Claire Falkenstein's Expanding Universe

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Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997) was an adventurous artist who is known today, if known at all, for spiky metal sculptures that looks as though they were exploding in space, what she called "exploding the volume." In her sculpture, one can see connections to the work of Isamu Noguchi or Alexander Calder yet she was absolutely her own woman, a talented woman with a knack for being in the right place at the wrong time so she is less recognized today than she rightly should be.

A brisk reappraisal has been taking place and a survey of her paintings, sculptures and other works can be seen in Claire Falkenstein: An Expansive Universe at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts on La Brea Avenue.

Claire Falkenstein: The Big Apple, 1948
Aluminum and hydrocal plaster
81 x 48 x 30 inches

Raised in Coos Bay, Oregon, Falkenstein studied anthropology and philosophy at U.C. Berkeley before settling in San Francisco. In 1950, just as that art scene was gaining recognition, at age 42, she left her husband and moved to Paris to work in a small atelier. She showed there with Galerie Stadler alongside Alberto Giacometti but at that time, there was greater interest in the abstract expressionist artists of the New York School. Still, the great collector Peggy Guggenheim did commission Falkenstein to create woven wire and Venetian glass gates for her palazzo on the canal in Venice, Italy. Then, in 1962, she moved to Los Angeles just as the "Cool School" artists using minimalist shapes and bright acrylic color were in vogue. She remained here until her death in 1997 but never achieved a great critical success. Mostly, she survived on commissions such as the stained glass and wire windows and doors of St. Basil Church on Wilshire Boulevard near Normandy, a 1968-1969 modern structure by architect A.C. Martin's office.

Claire Falkenstein: Sun, 1960
Copper, 30 x 75 x 38 inches

Seen today, Falkenstein's collages, paintings and sculptures made between 1939 and 1981 look immensely fresh and original. Falkenstein may have followed her intuition but her art was not based on feeling. Instead, she turned to the structure and principals of higher mathematics when devising open-weave compositions in two or three dimensions. The Big Apple (1948) is a tubular aluminum frame approximately the shape of an apple standing about eight feet tall with a white hydrocal coil suspended as the seed in its center. The show includes what she called "Never Ending Screens" of interlaced pieces of copper wire from the 1960's and number of pieces from the 1970's where globes of copper wire are wrapped around chunks of colored Venetian glass. Sculpture was her greatest passion but it is hard to ignore White Painting (1969), approximately five foot square but mounted on the wall with the corner up like a diamond and patterned in delicate swirls of whites, reds and blues.

Claire Falkenstein: White Painting, 1969
Acrylic and oil on canvas
68 x 67 inches, signed, titled and dated on verso

Initiated as part of Pacific Standard Time, the show has proved so popular that it has been extended through September 1. There is also a new monograph published by the Falkenstein Foundation with informative essays by Susan M. Anderson, Michael Duncan and Maren Henderson. For more information, go to

Banner image: Installation view of Claire Falkenstein: An Expansive Universe at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts