May 21, 2017


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Lot 226: Claire Falkenstein

Lot 226: Claire Falkenstein

Untitled (Moving Points Painting)

c. 1960
Acrylic on canvas
Signed "Claire Falkenstein/Paris" lower right
Canvas: 30.75" x 37.5"; Frame: 31.625" x 38.25"
Provenance: Henry T. Hopkins, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Estimate: $5,000 - $7,000
Price Realized: $21,250
Inventory Id: 25225

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American sculptor Claire Falkenstein (1908—1997) left behind a highly–regarded and inventive artistic legacy. Falkenstein’s work has seen a recent resurgence, spurred by two 2016 exhibitions: a posthumous retrospective of her work at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and her inclusion in the inaugural show at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016.”

The complexity of Falkenstein’s wide–ranging practice has made the process of classifying her artwork a difficult challenge. This can be attributed to Falkenstein’s unceasing drive to experiment and explore new materials. Over the course of her lengthy career, the artist made paintings, ceramics and tangled sculptures of metal, wood, plastic, wire, copper and glass. She even produced a short film, Polyester Moon (1957), depicting one of her sculptures in montage form accompanied with a score composed by Terry Riley.

Born in Coos Bay, Oregon, Falkenstein and her family moved to San Francisco when she was 12. She lived in the Bay Area for the next thirty years, graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 1930 and later went on to teach at the San Francisco Art Institute. Here she came into contact with the European avant-garde émigrés László Moholy–Nagy and Alexander Archipenko. Around this time, her work consisted mainly of abstract clay sculptures in the vein of Untitled (1939). The angular forms and colored planes of this work reveal the influence of Constructivism and Cubism.

In 1948 Falkenstein had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art and shortly afterward emigrated to Europe at the age of 42. She had studios in Paris and Rome, and associated with artists and patrons like Alberto Giacometti, Jean (Hans) Arp, and Peggy Guggenheim, the latter of whom commissioned Falkenstein to produce a custom iron and Murano glass gate entrance for her Venice palazzo. Her interest in Venetian Murano glass is evident in the intricate, small-scale sculpture Untitled (from Fusions Series), which ingeniously welds together dark copper and fused aqua–colored glass. The series comprises highly technical constructions, which Falkenstein worked on throughout the second half of her career.

What unifies Falkenstein’s many formal experiments—and these works—is her commitment to the expressive potential of negative space. This formed the basis for a life–long approach to painting and sculpture, one which eschewed the enclosure of volumes and rejected the notion of a knowable, measurable Euclidean geometry in favor of porous and complex lattice–style structural systems. This openness is epitomized by the title of her ‘Moving Points’ series, which she began making in the 1950s. With its flat repetition of a detailed motif Untitled (Moving Points Painting), an acrylic on canvas painting, alludes to the concept of a flowing and infinitely expanding, uninterrupted space, which was inspired by her understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Falkenstein returned to California in the 1960s, where she embarked on her large–scale public commissions, one of the most prominent being the doors, gates and stained–glass windows of St. Basil Catholic Church (1968-1969). Falkenstein’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Centres Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Carl, Robert. Terry Riley’s In C: Studies in Musical Genesis, Structure, and Interpretation . New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 17. Print.\r“Claire Falkenstein: Beyond Sculpture.” Pasadena Museum of California Art . Pasadena Museum of California Art, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. Gaze, Delia. Dictionary of Women Artists . Vol. II. London: Routledge, 1997. 509. Print. Knight, Christopher. “Claire Falkenstein’s Strangely Contradictory Sculptures.” Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles] 19 June 2016, Arts & Culture sec.: n. pag. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. \rMarter, Joan M. The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 195. Print.