New Review on Current Exhibitions
Ruth Weisberg, "Ravished," 2011
Oil & Mixed Media on Unstretched Canvas
67 1/2 x 57 1/2 inches
NOW & THEN
AN EXPANSIVE UNIVERSE
Review | May/June 2012
by Peter Frank
Extended Through June 30
Born near the beginning of the last century, Claire Falkenstein had established herself as a dynamic avant gardist by time she moved to Los Angeles in 1963. Two generations younger, Ruth Weisberg came to LA only six years later, more or less at the beginning of her career, already developing the classically based figuration she has practiced ever since. These twin exhibitions briefly surveying their oeuvres thus provided a study in contrast. Those who know the two artists, even by reputation, regard them as similarly formidable talents and presences. But while Falkenstein was the consummate outsider for much of her life, Weisberg has played key inside roles in Los Angeles art, most notably as Dean of USC’s Roski School during its rise to its current prominence. And the exhibitions were keyed to the two women’s disparate positions, presenting Falkenstein as a mercurial late modernist and Weisberg as a reflective, historically aware post-modern romanticist.
Claire Falkenstein Installation Detail
Weisberg’s survey portrayed her not as an academic but as a historicist, reconciling her urge to make images with her urge to study them. A graceful draughtswoman with an ability to render the seen world —especially people—veristically, Weisberg mediates between her Renaissance, Baroque, and modernist inspirations that the photographic viewpoint her technical abilities infer. She distances herself from photorealist practice, however, by stressing the conditions of drawing: her paintings, often on unstretched canvas, present figures and even whole scenes rendered in outline, toned by a predominating monochrome wash. The self-conscious “manner” to this approach underscores rather than vitiates Weisberg’s connection to the artistic past.
Falkenstein’s microspective—mounted to coincide with the appearance of a major monograph—stressed her earliest work, from her San Francisco period in the 1940s. Her better-known metal and glass sculpture and similarly tendrilous work on canvas and paper, realized subsequently in Europe and LA, did not go neglected; but the survey sought to present her as that much earlier an innovator, who was willing from the start to experiment with material as well as form. Working in everything from collage to ceramic to etched and painted aluminum, the young Falkenstein asserted her pictorial sensibility— elaborate, eccentric and curvaceous—in these objects, knowingly synthesizing cubism, surrealism, and geometric abstraction. Inarguably more refined and distinctive, her later work for once played a supporting role.