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Rachel Rosenthal, Pioneering Performance Artist, Dies at 88

Rachel Rosenthal, photo by Michael Childers [via rachelrosenthal.org]

Rachel Rosenthal, photo by Michael Childers [via rachelrosenthal.org]

Legendary performance artist Rachel Rosenthal died of congestive heart failure at her Los Angeles home on Sunday, May 10. She was 88. Her death was announced by the Rachel Rosenthal Company, a theater and arts non-profit she founded in 1989.

During her long career, Rosenthal pioneered a form of avant-garde theater featuring dance, music, spoken word, improvisation and visual art that would come to be known as performance art, though that term seems too limiting for her expansive creative vision. Environmentalism, animal rights, and progressive social issues were consistent themes in her work. “What united Ms. Rosenthal’s diverse output,” wrote Margalit Fox in her New York Times obituary, “was its anguish over what she called ‘humanity’s debacles.’”

With her shaved head (she shaved it for a performance in 1981 and kept it) and hard-to-place accent, Rosenthal stood out in a field full of unique personalities. An animal-rights activist, she lived with a menagerie of creatures, and could often be seen out with her pet rat Tatti Wattles. Although she seemed to fully embody the avant-garde spirit, she made appearances on mainstream TV sitcoms like “Frasier,” albeit playing an artist. She performed around the world, but it was in Los Angeles that her creative impact was most profound, so much so that she was proclaimed a “Living Cultural Treasure of Los Angeles” in 2000.

Rosenthal was born in Paris on Nov. 9, 1926 to successful Russian Jewish parents. Her family fled to Rio at the outset of WWII, eventually making their way to New York City in 1941. She attended the High School of Music and Art, before studying theater and visual art in Paris and back in New York. It was there that she fell in with an avant-garde group that included Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Merce Cunningham, whose company she danced in. John Cage, and his reliance on chance operations, would also prove to be a major influence on her.

In the mid-50s, she moved to Los Angeles, the city that she would call home for the next six decades. With her husband, King Moody, she founded the Instant Theater, an experimental performance company, which she would direct for ten years. In the 70s, she was a co-founder of Womanspace, and opened performing arts venue Espace DbD in 1980.

Although she retired from the stage in 2000, she continued to paint, sculpt, and teach. In 2010 she published The DbD Experience: Chance Knows What it’s Doing, described as “part manual, part manifesto, part memoir,” and based around her guiding principle of “doing by doing.” That same year she began the TOHUBOHU! Extreme Theater Ensemble, where she would direct performers in her liberating brand of improvisation. TOHUBOHU! will continue to perform through May to honor Rosenthal’s wishes, according to her Company.

A public memorial service is being planned.

 

“I take full responsibility for ‘Scary Lucy,'” says Artist

Dave Poulin's sculpture of Lucille Ball in Celoron, NY (via We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue on Facebook)

Dave Poulin’s sculpture of Lucille Ball in Celoron, NY, even more terrifying at night. (via We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue on Facebook)

Scary Lucy, Zombie Lucy, Monster Lucy. Whatever you call her, you won’t be calling her that for long. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dave Poulin, the artist responsible for one of the most unintentionally terrifying and hilarious artistic gaffs since Beast Jesus, has apologized and agreed to “fix” his bronze statue of comedy legend Lucille Ball for free.

The unveiling in 2009, unsurprisingly the head is still covered. [via The Post-Journal]
The unveiling in 2009, with head thankfully still covered. [via The Post-Journal]

In case you’re not familiar with the story, Poulin created the statue for Mark and Jetta Wilson, who donated it in 2009 to the town of Celeron in western New York, where Ball grew up. ”We wanted her in the pose from Vitametavegamin – everyone has a picture of that in their minds – and it’s just perfect,” said Mrs. Wilson at the time. Just because everyone may have an image of something in their minds doesn’t necessarily mean it should be immortalized in bronze, however. (Besides, everyone knows “Chocolate Factory” is the most memorable Lucy episode.) When you watch the episode this becomes all too clear, as Lucy struggles through spoonfulls of a foul-tasting health elixir, attempting to force a smile through pained grimace. It’s classic Lucy, and perhaps in more capable hands the comedy of the scene could have been conveyed, but as it stands, the statue resembles some sort of malevolent ghoul, tempting the area’s youth with a questionable potion. With her wild eyes and toothy grin, she’s somewhere between an angry R. Crumb character and the Coney Island Clown.

