Claire Falkenstein had brilliant careers in the Bay Area, New York, Paris, Italy, and Los Angeles. Her sculpture, or some of it, was once pegged as the 3D equivalent of Jackson Pollock‘s all-over compositions (above, Point as a Set, 1965). Falkenstein had a number of prestige commissions, above all the garden gates to Peggy Guggenheim’s Venice Palazzo (now part of her museum). After Falkenstein moved to another Venice, in California, she did a profusion of public-art commissions. The best-known are Structure and Flow, the fountain at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and a set of stained-glass abstractions for St. Basil Catholic Church. Locally Falkenstein is almost as ubiquitous as Millard Sheets’ Home Savings murals and perhaps suffers from a certain overexposure. She did sculptures for malls in Costa Mesa and Fresno; even for an L.A. DMV office.
After years of neglect, the art world is again taking notice. Falkenstein currently has two high-profile shows. She’s prominently featured in “Revolution in the Making” at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and has a retrospective (the first since her 1997 death) at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
PMCA’s “Claire Falkenstein: Beyond Sculpture” explores a long career with many surprises. One is the importance of painting in her output. Falkenstein was a friend of Clyfford Still, a fellow teacher at the California School of Fine Arts. It’s said that Still influenced Falkenstein. Her “moving point” paintings have more obvious affinity to the numinous abstractions of Gordon Onslow-Ford and Lee Mullican. It’s a world blown to atomic smithereens. A 1992 painting, Vortex, may be Falkenstein’s take on Rodney King and civic uprising.
The show is full of intriguing one-offs like that. A small 1971 Topological Form #1 is an Alexander Liberman “ziti” cooked by a superior chef.
Flora, a 1973 garden sculpture in bronze, was designed to move via a hidden motor. Unfortunately, it’s not running here.
Falkenstein married painting, California assemblage, and L.A. plastic in an untitled c. 1980s object, described as resin on burlap.
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