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Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Peter Voulkos: Untitled, 1961

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This is the first in a series of posts about Peter Voulkos, focused on individual artworks. All images used are copyright of The Estate of Peter Voulkos, by photographer Gabriel Seri.

What is it about the presence of a stunning piece of pottery? What makes us sense the rhythm of relationships, and what communicates the tactile nature of the medium of ceramics? I’ve wondered why, out of the thousands of pots I’ve had the chance to view and to hold, some stand out. At the very top of my list is a 1961 vase by Peter Voulkos. Let’s take a deeper look at one pot.

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Untitled, 1961 is a superb example of the strong, quickly thrown, and sparsely glazed vase form—modified by sgraffito and loosely brushed glazes. First of all, it’s large: a little over 13 inches high, by 7 inches wide. It’s also important to feel the weight of the piece (12 pounds), to understand the mass of clay that was used; this is not a dainty flower vase, but one that has a rustic, raw heft.  When handling this thrown cylindrical vessel, I noticed how throwing marks remain on the white glazed interior. Large, and almost conforming to the size of fingers, those marks are interrupted on the inside by four long vertical creases, evidence of the fingers pulling up and pushing out—creating a four-sided vase, with a slight bulge at the mid-point. While other potters might have paddled the thrown cylinder into such a shape, Voulkos cut the outer shape four times with a taut wire to make this form’s sides. He rapidly and intuitively set up the structure, ready for his next step.

By changing the tapered cylindrical form into a four-sided open vessel, Voulkos gave himself the chance to place four simple, but deeply incised marks: a circle, an “X”, a vertical slash and a horizontal slash. These are evidently cut into the surface with a knife: an incision for the “O” and the “X”, and a deeper knife cut for the horizontal and the vertical slashes. The latter two are pushed out from the interior, opening the wounds and widening the cuts, but never altering those gestures after making them. In this way, the pot reveals the synergy of Voulkos’ hand and his effortless mastery of the properties of the medium. Take a look at the four sides here:

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Color is reduced to a familiar palette of simple glazes, common to Voulkos’ work during this period. As he once described, there was a bucket of black glaze, a bucket of white glaze, and a bucket brown, sometimes one of blue. That was all.  But it’s the loose, painterly way they are handled that makes them contribute to the improvisational nature of the piece. In fact, the glaze treatment is perfectly in tune with the incisions made into the surface, some of which remain on the sand-colored, groggy clay body—left totally raw. As for spontaneity: just let the drips fall where they may.

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What does this all mean? First of all, we see the skilled physicality of his dance with the material. Voulkos worked deliberately, with improvisation and without preconception. His previous experience (during the years 1949 to 1954 he won 29 prizes, medals and competitions for his technical skills) gave him the fluid and confident gestures within material and form, as if he were a musician improvising on a theme. The second thing to notice is the presence of the hand, and the trace it leaves. Ceramics are the most tactile of mediums: haptic communication, the most basic, is everywhere in this piece. Holding the piece gives me a direct understanding of its form, and my hands can trace the movement of his.

What do the marks mean? Probably nothing. It’s ludicrous to say that we know. They are an expression that is simple and probably void. Voulkos may have just been saying that: nothingness, as shown in the zero; a crossing of lines, as shown in the X, and two basic properties of horizontality and verticality. An aesthetic can be understood, though, by the striking simplicity and placement of the marks.  There is a rightness to those gestures, not laden with references or meaning—just a record of the interaction of an individual with his medium, with effortless perfection.

Is that Zen? Some may claim that it is, but as it turns out, that’s a pretty dubious and probably false idea. There’s very little hard evidence that artists of his circle had a deep understanding of Zen Buddhism. Yes, Shoji Hamada had famously done pottery demonstrations in his tours of the U.S. with Yanagi Sōetsu, but their message was about the preservation of Japanese folk handicraft (Mingei). And in 1954, it is possible that Voulkos saw works by Rosanjin, a well-known Japanese ceramicist, on exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park.  While a few potters (like Paul Soldner and Mac McClain) report that they passed around thin paperbacks about Zen (possibly by authors D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts) or listened to lectures, none had formally committed to the life of a Zen Buddhist monk. And, for that matter, none had traveled to Asian countries to see monasteries or kiln sites, until Ken Price went to Japan in 1962. Later, Paul Soldner traveled and met the Raku family, finally learning that his version of American Raku had misunderstood the centuries-old tradition.

There were joking references in the air, which loosely interpreted the rustic simplicity of works reproduced in books, but a deeper understanding of the rigorous discipline eluded most of the ceramic artists. Los Angeles painter John McLaughlin was a true student of Buddhism (and an authority on Japanese prints); McLaughlin had first hand experience. Later, one of the original artists in the Ferus gallery, Alan Lynch, became a Zen monk, in a Zen community in Paris and then in North Carolina. But Voulkos was much more known to be a heavy drinker, and preferred to play Flamenco music.

On the other hand, perhaps Voulkos was a master, in a different dimension: that of a no-rules consciousness, where the mind is free of concepts, and open to the void.  He embodied pure skill and simple but marvelous intuition. So, indeed, does this vase.

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The Two Californias

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Camp_Bluff_Lake_letter copyI don’t know how many times I’ve made the drive from L.A. to the Bay Area. The number is well over 100, and spans a time period of over 50 years. Even as a child, I was irrationally obsessed with images of San Francisco, and begged my parents to take me there. My family traveled together on the train in August of 1960. We were tourists that first time, and I recorded the vacation in a short essay for my fourth grade class, with what was my very best effort at penmanship.

