Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Posts Tagged ‘LACMA

What are you doing here?

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For the past 35 years, I’ve been going to all kinds of art world events. That means a pretty wide range—everything from really raunchy performance art at the old downtown LAICA to scholarly lectures at the Harold Williams Auditorium at the Getty.

I’ve heard dozens of talks from the podium, endless (and often quite boring) panel discussions, and series after series of conversations, and I’ve seen hundreds of power-point presentations. You might ask, which ones were best?  Clearly, the winners in the category of enlightenment were: Kirk Varnedoe (his final tour included a talk at LACMA); Paola Antonelli (recently at the Brown Auditorium at LACMA); and Adam Gopnik (Winter Scenes, at the Getty on February 23, 2012). All spoke without any notes. I loved those talks, and they reminded me of the stimulating power of the interconnected intellect, which I first witnessed in college: genius, in simple terms.

I’m a big fan of every instance of what I like to call a generous intellect—someone who can present fascinating ideas and connections in a conversational manner. But, lately, I’ve been bothered by something that troubles me from time to time, something I still struggle with in myself, and that I can be deeply offended by in others: for lack of a better word, let’s call it prejudice.

Here are three examples:

I once attended a panel discussion, moderated by Paul Karlstrom, about the paintings of Roger Kuntz. Like many such panels, the event was in conjunction with an exhibit of Kuntz’s work at the Laguna Art Museum. Of the four speakers, I knew three quite well—two of them for 40 years, and one for 30 years. At the end of the panel, I wandered up to say hello—a common courtesy. Before I got to my old friends, though, the museum’s Director came up and greeted me. Then he asked, “But what are you doing here?”, to which I replied, “Two of the panelists were my teachers, one is a friend, and Paul is both a friend and a colleague.” But what I meant to say was, “Isn’t this an educational event for the public to learn about art?”

Around the same time, I attended a talk at the Getty Research Institute, given by Lawrence Weschler (an elaboration on themes first developed in his 2007 book of convergences, Everything that Rises). Weschler is an author, and was in those days the Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU. At that time, though, he was on leave from NYU, serving simultaneously as scholar-in-residence at Occidental College and a visiting scholar at the GRI. I’ve often been in the audience for Ren’s talks, going all the way back to our time together in the early seventies as undergraduates at Cowell College of UCSC, when for example he gave a series of talks on his grandfather, the Weimar émigré composer Ernst Toch. For this one, held in the Getty’s smaller auditorium beneath the museum, I arrived early to find a seat. And, as I wandered down the aisle, a Senior Researcher from the GRI said hello, shook my hand and said, “But what are you doing here?” I replied, simply, “I’ve known Ren since college.” But what I meant to say was, “Isn’t this an educational event for the public to learn about art?”

Probably the most disturbing instance was a few years back, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. In conjunction with Otis College of Art and Design, the City of Santa Monica and the Broad presented a lecture by the annual Otis artist-in-residence. I arrived early, my usual strategy, to get a seat in a packed auditorium. As I walked down the left-hand aisle, I saw the speaker, whose work in art criticism we all know quite well, and who has been a frequent visitor to my own gallery. He said, “What are you doing here?”  That time I didn’t even respond at all.

What are these people saying?  Are they saying that, since I am identified as an art dealer, I shouldn’t have an interest in scholarship? Since I am identified as a specialist in ceramics, that I can’t possibly have an interest in other forms of literature, history or art?  Are art dealers necessarily limited, in their minds, to just being shopkeepers?  Why can’t art dealers also be thought of as people who are passionate about art?

If there is one thing I’ve made perfectly clear at my gallery, our educational mission is about communication between the artist and the public, our exhibition program presents the legacy of artists in the history of West Coast art, and as part of that mission and legacy, our scholarly publications have employed several significant writers.  Someday, I hope that such heterodoxy and such commitment is more widely recognized, is in fact taken for granted—especially by those who should know better.

(Special thanks to Lawrence Weschler for his clarifications about his work.–F.L.)

Helen Pashgian at LACMA

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FHP005 copyI’m looking forward to attending the exhibition Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible, opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on March 30. The show features a large-scale sculptural installation of molded acrylic columns. Visitors will be able to move around and between these forms, creating “an immersive viewing experience that invites meditations on the nature of material and, more importantly, of light.”

I exhibited works by FMP005_B copyHelen Pashgian in the group show Translucence, presented at the gallery in the fall of 2013. The work pictured here demonstrates how Pashgian’s work has explored the new possibilities offered by industrial mediums to manipulate and explore visual and perceptual phenomena. Dating from the early 1970s, this piece traps, reflects, and diffuses light, much like the columns that will soon be on display. As you move around the piece, colors and shapes seem to advance and recede, which contributes to its perceptual ambiguity. The traditional boundaries between form and color dissolve, leaving the viewer with a subtle, shifting sense of space.

Ceramics at LACMA

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Digital CaptureI’m often asked, “where can I see ceramics in Los Angeles?” One of the first places to look is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The museum has been acquiring ceramics for decades, and their collection ranges from Pre-Columbian figures to a mural by Henri Matisse, to a Peter Voulkos sculpture.

I was reminded of this by the current issue of “The Insider”, LACMA’s members’ magazine, which features the Henri Matisse ceramic mural La Gerbe, a gift of Francis L. Brody, in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary. La Gerbe, a 1953 commissioned work, is a ceramic tile mural installed on the plaza level of the Ahmanson Building. The Matisse has its own spot, just to the left as one enters from the Plaza. It’s something that inspired Pablo Picasso to say, “Only Matisse could have made something this beautiful.” 1

In the Art of the Americas building, the large Pre-Columbian collection is on view, as well as a selection of modern and contemporary ceramics from the Decorative Arts Department on the third floor.  Many works in the LACMA collection were donated by Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits, a large gift that includes work by several of the artists represented by the gallery.

