As NMWA’s began an Instagram challenge to name #5WomenArtists as part of their social media campaign marking #WomensHistoryMonth, we want to help you with that and so feature a yet another outstanding artist, Claire Falkenstein, who was extremely successful in her days, yet still rarely resurfaces on the pages of art history books, or Wiki pages for that matter (don’t check WikiArt for her because SHE’S NOT THERE).
She was brilliant already as a student. Born in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 1908, Claire moved with her family to Berkeley, California, where she attended university. She had the first solo show in 1930, while still being a student, at the East-West Gallery, San Francisco. And she didn’t even have any formal training yet! After her success, she was invited to study under Alexander Archipenko who introduced her to the world of the Russian avant-garde, where she met such stars as Naum Gabo, or the Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy. During these early years, she worked mainly with clay to create abstract ceramic sculptures, and later she progressed onto the exploration of wood as a sculptural medium. Her works from the 1940s seem usually like a single, unified mass but can also be broken down into discrete elements and they were intended to be taken apart and reassembled by the viewer. Falkenstein called them “exploding volumes,”
By 1950, Claire moved onto new materials again, this time it was plastic, aluminum, glass, and wire. Then, at age of 42, she moved her studio to Paris, where she associated with Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti. It was in Paris where she developed the aesthetic that she would use throughout her career: the open wire sculptures that foregrounded the presence of negative space, articulated by organic forms, color and light interlocked together.
While in Europe, she received several large-scale commissions, such as the railing of the Galleria Spazio, Rome (1958), or the gates of the Palazzo Venier de Leoni, which now houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (1961).
Shaping Southern California
She returned to California, in 1963, and began receiving other commissions like a monumental fountain “Structure and Flow No. 2” (1964-65), now destroyed, which once stood at the corner of Wilshire and Hauser boulevards or a fountain at the Long Beach Museum of Art; outdoor sculptures for reflecting pools at Cal State Long Beach and the San Diego Museum of Art; or the ornamentation over the entry to physical education building at Cal State Fullerton. With time, she could not sustain work with hard and heavy materials, so she shifted away to painting. In 1997, she died in Venice, California, at age 89.
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