Faced with, well, that face, Poulin told Celeron mayor Scott Schrecengost about five years ago that he would be willing to rework the statue for a fee of between $8000- $10,000. In 2012, a Facebook page was created calling for the statue’s removal, which has become home to a growing collection of awesome photoshopped memes. The matter seemed to be at a standstill until various online media outlets picked up the story last week. Amidst growing outrage, Poulin sent a letter to THR earlier this week, taking “full responsibility for ‘Scary Lucy’” and offering to redo the sculpture for free.

Lucy as Darth Vader, one of many photoshopped images that have popped up online [via We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue facebook page]
Lucy as Darth Vader, one of many photoshopped images that have popped up online [via We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue facebook page]

It’s unclear if Poulin will actually get that chance, as both the facebook campaign and mayor Schrecengost have expressed interest in commissioning a new artist altogether. According to the anonymous founder of the facebook page, however, the mayor wants a new artist to simply fix the existing statue, “cut off at the shoulders and redone,” instead of creating a whole new work. “That would only make a statue that looks like a monster now into a real Frankenstein,” he writes.

Chris Hardwicks plea to bring Lucy home [via @midnights facebook page]
Chris Hardwick’s plea to bring Lucy home [via @midnight’s facebook page]

Meanwhile Chris Hardwick, host of the Comedy Central show @midnight has offered the statue a permanent home on the show’s stage. Apparently it is the exact same stage where “I Love Lucy” was filmed, so Hardwick is proposing a homecoming of sorts, and is encouraging viewers to use the hashtag #BringLucyHome. While this option would provide some comedic context for the statue, Celoron would be missing out on a great opportunity to capitalize on their misfortune. After all, if Beast Jesus taught us anything, it’s that sometimes being known for a hilariously hideous work of art can have a lucrative silver lining.

Museums Join Drive to Save Land Surrounding Heizer’s “City”

City by Michael Heizer (Photos: Tom Vinetz/© Triple Aught Foundation. via protectbasinandrange.org)

City by Michael Heizer (Photos: Tom Vinetz/© Triple Aught Foundation) [via protectbasinandrange.org]

Since 1972, Michael Heizer has been working on his magnum opus “City,” a monumental complex of structures in the Nevada desert that measures a mile and a half by a quarter mile. Composed of concrete and compacted earth, the work’s minimalist, geometric forms share an affinity with sacred pre-Columbian architecture. After more than 40 years, and $25 million, construction is nearing completion, after which the site will be open to the public. Before that happens, however, the future of the land around the site, known as Basin and Range, must be secured.

Although Heizer owns (and lives on) the land on which the work sits, the surrounding area has been threatened in the past by various proposals including a nuclear waste rail line, a missile site, and development as an oil and gas field. Conservation Lands Foundation has been campaigning to protect this land from such development, citing the area’s unique wildlife, geological features, and Native American archaeological importance, in addition to Heizer’s “City.” Last week, a group of about 24 museums including LACMA, MOMA, the Dia Foundation, the Walker Center and others, joined the campaign to raise awareness through blog posts, by directing people to an online petition to show their support, and promoting it on twitter with the hashtag #protectCITY.

City by Michael Heizer [via dsmpublicartfoundation.org]
City by Michael Heizer [via dsmpublicartfoundation.org]

Last fall, Sen. Harry Reid proposed the Garden Valley Withdrawal Act, which would have protected the area from mining, but the measure failed to pass. An executive action from the president would most likely be needed now to safeguard the 800,000 acres from development, which would make it the largest single conservation area created by Obama, according to LACMA Director of Executive Communications Scott Tennent.