My favorite piece is Peter Voulkos’ 5,000 Feet, digital capturea muscular, dark vertical work that was first exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1958.  Made of stoneware clay and iron slip, it stands 45½ inches tall and is almost two feet in depth. The piece, now prominently displayed at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum’s permanent collection of “American Art Since 1950”, is a clear demonstration of the methods Voulkos used. He seemed to build these forms from the ground up, taking the wheel-thrown cylinders and shaping them into appendages on the central form. The body of the massive 5,000 Feet is built ruggedly, composed of wheel-thrown and paddled shapes, growing to its top with thinner, jagged forms. This powerful, expressive work won the Junior Art Council Sculpture Prize Award and the Purchase Award, 1959, Annual Exhibition of Los Angeles and Vicinity, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 2


1 Picasso, Pablo, quoted in The Insider 3 (Summer 2013): 13.

2 Lloyd, Frank, “Vanguard Ceramics: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos.” In Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968, edited by Mary Davis MacNaughton, 19-39. Claremont: Scripps College and Getty Publications, 2012.

Written by Frank Lloyd

July 11, 2013 at 12:09 am

Peter Voulkos in Museums

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Gallas Rock_1960_Installation View 1 copyPeter Voulkos’s artwork is represented in almost 100 museum collections worldwide, and if you find yourself in a major city, it isn’t hard to locate a work in a public place. Here in Los Angeles, one can see major works at LACMA (5,000 Feet, 1958), the UCLA Sculpture Garden (Gallas Rock, 1960 and Soleares, c. 1959), and the Norton Simon (Black Divide-Butte, 1958). At the Norton Simon, Black Divide-Butte is installed outside, to the right of the entrance—you don’t even have to go into the museum, though it’s got the best collection of art in the Western United States. The wise educational staff at the Norton Simon recently used the piece as an example of sculptural expression with clay for a children’s class. I find it especially interesting to note that, even when teaching children, the museum staff emphasized that “participants are encouraged to use symbols and abstract elements to create their own works of art in clay.”

Throughout California, there are many more examples of Voulkos’s artwork. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art regularly displays Tientos, 1959 in their second floor gallery. And across the bay at the Oakland Museum, the collection includes Little Big Horn, 1959, the piece that knocked people out in the first room of last year’s Pacific Standard Time show, “Crosscurrents” and set the stage for the artists that followed.

Lest you get the idea his work is concentrated in the West, there’s FVS005 copyplenty of Voulkos on the East Coast, too. His work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Hirschhorn, as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Or take, for instance, the MFA Boston, which boasts four works in their permanent collection. The awesome and monumental Camelback Mountain, 1959 is clearly the most important Voulkos work in the MFA Boston collection, and it’s prominently placed in the Saundra and William H. Lane Galleries. The interesting thing to me is this: the MFA Boston curators agree with me that Camelback Mountain is an example of American abstract sculpture. The work is placed in the “Abstraction” section of the galleries and its neighbors are some of the greatest painters of the 20th century: Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell. Pictured here is Sevillanas, also from 1959 and in the same style as Camelback Mountain.

The MFA Boston wall text reads: “This gallery features works from the decades between 1940 and 1970, when art in the United States captured the attention of the world. Many styles flourished, but even at the time the growth of abstract art seemed the most important story. For decades, artists had explored the idea that art need not represent the physical world— that it could also be non-representational, or abstract.”

Peter Voulkos_Pasadena Museum of Art_1958 copyWhen I read these words, I am proud to have brought this kind of abstract sculpture to audiences in Southern California. And I am especially proud of the work that I did when working with Kirk Delman and Mary MacNaughton for the Scripps College exhibition, “Clay’s Tectonic Shift.” Our collective effort was enormous, and our intention was clear: to do original scholarly research leading to an exhibition, sponsored by a research foundation, at an educational institution. We did exactly that, and assembled an unprecedented exhibition that lives on in a highly informative publication. It was about abstract sculpture, and it was a success.

Ceramics in L.A.

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A question I am asked frequently at the gallery is: “Where else can I see ceramics in Los Angeles?” I’m happy to tell visitors that there are more opportunities than ever to see ceramic art in the city, both in museums and at mainstream art galleries. Over the past several years, I have noticed a distinct rise in the number of institutions that represent or exhibit artists who work in ceramics.

For visitors who want to go to museums, I always recommend FSU014_A copythe Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Not everyone is aware that LACMA has significant ceramic holdings across a wide spectrum of cultures and time periods. Ceramic artworks play a role in their Japanese, Chinese, Islamic, and Decorative Arts and Design collections, just to name a few. As an encyclopedic museum, LACMA is well positioned to provide a compelling context for the clay works on display.

CPE047 copyCeramic artists are also being exhibited in contemporary art galleries with increasing frequency – a development that I welcome!  Showing ceramic art alongside work in other mediums demonstrates the position of ceramics within the larger art historical conversation. The hierarchy of materials is loosening up and artists are feeling freer than ever to work in clay materials. Some local galleries that have been recently showing ceramics are; ACME., with works by Matthias Merkel Hess, Julia Haft-Candell, and Christopher Miles; L.A. Louver, who has shown Ken Price, Ben Jackel, Matt Wedel, and Tia Pulitzer; and Couturier Gallery, featuring the artists Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Rose Cabat, and Jay Kvapil. Other galleries that have been exhibiting ceramic art include Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Edward Cella Gallery, and Marc Selwyn Fine Art.

Written by Frank Lloyd

February 24, 2013 at 1:48 am

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.