Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Gehry

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.

 

 

 

 

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Shifting Status Quo

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CMN012_TC copyAbout a year ago, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion about the change in status of contemporary ceramics. The position and ranking of ceramics in the world of contemporary art has been shifting for over 60 years. Great artists have made the biggest difference in overcoming prejudices, and have been quite blunt about their assessment of how the art world perceives their work. Ken Price, for instance, succinctly noted that in the middle 1950s, the material hierarchy was established, saying that, “In those days, clay as an art medium was dead and buried.”[i]

The first task for the panel, I thought, would be to enumerate the ways that such a lowly ranking was overcome. In the current environment, a viewer can see contemporary ceramics in major museums and hundreds of galleries. How and why has this happened, and what were the forces for this change?  I believe there are some clear reasons:

First, the lack of material hierarchy in the work of young artistsFSE053 copy made it clear that a new attitude about media exists (this is especially evident in curated exhibitions such as the award-winning show at the Hammer titled “Thing”, or the traveling show from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia titled “Dirt on Delight”). This seems to be coming from two sources: university and art school-trained artists who are the product of interdisciplinary programs; and the popular culture at large. Younger artists have adopted the contemporary music world’s sampling techniques—piecing together disparate parts and re-mixing them. Old school ideas of purity and media specificity just don’t apply anymore.

Second, critical acceptance has accelerated profoundly. These days, art journals and newspapers have major critics such as Roberta Smith, Christopher Knight, Dave Hickey, Christopher Miles, Leah Ollman and Peter Schjeldahl championing both ceramics shows and individual ceramic artists. Dozens more reviews are being published in mainstream art journals, rather than being segregated into craft-specific publications.

1-900-Zeitgeist, view a copyA third reason for the new standing of ceramics in the public’s eye is a burgeoning maturity of curatorial vision and the building of significant collections (both regional and in major encyclopedic museums). This also involves recognition of the rich traditions of other countries.  The organization of group exhibitions and acquisitions by major museums including the Met and LACMA are also indications of ceramic art’s rising status.

Fourth, of course, is the fact that the use of ceramic materials continues to grow. Major artists since Picasso have worked seriously in clay, but now it’s nearly ubiquitous, as artists from contemporary art—even Jeff Koons and Ai Wei-Wei—use the medium.

Finally, there has been shift in the historical and curatorial CPE052 copy 2perception of some major artists and their respected position in the overall canon. Just consider the Betty Woodman retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the recent LACMA retrospective of the late Ken Price, which travels nationally to the Nasher and then the Metropolitan, with each venue designed by the great architect Frank Gehry.

We are now in an era when a major critic (Roberta Smith) in the New York Times writes about a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in these terms:

The show’s determination to integrate ceramics into the art mainstream is nothing new. But its refusal to do so simply by slipping some universally agreed-upon ceramic exceptions into a show of painting, sculpture and so forth is close to groundbreaking.  “Dirt on Delight” argues for ceramics as a more than worthy subject. It reminds us that the art form incorporates quite a bit of painting and sculpture, thank you, and has one of the richest histories of any medium on the planet. Ceramics also plays well with all kinds of artistic ideas and needs no propping up by supposedly serious fine art or, incidentally, by much in the way of explanatory labels.” [ii]


[i] Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, A Life in Clay (interview with Ken Price), Artnet online magazine, http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp10-22-08.asp

[ii] Roberta Smith, Dirt on Delight, New York Times, May 19, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/arts/design/20dirt.html/

A Tactile Medium

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FPZ353 copy2My gallery is well known for specializing in contemporary ceramics. That’s been beneficial in gaining attention from other worlds, particularly the professions of design and architecture. Just recently, Don Chadwick, the designer of the world-famous Aeron chair came to see us again at the gallery. He’s interested in the use of the hand by our artists, and, in turn, I asked him to autograph my Aeron chair.

Architects also seem to be fascinated with ceramics. delisle_1999-installation_14_2Could some of the interest from architects be related to the plasticity of the material? Two architects that I know have an affinity for the intimacy of small scale sculpture, and close relationships with artists. When Frederick Fisher was designing my gallery, he told me that he conceived of the large volume of space as a container of smaller sculptural forms. His knowledge of individual sculptors led him to design a series of appropriately scaled modular boxes within the larger building. This intersection of architecture and art specifically referenced ceramic sculptors’ work, as Fred included works by Adrian Saxe and Roseline Delisle in his first concept sketches.

Ohr_OKeefe_Museum5Frank Gehry also has a long history with ceramic sculpture. From his early encounters with Glen Lukens at USC to his recent design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s retrospective for Ken Price, Gehry has maintained an interest in the scale and tactile intimacy of forms made in clay. Gehry’s art collection includes works by Ken Price and George Ohr, and he has been friends with ceramic artists Peter Voulkos, John Mason, and Billy Al Bengston for decades. He was also the architect for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, a museum which holds a collection of pottery by George Ohr.

Frank Gehry Selects

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A Group Show of Ceramics including work by John Mason, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, Frank Gehry, Billy Al Bengston, Elsa Rady, Peter Shire, Glen Lukens, and George Ohr

When Frank Gehry took a ceramics class in college, it marked a turning point. His ceramics teacher at the University of Southern California, Glen Lukens, clearly recognized Gehry’s interest in architecture. Since Lukens was building a house designed by architect Raphael Soriano, he invited the young Gehry to visit the site one day. That’s when Gehry got excited about architecture: “I do know a lightbulb went off when I saw Soriano,” he recalled.

Since that time, Gehry has maintained his interest in ceramics, too. He made ceramic works during his student days at USC, and he has collected work by Glen Lukens, Ken Price and George Ohr. He has been friends with Peter Voulkos, John Mason, Billy Al Bengston and Elsa Rady for decades. He was the architect for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, as well, and that museum will hold a collection of pottery by George Ohr.

This exhibition, on view from July 24 through August 21, grew out of a conversation between Frank Lloyd and Frank Gehry. It started as a casual idea, and grew into an exhibition—works chosen by Gehry, by people that he knows and respects. It marks an opportunity to see a variety of approaches to ceramic art, in a selection by a world-class architect. The exhibit also demonstrates, once again, the integration of the ceramic arts into the larger world of Southern California art and architecture.