Despite being known for remote desert works, Heizer has a strong connection to Los Angeles. His “Levitated Mass” (2012), the 340-ton boulder that sits above a walkway on LACMA’s campus is one of the museum’s major attractions. 100,000 people came out to view its 10-day journey from quarry to installation at the museum. “Double Negative” (1969), Heizer’s 1500-foot long gash that straddles a canyon in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas, is in the collection of the LA MoCA. The artist also has ties to Texas, where his “45 90 180″ (1984) resides on the campus of Rice University in Houston. (We picked this as one of the Six Public Sculptures in Texas to See Before You Die last year.)

Ultimately, the campaign cannot aim to “save” Heizer’s artwork; it is not threatened directly since it is on private land. What is at stake – as is the case with all land art – is the connection of the artwork to the surrounding landscape, not to mention accessibility of the work. To this end, Heizer said in the past that he would bulldoze the entire site if a proposed nuclear waste railway came to fruition. “The theory is that art and land are the things that have the greatest value and here you have both art and land,” Heizer remarks on the campaign’s website. “If either is excusable then neither is worth really very much.”

Rosamund Felsen Leaves Santa Monica for Downtown

The new Rosamund Felsen space, still under construction (photo by the author)
The new Rosamund Felsen space, still under construction [photo by the author]

After twenty years in Santa Monica, veteran gallerist Rosamund Felsen is packing up and heading east. An email statement sent by the gallery last week announced their plans to relocate to 1923 South Santa Fe Ave. next month. They will be sharing the building with CB1 Gallery, who moved there in January after five years in downtown LA’s historic core.

Felsen opened her first gallery in 1978, in a space on La Cienega formerly occupied by Riko Mizuno and later mega-dealer Larry Gagosian. She then moved the gallery to West Hollywood, before becoming one of the first tenants at the now beleaguered Bergamot Station arts complex when it opened in 1994. A number of LA’s most influential artists had some of their first shows with her, including Jason Rhoades, Mike Kelley, and Lari Pittman.

The new Rosamund Felsen space, still under construction (photo by the author)
The new Rosamund Felsen space, still under construction [photo by the author]

Despite being an established fixture of the West side art scene, Felsen has no qualms about leaving. “I’m very excited about the move,” she told me when I spoke to her earlier this week. “I had been wanting to move for quite a while.” She originally had her eye on a large building in Frogtown that she would have needed to share, but had trouble convincing other galleries to sign on. Meanwhile, friend and gallerist Clyde Beswick of CB1 Gallery showed her the building that he was about to move into. “I thought, ‘what do I want to be down there for?’ As time went on, it started to look better and better,” she said.

Indeed, over the past couple of years, this gritty industrial area has rapidly become one of LA’s hottest gallery districts. “From Washington to 3rd, and a block or so in either direction off Santa Fe, there are probably 14 or 15 galleries now,” Beswick told me. “Cirrus just moved down the street. Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel are moving here next year,” joining nearby spaces François Ghebaly Gallery, Night Gallery, The Box, and The Mistake Room, among others.

[via google street view]
[via google street view]

Behind the building’s drab brown, concrete façade sits a completely remodeled, modern space with high ceilings, skylights, and an exposed wooden ceiling. Felsen’s gallery will be about 3400 square feet, just shy of the 3600 at her Santa Monica location. When I asked her which cutting edge architect she picked for the job she replied, “I designed it. This is my fourth gallery. I know how to design a gallery. The simpler, the better.”

Felsen plans to open sometime in April with an exhibition of colorful geometric paintings by Kim MacConnel. She doesn’t think she’ll have trouble attracting her west side clients, citing the critical mass of galleries, the plethora of new restaurants downtown and mid-day drive time of 20 minutes from Santa Monica. As for how she feels being the new kid on the block after years across town, she laughed and said, “Isn’t that funny? I think its great. To me change is growth.”

