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Posts Tagged ‘Roberta Smith

MoMA Installation

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W1siZiIsIjIyNTkyNyJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDIwMDB4MjAwMFx1MDAzZSJdXQIn 2011, the New York Times published a Roberta Smith piece on the Museum of Modern Art’s re-installation of its permanent galleries.  Ms. Smith wrote, “Over the past few months changes of this kind have been unfolding in some of the most hallowed and closely watched galleries in the world: those that the Museum of Modern Art devotes to its unparalleled collection of painting and sculpture.” The lengthy review notes the changing curatorial vision, and the fourth floor was singled out: “An especially bold-looking gallery juxtaposes the Minimalist efforts of the New Yorkers Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Jo Baer and the Angelenos Craig Kauffman, John McCracken and DeWain Valentine…” Kauffman’s Untitled work, which was given an entire wall by the curators, was acquired in 1969 by legendary MOMA curator Kynaston McShine.

Untitled, 1968, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed plastic, collection of the Museum of Modern Art.



Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, © 2018 Estate of Craig Kauffman/Artist’s Rights Society (ARS) New York

Written by Frank Lloyd

August 31, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Vindication for PST

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JPTURRELLIn the New York Times this morning, I found some unprecedented news. The above-the-fold story by Holland Cotter, “The East Coast of California,” included his phrase “…an unheard-of convergence here of major California shows.” Below the fold, Mr. Cotter reviewed the Ken Price retrospective at the Metropolitan, while Roberta Smith addressed James Turrell at the Guggenheim, and Ken Johnson wrote about the Llyn Foulkes show at the New Museum.

Unprecedented, indeed—and also amazing that the curatorial work of LACMA’s Stephanie Barron and the Hammer’s Ali Subotnick are again recognized. Not just the artists from the West Coast, but the curatorial vision. Mr. Cotter’s leading line was, “The project [Pacific Standard Time] was a big success and continues to generate energy.”

How vindicated do the PST folks at the CPE014_CreditGetty Research Institute feel? Pretty strongly justified, if you look at Project Specialist Glenn Phillips’ Facebook post. The Yale-trained art historian noted “Many people claimed that Pacific Standard Time would never have more than local impact, particularly in relation to New York,” and goes on to cite the three exhibits of Price, Turrell, and Foulkes as well as the current “State of Mind” show at PS1, the Paul McCarthy installation at the Armory, and the upcoming full-floor installation by Robert Irwin at the Whitney. (Let’s not forget about Jay DeFeo, the San Francisco painter whose Whitney retrospective just closed earlier this month.)

I don’t want this post to seem like a laundry list, but it’s also a matter of record that “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980” appeared at MoMA’s PS1 last year, and that “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987” had a run at Williams College (alma mater of many U.S. museum curators and directors). “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way,” continues its worldwide tour, and Wendy Kaplan’s publication is now in its 4th printing. PST is having a lasting effect.

Back in October 13, 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s critic Peter Plagens (who is a former Angeleno) questioned, “isn’t PST preaching to the choir?” It’s obvious that’s just not true.

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,

[ii] Roberta Smith, Dirt on Delight, New York Times, May 19, 2009,

It’s Craig Kauffman!

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Craig Kauffman is in the news again. Last Friday’s New York Times included a Roberta Smith piece on the Museum of Modern Art’s re-installation of its permanent galleries. Her lengthy review notes the changing curatorial vision, and the fourth floor is singled out: “An especially bold-looking gallery juxtaposes the Minimalist efforts of the New Yorkers Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Jo Baer and the Angelenos Craig Kaufmann (sic), John McCracken and DeWain Valentine…”

Kauffman’s work was acquired way back in 1969 by MOMA curator Kynaston McShine, and was recently included in the 2009 exhibit at PS 1, simply titled, 1969. It’s great to know that Kauffman’s work is on view again, and in the company of his friends Judd, Flavin, McCracken and Valentine. It’s also a good opportunity for the audience to know more about Kauffman’s beginnings. On Saturday we are opening an amazing, highly researched show.

This exhibit traces the development of Craig Kauffman’s paintings from 1958 to 1964. A turning point in modern Los Angeles art, the paintings were sparse, clean, sensuous, yet intelligent. Kauffman absorbed influences from European painting as well as American abstraction. Even as a teenager, Kauffman had read Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s book The New Vision. By 1958, he had clearly begun to work in opposition to the dominant Abstract Expressionist mode. Kauffman has stated that his lean, lyrical look was a personal reaction to the heavy and thick abstract painting of the time.

Kauffman’s 1958 solo exhibit at the Ferus Gallery included Untitled, 1958, Still Life with Electric Fan and Respirator, 1958, and Tell Tale Heart, 1958, along with ten other works. The paintings show open areas free of markings and brushwork, loose linear qualities, and the use of primary color. In a catalogue essay for the show, critic Jules Langsner wrote that Kauffman’s paintings were mature, sinuous, fresh, lyrical and “bursting with joie de vivre.” According to Kauffman, his sources included Dada, Duchamp, Mondrian, Abstract Expressionism and a “sexual biomorphic mixture with mechanical things.”
The 1958 exhibit had significance because it influenced other L.A. painters. “The ‘clean’ Abstract Expressionist work by Craig Kauffman,” critic Peter Plagens has written, “could be the point at which Los Angeles art decided to live on its own life-terms, instead of those handed down from Paris, New York, or even San Francisco.” This new sense of professionalism was echoed by fellow painter Billy Al Bengston, who later wrote, “Kauffman was the first Southern California artist to ever paint an original painting. His paintings of ’57 and ’58 proved that we had to wash our hands, throw away our dirty pants and become artists.”

