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Posts Tagged ‘Leah Ollman

Ceramics on track

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FPZ340_A copyAmong the common questions I’ve heard, since I closed our public exhibition program, is this one: “Who will show ceramics in Los Angeles?” To answer that, it’s time to count the number of current or upcoming shows:

I’m very proud to see that our friends at Latin American Masters have already selected a survey titled Cerámica Contemporánea, an exhibition of twenty-six ceramic works of art by Mexican artist Gustavo Pérez. Their press release states, “Despite a modesty of means and scale, Gustavo Pérez’s ceramics have achieved worldwide recognition, including a 2012 retrospective at Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.”

Just reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, an exhibit at Acme is titled “Hard and Soft”, and includes the work of four women artists, all demonstrating the flexibility and form of clay, that most plastic of materials. Selected by Vicki Phung Smith, it was characterized by Leah Ollman as a show where “Fluidity and fixity serve as the primary poles between which all of these works dance and tease and strike their own marvelously precarious balances.”

In fact, ceramics shows are all over the galleries. Keep in mind that Shoshanna Wayne Gallery still represents the work of Kathy Butterly and Arlene Schechet. Over at Edward Cella, who is moving to a new location on South La Cienega soon, there is the work of Adam Silverman and Brad Miller. L. A. Louver has, for a long time, presented various artists working in clay. Their sculptor Richard Deacon makes major works in fired clay, and the younger Matt Wedel is prominently featured.

An upcoming show at AMOCA will present approximately 300 works from the permanent collection of the museum. Curated by Jo Lauria, it marks the 10th anniversary of the AMOCA, and presents the wide array of possibilities of the medium.

There are many more, and there will be dozens—if not hundreds—to follow! It’s a great time to see ceramics, from the finely crafted to the freely formed, in Los Angeles. Don’t mourn the loss of our program, just get out and see the art!

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/

2012: The Year in Review

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Inspired by the Getty’s holiday card – a video narrated by James Cuno outlining the Getty’s accomplishments of 2012 – I decided to take a look at the happenings of the past year here at the gallery.

Pier Voulkos Collection_Group 1_crop copyIn January the gallery opened Peter Voulkos in L.A.: Time Capsule, a show that critic Peter Frank hailed as “…the kind of show Pacific Standard Time has been all too short of: an intimate look at the taste and thinking and working methods of an influential figure. Everything in the show, drawn from the artist’s daughter’s collection, was small in scale and dated from the later 1950s…” in the Huffington Post.

Also early in the year, Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, clays_bookPeter Voulkos, 1956—1968 debuted at Scripps College. I contributed to this major Getty-sponsored exhibition by serving as co-curator and lead essayist for the show, which was singled out by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp on Artnet as “…something of a model for what PST has accomplished, putting into relief the important contributions made by California-based ceramicists during the ‘50s and ‘60s.” By year’s end, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight recognized the show in his “Best of 2012” list of art museum exhibitions, writing that: “Together, ‘Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975’ … and ‘Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968’ … made for the most thorough telling of the tale of a distinctive revolution in postwar art. One laid out the rich panoply of modern ceramic conventions, the other cheerfully smashed them.”

FSU024_A copy2Drawing on Japan’s significant history with ceramics, the gallery presented Sugimoto Sadamitsu’s work in February. Sugimoto-sensei is regarded as the greatest living master of the Iga and Shigaraki styles, and his work was highlighted in a 1989 exhibition that celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of Sen no Rikyu, the legendary early master of the Tea Ceremony. Sugimoto-sensei’s work represented Shigaraki and Iga masterpieces of the Momoyama period for use in the movie made in that year titled Rikyu, a well-received treatment of the life of this master of the Tea Ceremony. Our show was the first appearance of Sugimoto-sensei’s work in the western United States.

We also brought an unprecedented Numbers_Installation7show of paintings from the late 1980s by Craig Kauffman to the L.A. audience in April. Never exhibited together in the artist’s lifetime, these paintings showed Kauffman’s interest in unorthodox application of paint and his love of the physicality of painting, accompanied by his brilliant color sense. Kauffman considered the 1989 works, which became known as the Numbers, to be a continuation of his use of calligraphic line, and an integration of sensuous color with architectural form. It was a memorable show.

FJL053This summer we mounted Jennifer Lee’s fourth solo show in Los Angeles. Jennifer Lee’s pottery is carefully colored with oxides incorporated into the stoneware body of the vessels, so that the interiors and exteriors work together. Referring to her unique pigments, Sir David Attenborough noted: “Because she does not use glaze, her subtle colours and misty shades come not from a veil draped over the pot but from within its very substance, as in the face of a cliff.”

The quiet elegance of her pots never fails to make an impact on viewers. Indeed, Leah Ollman of the Los Angeles Times wrote in August that, “For all the calm they invoke, the pieces are charged with the motion of the swirls that encircle them…Their implicit movement suggests the shy whirl of demure dervishes.”

In the fall, the LACMA retrospective of the late Ken Price was a landmark CPE052 copyexhibit for the artist. In every way, from the innovative design of the exhibition to the superb publication, the tribute to Ken Price signaled the significance of ceramic sculpture in the development of contemporary art in Los Angeles. In a related exhibit, the gallery presented a show of small works, which was described by David Pagel of the Los Angeles Times as a “dazzling solo show at Frank Lloyd Gallery.”

Sensual_Mechanical_cover copy3November brought the release of the gallery’s major monograph on Craig Kauffman, entitled Sensual Mechanical. Written by biographer Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, the publication was praised by Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times as “…a gorgeously illustrated and highly informative monograph published by Frank Lloyd Gallery, which represents the artist’s estate. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s 2011 book ‘Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s’ sketched the city’s first flush of artistic maturity. Here she chronicles for the first time and in illuminating depth Kauffman’s life and the complete evolution of his luminous art.”

A Review to Remember

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Today’s Los Angeles Times review of Richard Shaw’s exhibit is nothing less than a rave. Leah Ollman’s thorough, insightful prose touches all of the parts that make up the whole. The review includes observations on Shaw’s technique, autobiography, humor, and predecessors.  The writing is informed, inclusive and inspired, especially when Ollman considers the layers of meaning in Shaw’s constructions:

“The verism dazzles. Beyond the sophisticated trickery, however, there is wisdom, humor and tenderness. The house, the box and even the little paper plate are all vessels of one sort or another, a subtle nod to ceramics tradition. (Many works by Shaw conceal actual jar-like hollows within.) The cabin, a sculpture sitting on its humble pedestal, also reads as a metaphor for the artist’s self-made world, a shelter and refuge shaped by hand. At the same time, it’s all an assemblage of everyday stuff from the studio, the product, perhaps, of playful procrastination.”

Written by Frank Lloyd

February 5, 2009 at 10:28 pm