UTA Plans New Division to Rep Contemporary Artists

artourage

As the worlds of high art and mass entertainment grow ever more enmeshed, United Talent Agency announced plans last week to launch a new division dedicated to repping contemporary artists. Headed by art attorney Joshua Roth, UTA Fine Arts will be looking to take on some of the roles traditionally played by galleries – and presumably cut in on their market share. (Among other accomplishments, Roth represented the buyer of the most expensive photograph ever sold.) UTA chairman Jim Berkus told the Wall Street Journal that they won’t be selling or showing art, but will be involved with project financing, commissions and helping artists branch out into entertainment arenas like cinema. According to Variety, they will also work on “building licensing and endorsement relationships with luxury and other types of brands.” Get ready for that Ed Ruscha / Louis Vuitton collab.

Although this new model would seem to pose a challenge to the established gallery system, the implications may not be very wide-reaching. Steve Turner, who recently relocated his eponymous gallery to Hollywood, thinks the kinds of services a talent agency offers would only appeal to a small, select group of artists. “Maybe for a successful, big-earning artist who has ambition to do things in other realms, that’s where I would see that it might have some application, but that’s very few artists,” he told us. “Besides, those artists already have lawyers and business managers and investment advisors. You could count the artists this might apply to on two hands.”

Still, the artistic 1% makes a lot of money, so it’s not surprising that Hollywood wants to cash in on this ascendant multibillion-dollar art market. Whether or not they can break into the notoriously secretive insider’s circle of top art dealers remains to be seen.

“It sounds like an interesting idea, but it’s going to be super hard to pull off,” Arne Glimcher of mega-gallery Pace told the WSJ. “If you’re going to be an artist’s agent, you need to know more about their work, their prices and their collectors than their own dealer does—and no dealer will be induced to share that kind of information.”

Turner sees this new development as “a symptom of a hot market,” one that may not last. “It’s just because they read the big numbers, and some artists are making professional athlete or entertainer money. That doesn’t mean it will always be this way,” he said. “Good luck to them.”

Michael Asher’s UCSD Fountain Destroyed; Is A Disgruntled Street Artist to Blame?

Michael Asher, Untitled, 1991 (via stuartcollection.ucsd.edu)

Michael Asher, Untitled, 1991 (via stuartcollection.ucsd.edu)

UC San Diego lost one of its most iconic pieces of public art last month when a masked vandal destroyed Michael Asher’s untitled water fountain with a sledgehammer. It was the late conceptual artist’s only permanent outdoor public artwork in the US.

According to San Diego 6, the artwork was attacked on January 13th by an unknown assailant who also smashed eight surveillance cameras and spray-painted “YOU CAN PAINT OVER ME YOU CAN CATCH ME YOU CAN EXPELL [sic] ME I WILL STILL BE HERE” on a campus wall. Based on surveillance camera footage, police described him as a thin, college-aged man who may have a small mole near the inside corner of his right eye.

The 1991 sculpture was a replica of the kind of mundane drinking fountains often found in office buildings and schools, except that it was made of polished granite. In this way, it is typical of Asher’s interventions that grew out of the idea that “no individual art object has a universal meaning, independent of its institutional context,” according to the website of the Stuart Collection, of which the work was a part.

“The whole idea of his work is based on the site which was the center/headquarters of a military training camp, Camp Mathews, until 1964 when it was turned over to the University of California San Diego for educational purposes,” Mary Beebe, Director of the Stuart Collection told us via email. “There is a rock with a plaque commemorating this event. There is also a military American flag in the center of the site, placed there in 1943. The fountain connects with these two other elements in that when you drink from the fountain (cooled filtered water) the flagpole acts as a sight-line to the plaque. So the fountain is only part of his work and his idea.”

Beebe said that they plan to have the work “restored exactly to the millimeter” based on Asher’s original plans in the next few months. Mathieu Gregoire, the Collection’s Project Manager who was responsible for fabricating the work the first time, will be responsible and the original materials will be used.

