L.A. Gallery Explores Hans Burkhardt

Los Angeles, CA - Seismic shifts are taking effect in Los Angeles as "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980," an initiative of The J. Paul Getty Trust with arts institutions across Southern California are underway with museum and gallery openings all over Southern California. Modernism art collectors of ArtKabinett social network will not miss these exhibitions. Surprisingly, one of the most ambitious exhibitions is presented, not by one of the 60 museum type institutions involved, but by one of L.A.’s long established private galleries, Jack Rutberg Fine Arts.  A just released video sheds light on one of the most compelling components of this major Getty endeavor. Jack Rutberg Fine Arts’ exhibition "Hans Burkhardt: Within & Beyond the Mainstream" brings to light through some 90 works of art and objects, one of the most important artists in L.A.’s ‘uncharted’ history.  In this fine video of the exhibition’s opening night reception, by filmmaker Eric Minh Swenson, the breadth of Burkhardt’s provocative work is revealed along with commentary by L.A. art luminaries offering their reflections by critics, art historians and artists in attendance, while Jack Rutberg himself offers insights and context to a history long neglected of this great artist. A Guided Exhibition Walk-Thru by Jack Rutberg on  Saturday, October 22nd at 3 PM is an art event that should not be missed. This expansive exhibition reveals Hans Burkhardt's compelling body of work created in Los Angeles over a period of more than 6 decades. The guided exhibition walk-thru will key upon a history that places Burkhardt in context and discusses his profound impact on the Los Angeles art scene. Today's homepage Featured Video takes the viewer through much of this major exhibition, with works beginning when Burkhardt left New York for L.A. late in 1937, to his final poignant painting of 1993, “The Extra Stripe.”  Included are monumentally-scaled works that offer insight into why critics such as Donald Kuspit and Peter Selz have regarded Burkhardt to be one of the major voices in American 20th century art. Hans Burkhardt (1904-1994) was born in Basel Switzerland. Immigrating to New York in 1924, his artistic training began at Cooper Union and then at Grand Central School, where he met Arshile Gorky. Gorky’s role as Burkhardt’s mentor soon evolved as Burkhardt became a colleague and trusted friend. Burkhardt shared Gorky’s studio for the better part of the years 1928 to 1937, where Willem de Kooning, another Gorky disciple, would frequently visit. When Burkhardt moved to Los Angeles late in 1937, he represented the most significant artistic bridge between New York and Los Angeles, as he was part of the genesis of what became the New York School.   In L.A. he forged an independent course, ultimately pursuing an abstract expressionist style often anticipating the work of his contemporaries and later artists in the East Coast and Europe. Burkhardt’s first solo exhibition was in 1939 at the Stendahl Gallery. In the 1940s he regularly exhibited at Frederick Kann’s Circle Gallery, where Man Ray was significant in the formation of a short-lived collective of artists called “The Open Circle.”  In 1945, the Los Angeles County Museum presented Burkhardt’s first museum solo exhibition, which the L.A. Times called an exhibition of “…dynamic power…a striking transfer of feeling into form.” Following that museum exhibition, Burkhardt was both critically celebrated and “censored,” as his works proved controversial in the years leading up to the McCarthy Era, when modern artists in L.A. were seen as Communist threats. Particularly controversial were his anti-war paintings and Hollywood studio strike paintings, including his “indictment” of then Screen Actors Guild head, Ronald Reagan. “Less incendiary” subjects also proved controversial, such as his Crucifixion Series – condemned for his use of red color and abstract style, regarded as subversive; examples of which are included in “Hans Burkhardt: Within & Beyond the Mainstream”. His painting “One Way Road” (1945), purchased by the County Museum, was removed from its walls shortly thereafter and was finally shown again at LACMA in 2003. Works of the 1950's onward were hugely influential to young artists emerging onto the scene. Artists ranging from Ed Kienholz, John Altoon, Karl Benjamin, Tony Berlant, Melvin Edwards, Michael C. McMillen, etc., were impacted by Burkhardt’s independent and provocative works, as he received extensive critical recognition. In the 1950s alone, Burkhardt had an impressive 23 solo exhibitions including a 10-year retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, as well as museums in the U.S., Mexico and the Sao Paulo Biennale. In the 1960s Burkhardt continued to exhibit in an impressively large number of major exhibitions including his 30-year retrospective in 1961-62, organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, traveling to San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor and Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.  Following a 40-year retrospective at the San Diego Art Institute, the San Diego Museum of Art in 1968 presented a hugely provocative survey of Burkhardt’s paintings inspired by his protest of the Viet Nam War, which included his now-famous skull paintings.  These works are now regarded by eminent art historians to be among the major works of the 20th century. Donald Kuspit cites that these paintings  “…make clear that Burkhardt is the master - indeed the inventor - of the abstract Memento Mori.” The reactive and prescient nature of Burkhardt’s work is evident through the earliest anti-war subjects dating from 1938 through his final painting “The Extra Stripe” from his 1993 “Black Rain Series,” included in “Within & Beyond the Mainstream”.  Burkhardt’s unceasing engagement with contemporary culture over such a remarkably sustained period distinguishes him from other artists, as evidenced by the painting “Sex Pistols,” part of his graffiti Basel/Graffiti series of 1981. In 1992 Hans Burkhardt was honored in New York, receiving The American Academy’s lifetime achievement award.  Its citation, written by Wayne Thiebaud states:  “Currently at age 87, his works continue to urge us to reflect upon our deepest human concerns about ourselves and our world.”