In the early 1960s, after living in Europe with his wife Vivian, Kauffman returned to L.A. and began a series of work that took forms from the earlier paintings. He realized that he had to “catch up really quickly”; his painter friends had taken the next step with the clean, clear “L.A. Look.” In many drawings and small paintings on advertisements for shoes and lingerie, the artist explored sensual abstract forms and acknowledged a continued influence of Dada. His earlier biomorphic forms were developed through drawings, and then eroticized by placing them on top of advertisements for Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie or high heel shoes.
Kauffman repeatedly used drawing as a direct source of images as well as a method of abstraction. The drawing of a female figure dressed in lingerie becomes the source for several shapes in subsequent drawings and paintings, and the long pendulant male form is developed more fully. It is interesting to note that the large painting on paper is titled Git le Couer, No. 3, a title that makes reference to a street in Paris where Kauffman and his wife Vivian lived. This large painting on paper also marks the artist’s first known use of metallic paint.

Kauffman’s work is often portrayed as being derived from the automobile culture of Southern California, or mischaracterized as being influenced by surfboard shapes and technology. However, these drawings, paintings and the artist’s statements contradict this popular misunderstanding. Instead, the evidence reveals a highly intuitive process, arriving at abstracted imagery of male and female sexual parts. The forms are ovoid, phallic, mammary and vaginal. As the art historian Barbara Rose wrote, Kauffman’s biomorphism had an “explicitly sexual character.”

Transferring these images to paintings on flat plastic in 1963, Kauffman integrated bold line and intense color with playfully suggestive forms. The final room of the exhibition includes works that were shown at Kauffman’s exhibit at Ferus Gallery, including No. 1, No. 7 and No. 8, all dated 1963. Painted on the reverse of acrylic plastic and employing flat shapes with rounded contours, the bold and animated paintings demonstrate Kauffman’s skills as a draftsman, his willingness to engage the viewer in erotic content, as well as his bold use of color. At this point, the imagery is suspended on clear flat plastic, in a similar way to Duchamp’s suspension of imagery on glass in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.
As stated by art historian Susan Larsen, “They had the sleek good looks of a well-made machine, animated by strong sexual overtones. As such, they are late twentieth-century counterparts to the mechanic-erotic visions of Duchamp and Picabia.” Kauffman had attended the 1963 opening of the first retrospective of the work of Marcel Duchamp, organized by his childhood friend Walter Hopps, at the Pasadena Art Museum. A signed poster from the Duchamp exhibit was kept in Kauffman’s personal collection.

The flat plastic works predict the artist’s later vacuum formed pieces, which began in 1964. Two examples of paintings on formed plastic from 1964, both Untitled, are included in this exhibit. The use of molds and the discovery of the process of vacuum forming acrylic plastic would propel Kauffman’s work for the next several years, from 1964 to 1972. These works would bring Kauffman international recognition, and are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, LACMA, and MOCA.

Dirt on Delight

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A lengthy, lively and powerful review by Roberta Smith was published in today’s New York Times. As I read it, I vowed to attend the exhibit, “Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay.” (Ms. Smith calls it “close to groundbreaking.”)   It’s amazing to read a respected authority’s enthusiastic view of the show, to be sure, and to be dazzled by a veteran wordsmith’s prose.  But what I like about the review is something more: it contains some of the strongest statements on record about the viability of the medium of ceramics. Here are just a couple of choice quotes from the review, titled “Crucible of Creativity, Stoking Earth Into Art.”:

“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…


” It can’t be said enough that the art-craft divide is a bogus concept regularly obliterated by the undeniable originality of individuals who may call themselves artists, designers or artisans. But this timely, satisfying show proves it once more. It also suggests that while ceramics is just another art medium, there is no art medium quite like ceramics.”

A strong and positive review in the New York Times is a good time for a gallerist to point to his own artists, or “toot your own horn.”  (Out of 22 artists in the exhibition, we have presented the work of 8: Viola Frey, Ron Nagle, George Ohr, Ken Price, Adrian Saxe, Peter Voulkos, Beatrice Wood, and Betty Woodman).  I can’t resist the opportunity to quote what Ms. Smith wrote about Adrian Saxe:

“Mr. Price’s and Ms. Butterly’s work can have the exquisiteness of fine jewelry, as can Adrian Saxe’s high-style amalgams. His commanding “Sweet Dreams” is a vaguely Chinese-influenced lidded jar with ormolu handles and a rock-crystal finial that, in a kind of scholar’s-rock touch, sits on what appears to be a large, multitiered fungus.”

Written by Frank Lloyd

March 20, 2009 at 10:16 pm

One Artwork at a Time

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For today, just a little food for thought. Here’s a quote from a review of the Art Show in New York, published February 19, 2009:

“In boom times art dealers tend to get demonized on the way up and the way down. They deserve it, some people say. But the art world’s zealously tended hierarchy—artists on top, art dealers at the bottom—has never been right.

Art dealers put their money where their vision is; only artists take greater risks. They help artists do what we all hope to do: make a living at something they love. If the non-artists in the realm of art achieve this state—and some of us are privileged to do so—it is partly because of the strange, tenuous, sometimes infuriating world that art dealers help construct, one day, artist or artwork at a time.”

—-Roberta Smith, “Rewards and Clarity in a Show of Restraint”, New York Times

Written by Frank Lloyd

February 20, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Art, Artists

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Voice of Reason

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Although I promised myself that I would stay out of any heated controversy, I want to lend my support to saving MOCA. Artists, museum lovers, collectors, trustees and the public need MOCA. It is deserving of our attention and care. Today’s article by Roberta Smith in the New York Times gives the most reasonable view of the crisis and the solution.

Written by Frank Lloyd

December 8, 2008 at 10:32 pm