I’ve just returned from a road trip; this time it was part business and part pleasure. Stops in Oakland, Fairfax and Sebastopol were for gallery duties—picking up and dropping off artworks, and viewing a painting. During the long drive, I had a chance to reflect on my multiple trips, and my relationship to the oft-cited divide between the two regions of California. The divisions of geography, climate, politics, and culture are often the subjects of debate. The controversies and arguments can grow passionate—especially the rivalry between Dodger and Giant fans.

Road_Trip_1 copyBut what I was recalling—the people I know in the world of art—was a different story. It demonstrates how very much interrelated the lives of the artists and the two regions are. Let’s take, for example, the story of our artist Richard Shaw, who was born in Hollywood and lived in Newport Beach before becoming a resident of the quintessential Northern California town of Fairfax. Or consider the history of my friend, the late Henry Hopkins, a UCLA graduate who went on to become the Curator of Exhibitions and Publications at LACMA, before his tenure as Director at SFMOMA, and then his eventual return to the Hammer. Don’t forget about Richard Diebenkorn, whose first shows were in the Bay Area, but produced perhaps his most well-known series of paintings in a studio in Ocean Park, a neighborhood in Santa Monica. Peter Selz, who had a stay in Claremont before going to MOMA as the Chief Curator of Painting, eventually wound up in Berkeley. Peter Voulkos, a Montana native who attended California College of Arts and Crafts for his master’s degree, came to L.A. during the period of 1954 to 1959, then returned to Berkeley.

This list could go on, but the thought persists: Is there really such a division between the two Californias? I think not. Yes, the politics and culture may differ overall, but the people travel freely through some sort of permeable membrane. I have lived and worked in both the North and South, and so have many of my friends. Though I must be clear about one thing: I’m still a Dodger fan.

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.

Delisle in Museums

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Install_1The current exhibition, Roseline Delisle, is an unusual opportunity to see so many of the artist’s works displayed together. The show spans two decades of her career, and illustrates Deslisle’s development of progressively larger forms. The rarity of her work on the market has led to a lot of questions from visitors, some of whom are experiencing Delisle’s work for the first time.

Roseline Delisle’s work was avidly collected by private individuals and major museums during her lifetime. For example, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art owns seven Delisle artworks, including the 1997 piece 8=1 (to the third power), which was purchased in 1998 with funds provided by the Friends of Clay and Decorative Arts Council. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, owns two beautiful works as well.

Delisle’s work is also represented internationally. In her native Québec, the Musée des Beaux Arts, Montréal, owns a beautiful bowl in the artist’s signature cobalt blue. The Tokyo National Museum of Art also has in their collection two Delisle works from 1988. Altogether, Roseline Delisle has works in nearly twenty major museums around the world.

Carnival!

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FBL209I’m happy to announce the opening of Larry Bell’s second solo exhibition with White Cube Gallery, in São Paulo, Brazil. Bell first exhibited with White Cube London in the fall of 2013, with great success. Now, he’s been invited to participate in another exhibition, titled The Carnival Series, in São Paulo. On view from February 18 – March 22, 2014, this show is scheduled to coincide with the Brazilian Carnival season.

This exhibition will feature a selection of works dating from the 1980s to the present. This includes ten Mirage Works, composed of layers of found papers, films and applied acrylic paint, which play on the artist’s persistent interest in spatial ambiguity and perception. The show will also feature a recent series of colorful collages that reference the female form. Three Light Knots will round out the presentation, their graceful forms suspended from the ceiling of the exhibition space. Made of Mylar, these sculptures are multi-dimensional, kinetic works that reflect, refract, and transmit light.

It’s great to see Larry Bell continue to get such international exposure. One of the most prominent artists to have come out of the 1960s Los Angeles art scene, Bell’s work is featured in major museums collections around the world, including: the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

John Mason in Museums

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Whitney_1964_Annual_Exhibition2_Cover copyIt’s always gratifying to learn that an artist is receiving deserved recognition. Especially when the work has been a key part of the history of American ceramic sculpture. This year, John Mason will be appearing in the Whitney Biennial, curated by Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner, on view March 7 – May 25, 2014. Of course, this isn’t Mason’s first time at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where Mason has a fifty year record of shows. His work has been included in exhibitions such as Fifty California Artists, 1962; the 1964 Annual Exhibition: Contemporary American Sculpture; the 1973 Biennial Exhibition: Contemporary American Art; 200 Years of American Sculpture, 1976; and Ceramic Sculpture, Six Artists, 1981.

The Frank Lloyd Gallery has a long Ember Spear_1998-rv copyhistory with Mason – we had the honor of representing him for sixteen years, and exhibited his work in nine solo shows. Mason was a key part of the gallery’s primary mission to re-contextualize the achievements of the major figures of West Coast Art. In addition to that recorded history, we also worked to place Mason’s work in major museum collections and private art foundations. Looking back, we facilitated the placement of fifteen artworks in seven institutions, including the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Kaneko Foundation, the Anderson Collection, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Buck Collection, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some of these works, such as the Untitled Wall Relief, 1960, donated by W.D. Fletcher to LACMA in 2007, are on display now!