Michael Asher's destroyed fountain (via Rubén Ortiz-Torres' facebook page)

Michael Asher’s destroyed fountain (via Rubén Ortiz-Torres’ facebook page)

The big question that remains is who did this and why? Was the assailant upset at rising costs throughout the UC system, a disgruntled former student of Asher’s, or was the fountain specifically targeted as an artwork?

We spoke with Rubén Ortiz-Torres, an artist and professor at UCSD, who thinks the destruction may be related to a recent crack down on graffiti within the school’s art facility. As in many art schools, there was a place in the building’s stairwell where graffiti was tolerated. Until last year that is, when security cameras were installed and the administration posted signs warning of consequences for graffiti, he told us. Then a few months ago, a bathroom in the arts building was also destroyed with a sledgehammer, in what he thinks is a related act. Artist Eric Wong expressed a similar suspicion on a blog post titled “When street art & conceptual art awkwardly meet #ucsd vandal.”

The irony, Ortiz-Torres said, is that the piece was a commentary on blind submission to authority, as using the fountain literally forced one to bow in recognition of the site’s military history. Presumably the vandal might feel some solidarity with this notion. Whether or not he took this into consideration however, remains to be seen.

Car Salesman Hawks Joe Sola Paintings at Tif Sigfrids ALAC Booth

Although they traffic in the rarified world of high culture, art dealers are essentially shopkeepers. In this sense, they have more in common with, say, car salespeople than with curators. This comparison was brought to life Thursday night at the opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary, where the person manning Tif Sigfrids’ booth literally was a car salesman. Instead of being greeted by the gallery owner or staff, visitors encountered Brandon Gojcaj, a smooth-talking, sharp-dressed Lexus Delivery Specialist.

Joe Sola, "Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary" (2015)

Brandon Gojcaj giving the pitch in Joe Sola’s “Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary” (all photos by the author)

This was all part of a new work by artist Joe Sola, “Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.” Like fellow art trickster Maurizio Cattelan, Sola often uses humor to poke fun at the uptight conventions of the art world. Previously this has involved feeding a Laura Owens painting into a wood chipper, inviting curators to his studio and then jumping out the window, or most recently staging an entire show of paintings inside Ms. Sigfrids’ ear. For ALAC, Sola presents darkly comic paintings that focus on how the word “rape” is casually thrown around in our culture, despite pervasive fears of actually talking about it. He has depicted the backs of cartoonish heads next to speech bubbles reading, “The IRS totally raped me” and “My lawyers will rape their lawyers.” In the booth the slick salesman and the small, simple, uneasy paintings provided a curious juxtaposition.

Brandon Gojcaj in Joe Sola's "Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary"

Brandon Gojcaj in Joe Sola’s “Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary”

It all started when Gojcaj got a call from Sigfrids recently after the Lexus dealership where he works staged a benefit art show for cancer research. A friend of the gallerist had met him there and recommended the salesman. “Before she even asked me if I wanted to do it I cut her off and I said, ‘you don’t even need to ask me. I want to do this 100%,’” Gojcaj told me.

Joe Sola, "Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary" (2015)

Brandon Gojcaj in Joe Sola’s “Car salespeople selling my paintings at Art Los Angeles Contemporary”

The dealer sent him material on Sola and arranged for a meeting with the artist, where Gojcaj says they connected right away. He had a welcoming air on Thursday night, reaching out to anyone who strolled by, eagerly explaining Sola’s challenging art. His pitch didn’t come off as a put-on, he genuinely seemed enthusiastic about the work. Although he’s only been selling cars for 8 months, the 19-year old aspiring actor has the confident ease of a veteran salesman. Nothing had sold yet, but a few people had expressed interest. “I’m not leaving until everything’s gone, that’s for sure,” he told me. Gojcaj will be at the booth through Friday, with another car salesperson covering the rest of the weekend.

Gojcaj sees parallels between the two forms of commerce, but says he prefers selling art, despite his limited experience. “There’s more characters, better stories,” he said. Overall, however, they’re both about making a connection between two people. As he told me, “it’s creating a lifelong relationship in two minutes.”

