Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from my research is the number of times Craig Kauffman showed in San Francisco. In the first decade of his career, from 1951 to 1961, he participated in a dozen shows in S.F., far more than in Los Angeles. For a painter so closely identified by critics with L.A., that’s very surprising.
Three of these were early group shows, in a regional annual exhibit: The Annual Watercolor Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, held at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Many artists participated in such annuals in the early 1950s, because there were few places to exhibit, and the shows offered jurors, awards, and visibility. Kauffman also showed in the 1961 version of the watercolor show at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Important partnerships formed during the 1950s, notably through Syndell Studios and the collaborative organization of Action I, also known as the “Merry Go Round Show,” on the Santa Monica pier. Two of Kauffman’s good friends, James Newman and Walter Hopps, went on to establish galleries. Hopps, of course, partnered with Ed Kienholz to found the legendary Ferus gallery in 1957. Less noted but equally important in this period for Kauffman was Dilexi gallery, which was founded by James Newman.
It was there in San Francisco at Dilexi that Kauffman had eight early exhibitions, both group and solo. Interesting documentation from this time exists in the Archives of American Art, as well as in reviews published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Art News, and Art International. James Newman later donated a Kauffman painting, collected from Dilexi, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
I’ve written before about the ways that Northern and Southern California are often compared and contrasted: divisions, disagreements, climates, and permeable lines. But here’s another example of an artist who traveled back and forth, living in both cities, and exhibiting in related galleries.
This is the second in a series of posts about Peter Voulkos, focused on individual artworks. All images used are copyright of The Estate of Peter Voulkos.
For anyone interested in the sculpture that Peter Voulkos made during his biggest breakthrough years of 1957 to 1960, several works are on view right now. In this post, we’ll take a look at just two of those. I recently went to the new SFMOMA galleries, where the curators have done a marvelous job of contextualizing his work titled Tientos, from 1959. It is wisely placed in a room with works by Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Jay DeFeo, and Philip Guston, and the sculpture more than holds its own in that company. The room is about expressive abstraction, and Voulkos is the sculptor among the painters. Taking wheel-thrown parts, which were sliced, joined, and rearranged as the sculpture was built, Voulkos formed this tall vertical piece.
For Voulkos, who was artistically a builder of form, this meant throwing a series of smaller vessel shapes, and then grafting those together to construct a massive sculpture. Formed by stacking and joining, these sculptures had a raw, primal power. In an interview I did with John Mason in July of 2010, (his studio mate during the late 1950s), his technique was succinctly described:
“Peter’s method of construction, he had already pretty much established when he was at Otis, which was to throw a number of units and let them set up into the leather state. And then begin to construct from those units using traditional methods of construction, which would be cutting, scraping, making a liquid slip, and softening those areas that were scored, and assembling the pieces.”¹
Other elements of the large sculptures were made with a kind of slab building. My best source, again, is John Mason:
“He also would make slabs by putting clay on the concrete floor, first sprinkling a little grog or maybe some clay, and smoothing it out so that the clay would release from the concrete and then stamp it out…that became then for him a slab. As it set up, it was leather hard. While he was constructing with his other elements, he would use material from those floor slabs.”²
It’s important to see these sculptures in person, and encounter the human scale and raw detail of the surface. It’s also necessary to set the record straight about the materials used. In our 2010 interview, Mason made this clear, stating that: “This might be one place to clarify what I sometimes read, by people who should know better, that Peter assembled his pieces with epoxy resins. That’s totally false.”³
One place to see Voulkos’ sculpture in the Los Angeles area (near Pasadena, to be more precise) is at the Norton Simon. Before you enter the museum, to the right of the large Rodin bronzes, sits a 1958 work titled Black Butte Divide. The piece was added to the Pasadena Art Museum collection in 1958, as a purchase from the Voulkos survey show of paintings and sculpture.
¹John Mason, interview with Frank Lloyd, July 2010, unpublished transcript, archives, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College.
Among the advantages of our new location in Pasadena, the nearness of the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collections is surely at the top of the list. Last month, I met some friends for a walk through the world-renowned Desert Garden at the Huntington, and I also attended an evening lecture on the Japanese tea ceremony.
The Huntington is a marvelous resource for visitors, of course. I’ve been going there since I was 8 years old. Now, I share a dual membership with my 91 year old mother. I’m also proud to know some of the curatorial staff. But this last week I found out that there are more intimate scholarly presentations, often by resident scholars, during lunch time.
Yesterday’s noon-time conversation was in the Munger Research Center, with journalist and well-known art critic Tyler Green. His subject was Carleton Watkins. I learned that Tyler Green has been a resident scholar at the Huntington, and is preparing a biography. Green grew up in the Bay Area, and, prior to his career as a journalist, saw a Carleton Watkins show at SFMoMA. Once he learned that the Getty’s Weston Neaf had completed a major catalogue raisonne of Watkins’ work, he set about working on the biography. His research is aided by the Huntington.
For me, it was fascinating (though yes, it’s a short conversation, exactly one hour). Original photographic materials augmented the presentation, and the conversation was fact-filled, thesis-driven and revelatory. In addition, most of the approximately 25 people in the room were either curators, researchers, or photographers, making the usual question and answer period at the end more like a seminar.
I 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.
But 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.
Peter 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 plenty 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.”
When 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.