often compared and contrasted: divisions, disagreements, climates, and permeable lines. But here’s another example of an artist who traveled back and forth, living in both cities, and exhibiting in related galleries.
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 conceptual 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 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 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 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.
I 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 Galerie 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?
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 Frances 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.