I checked back in with Gojcaj Saturday morning and he told me that although many people had expressed interest, he hadn’t closed any deals: “I had an unbelievable time, still telling everyone about it,” he texted me. “Every person who asked to purchase and said they would be right back did not return haha, but I was told many are coming back this weekend to finalize purchases.”

Welcome to the art world, Brandon.

Show Me the Money! Museum As Retail Space to Open in DTLA

Museum As Retail Space [via marsgallery.net]

Museum As Retail Space [via marsgallery.net]

Further evidence that the lines between the commercial and the curatorial continue to blur, a new gallery, Museum as Retail Space (MaRS), is set to open next month in Downtown Los Angeles. The connection between money and museums is nothing new, with collectors donating work and money to institutions and having wings named in their honor. Museums need money to function obviously. It has long been a goal, however, to at least attempt to keep them separate, to keep financial interests out of the curatorial realm as much as possible. MaRS makes no pretense of aspiring to this ideal, stating so quite clearly in its name.

The brainchild of Robert Zin Stark (“a sales wunderkind” states the press release), MaRS will occupy a 6000 square foot space, formerly a Prohibition-era distillery, which was renovated based on Stark’s study of ancient temple architecture (from which ancient cultures isn’t clear). According to the press release, the curatorial program will be guided by “a consumer-constructivist model, positing that one creates meaning in present society through consumptive participation, intended to empower collectors and future collectors as being intrinsic to the canonization of art.” Money talks, and if art sells, it must be good. It is the heretofore disenfranchised collectors who deserve to have a say in which artists get canonized. (Just a guess, but they’ll probably pick artists whose work they collect.)

Similar to Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, another mega-gallery set to open nearby in 2015, MaRS will have a bookstore and smaller retail space, aptly titled “Shop!” (subtle they’re not). It will offer 72 items, for some reason, providing something for everyone (to buy).

The gallery will officially open in two weeks with its inaugural exhibition I’m in A Story, a solo show of work by Raúl De Nieves, whose colorful artistic output spans performance, painting, sculpture and garment design. His work draws on a wide range of sources, from fashion and club culture, to Mexican and Catholic symbolism.

Before that however, MaRS will host a reservation-only performance by Emily Mast titled The Stage is a Cage this Friday. Mast will produce a series of drawings during the performance that will be part of her upcoming exhibition at La Ferme du Buisson in France. Fittingly, as the press release informs, this is Mast’s “first commercially available performance piece.”

Art Fair at the O.K. Corral

Photo by GregManninLB

Photo by GregManninLB

Along with the set of M*A*S*H, the Paramount Ranch is a big stop for show biz-minded hikers and explorers in the Santa Monica Mountains. The ranch has served as a set for loads of movies and TV shows, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Cisco Kid, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Fall Guy, The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs and Firefly.

Now it’s the location of another art fair, Paramount Ranch 2, which takes place next weekend and will feature installations in the brush and exhibitions in the Old West-style buildings.

“It’s going to be a little big vague and mysterious, to be honest with you, because that’s the modus operandi,” co-founder Alex Freedman told ARTnews on Tuesday.

Meaning (we take it) that visitors’ own modus operandi should be to take full advantage of the setting, suspend any disbelief they have about art fairs and/or Renaissance Festival-style fake backdrops from ye olden tymes, say fuck it, and show up dressed as Bo, Luke, Daisy or Boss Hogg. Hopefully at least the art will be decent — the exhibitors include some pretty good venues (see below).

