PRINT April 1965

The Commissioned Object

Claire Falkenstein’s new fountain raises hopes for a higher level of commissioned art in Los Angeles.

IT WASN’T UNTIL THE CITY fathers unveiled the Bernard Rosenthal bronze family piece on the facade of the new Police Facilities Building in the Civic Center over a decade ago that the drearisome condition of Los Angeles commissioned sculpture was really given much attention. The cries of protest from certain members of the City Council were heard all the way to New York and Philadelphia where artier-than-thou populaces made prompt invitations to suffer the offending sculpture to come unto them. The sculpture stayed, having been commissioned and paid for under legal procedures, but the end result of all the governmental hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing was to have a motion passed prohibiting the use of public funds for the decoration of future civic structures.

Nothing much followed for about ten years. Rosenthal received a few commercial commissions for decorating department store fish-ponds with welded metal while others of lesser talent attempted to add stature and solidity to banks and loan companies by incorporating monumental figures personifying Savings, Interest, Thrift, and of course Mother: just about anything but the appropriate three suspended balls.

In very recent years, the menu has improved, perhaps the result of the general cultural boom, or the invasion of national headquarters of huge commercial concerns, bringing along with them some new attitudes. The city agency which inaugurated the restrictive motion mentioned above, recently about-faced as the result of a Municipal Art Commission recommendation, and now they respect a 1-percent-of-cost regulation which must go for sculpture, murals, or other art forms to relieve the tedium of contemporary buildings being erected by the City. UCLA unveiled a monumental totem by Anna Mahler and USC retaliated with a bronze fountain by George Baker. A commercial loan and savings bank tried to out-do everyone by importing an important bronze by Henry Moore. The occasion was duly celebrated with a photographic contest in which the prize was an all expenses paid trip to England to meet and photograph the grand old man himself. Another bank planted Harry Bertoia’s huge metal dandelion on Wilshire Blvd. but promptly killed it by placing it before one of the most pitiful facades west of the Mississippi––ten floors of arched windows dripping with ivy!

Finally, with a fanfare and pronouncement comparable to the opening of the new Music Center, Federal Savings presented its pride and joy, the fantastic copper, glass and water sculpture designed by the genuinely gifted Claire Falkenstein. This huge creation, l4 x 45 x 30 feet, fools the viewer by using a complex statement to express a very simple tenet. Rather than replace space with solid forms, it is Miss Falkenstein’s purpose to orbit parts in structures within structures in order to imply that space is motion. There is certainly no novelty in this concept but she demonstrates its truth with a refreshingly new vocabulary. She invites us to reach through and touch the other side, look through and focus beyond while she integrates linear and transparent forms, weaves elements inward-outward, and outward- inward. Nor is the movement restricted to this sensation of penetration. The invitation is to keep physically on the move as well. We are commanded to participate, not immobilize ourselves statically, but to be set in motion as is implied within the copper and iron web of activity so that the combined movements of object and viewer create a mute but deeply involved collaboration, prompting esthetic experiences richly beyond the familiar. The sense of motion is even personified by the placement of the sculpture in a pool arena intentionally designed too small. The sculpture overflows, ruptures the artificial barriers of the expected––the confines of the pool itself––to become a living, expanding thing.

This compositional attitude is not unique for the artist The one-man show at the Esther-Robles Gallery coinciding with the Wilshire dedication, is permeated by the identical preoccupation with restless movement The emphasis may change with the material employed, but essentially they all embrace their private cubit of space, specifically marked off and reserved as the very specially shaped environment for the fused chunks of colored glass. The exhibit also includes some wall paintings along the same general theme as well as a peculiarly unsuccessful effort, a painting on mechanically rotated cylinders which fails to accomplish through actual motorization what her static pieces accomplish through implication. It is apparent that the artist is caught up in a rewarding search to extend an already impressive range of activities. Be it light fixtures, gates, fountains, theatrical decors, or paintings, all functions are but grist for the creative mill that is Claire Falkenstein.

––Curt Opliger