Claire Falkenstein goes Beyond Sculpture at the Pasadena Museum of California Art
Written by Jacqueline Bell Johnson
One thing you don’t expect when going to see a retrospective of a prolific sculptor are works hanging on the walls. That is entirely the point of this exhibition. Claire Falkenstein got into art by way of painting and drawing, and in her later years she returned to those roots. Despite the switch between 2D and 3D, when viewing the work, you read it as part of a linear progression, an inclusive portfolio of works that explore line, shape, form, and space.
Her works on paper are textured from impressions made by physical objects (wire remnants found in her studio). The embossed paper remains raw white, with occasional drawn or painted elements. They are soft and simple, very peaceful to look at, which is a contrast to the sporadic energy of her sculptures. These uncomplicated compositions demonstrate an innate aesthetic confidence, a practiced knowledge of line in space. They have an organized yet organic structure that shares the same starting point as her sculptural pieces.
Falkenstein’s paintings are alive with undulating shapes. Warping geometry that shifts and floats along the canvas. Her pallet is limited and often subdued, color at times is used to present form, but the work is all about the form, the shapes.
Her sculpture, of course is the coup de grâce. As you move through the show, there is a trend that builds: initial hard and straight lines as structure, dictating the composition of each sculpture. They become overgrown with a netting of smaller organic linear marks that undulate to create form. This webbing tells all. It is a transparent plane that gives the viewer a chance to see how the skin intersects with the skeleton. Each work moves from a simple form to a complex arrangement when your eye takes in all the elements at once. A great presentation of both 2D and 3D attributes, your brain switches back and forth between both like a hologram as you inspect the work.
Of note is a sculpture set in the middle of the gallery on the floor, made using tangles of wire. From a distance you see a white form and a black form that mesh in the middle. Move in closer and the surface of the mesh takes on a velvety finish from the spotlight hitting the painted wire just so. Tunnels start to form in the woven wire giving a better view of the internal workings of the piece. The skeleton of this particular piece is a metal shopping cart, these black and white clouds of tangled metal growing out of it. At different angles the cart peeks through the wire, is abstracted, and even completely disguised.
The show includes photographs of Falkenstein’s monumental public works, commissions, and a film biography. While never as good as the real thing, this access and documentation gives the viewer context and presents her career in its entirety. After all, these are the works that she made while residing in Southern California.
Ultimately this exhibit, Curated by Jay Belloli, presents Claire Falkenstein as a source of pride for California, and rightfully so. This retrospective proves she is intrinsic to the conversation of modernism, not just when discussing sculpture, but in all media.
You can see this exhibition through September 11th at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.