EXHIBITORS

356 Mission / Ooga Booga
186f Kepler
Artist Curated Projects
Artists Space
Bed Stuy Love Affair
The Box
Carlos Ishikawa
Chantal Crousel
China Art Objects
Chin’s Push
C O O L
Dingum
Evelyn Yard
Formalist Sidewalk Poetry Club
Freedman Fitzpatrick
Freymond-Guth
Gasconade
Green Gallery
Green Tea Gallery
Gregor Staiger
Hacienda
Hannah Hoffman
HHDM
High Art
Jenny’s
Lulu
Kai Matsumiya
Karma International
Kendall Koppe
Maccarone
Mandrake
Marbriers 4
Mathew
Michael Thibault
Misako & Rosen
Neue Alte Brücke
Overduin & Co.
Paradise Garage
Project Native Informant
Queer Thoughts
Rob Tufnell
Shoot the Lobster
Shanaynay
Supportico Lopez
Tanya Leighton
Thomas Duncan
Tomorrow
Truth & Consequences
Vilma Gold
Wallspace
Young Art
White Flag Projects
What Pipeline
XYZ Collective

OUTDOOR PROJECTS & PERFORMANCES

Ei Arakawa & Karl Holmqvist
Julien Ceccaldi
Kate Costello
Liz Craft
Marquita Flowers
Richard Hawkins and Friends
KAYA
Pentti Monkkonen
VR/DM8H943 & Odwalla88
P ’N’ P & Ruby Neri
Amanda Ross-Ho
Secret Circuit
SFV Acid
STRAUTCHEREPNIN
Oscar Tuazon
Pae White
Haegue Yang
Amy Yao

Hard Edge Painter June Harwood Dies at 81

Abstract painter June Harwood, whose crisp, geometric compositions made her a key member of the West Coast “Hard Edge” movement, passed away earlier this month at her Studio City home at the age of 81. Her death was confirmed in an email from her gallery, Louis Stern Fine Arts, where an already-planned exhibition of her work will open on Thursday.

June Harwood, Colorform (Orange, Green, Violet), 1965, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches (via louissternfinearts.com)

June Harwood, Colorform (Orange, Green, Violet), 1965, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches (via louissternfinearts.com)

Harwood’s early paintings consisted of rigid, flat planes of color and interlocking forms – pure abstraction with no representational content. She often painted with acrylics (then uncommon for an artist), and used tape to define the edges of her shapes. “My paint application was uniform, that is to say that no brush strokes were evident, creating impeccable, flat surfaces. Thus there would be no distraction from the intent, which was to create an interplay of ‘colorforms.’ Jules (Langsner) used this term to mean that color and form are one,” she said in a 2011 interview on Geoform.net.

Born in Middletown, NY, Harwood moved to California in the mid-1950s, shortly after graduating from Syracuse University. In Los Angeles, she connected with a small group of like-minded painters that included Lorser Feitselson, his wife June Lundeberg, John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, and Frederick Hammersley. In 1959, Harwood’s future husband Jules Langsner curated what is considered the first hard edge show, Four Abstract Classicists at LACMA, that featured Feitselson, McLaughlin, Benjamin, and Hammersley. While Harwood was absent from this show, she was part of another seminal hard edge exhibition also curated by Langsner, California Hard-Edge Painting, held in Balboa, CA in 1964.

June Harwood, Network Series (blue and yellow), July 1967, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches (via louissternfinearts.com)

June Harwood, Network Series (blue and yellow), July 1967, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches (via louissternfinearts.com)

Her work evolved to include curves, loops, and networks of lines that flirted with Op-Art, sometimes painted with metallic paint to accentuate the play of light on the surface of the canvas. In the 70s, her large, discreet forms began to break apart, as she became interested in kinetics and motion. In the 90s and 2000s, her edges softened and her brushwork became more painterly in works that recalled simple landscapes. Recently, she had returned to the hard-edged forms that she began exploring sixty years ago.

Throughout her long career, similar aesthetic concerns ran through all her work. “First instilled in me long ago as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, formal, classical, structural composition has remained the consistent theme in my painting throughout these many years,” she told Geoform.net. “Much of my painting develops intuitively and sometimes accidentally or serendipitously. But in all cases, the result should be to make all of the pieces fit, that there should be a ‘sense of rightness’ about the total configuration.”

June Harwood – Splinter, Divide and Flow: Works from 1967-1977 opens on Thursday, January 22, 5-8pm, with a tribute to the artist at 7pm, at Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.