Design Masterworks 19 May 2016

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19

Claire Falkenstein


Untitled (Monumental Wall Sculpture)

USA, c. 1970
welded and patinated copper, fused Murano glass, brass
70 h x 83½ w x 9 d in (178 x 212 x 23 cm)


estimate: $50,000–70,000

provenance: Phillips, New York, Design, 17 December 2008, Lot 51 | Private Collection

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A Divine Creation

Falkenstein's Monumental Wall Sculpture

Gossamer branches form a loose web of connections, interspersed with the suggestion of new growth—the green of a new bud here, the yellow of a blossom there. Suddenly, through the lattice a sunburst explodes, effervescent and radiant, and warming all that surrounds it. Experiencing artist Claire Falkenstein’s monumental wall sculpture, presented here, is akin to a walk through the woods on a sunny day just at the cusp of spring. Made after Falkenstein had reestablished herself in California—from where she had departed for a thirteen-year sojourn in Paris, returning in 1963—the sculpture is also suggestive of that unparalleled West Coast light.

One of the hallmarks of Falkenstein’s genius was her ability to conjure naturalistic qualities from hard, sometimes industrial, materials. This work, which she composed of solidified copper and glass, nonetheless retains the fluidity that characterizes those materials in their heated and unfinished liquid state. Though strong and rigid, the sculpture appears delicate, like a piece of jewelry, which Falkenstein also made throughout her career. In this realm, Falkenstein may have been influenced by Alexander Calder, whose jewelry was frequently made from simple materials like brass wire and glass.

It’s unsurprising then that Peggy Guggenheim was a champion of the two artists, both of whom maintained a fierce independence throughout their lives, refusing to conform their work or their philosophies strictly to one movement of art or another. Though there is no evidence Falkenstein ever met Calder, they often seem to share a metaphysical connection, especially when it comes to the design realm of both artists’ work. Guggenheim adorned herself with jewelry made by Falkenstein and Calder, and perhaps even more significantly, commissioned each of them to make significant contributions to her Venetian home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). In 1946, Calder completed his Silver Bed Head for Guggenheim’s bedroom, (which is often noted for its kinship to his jewelry), while fifteen years later, Falkenstein created her famous gates to the palazzo’s entrance. A strikingly similar discernment exists in both pieces: the intricate latticework of Falkenstein’s gates recalls the crisscrossing leaves and looping spirals of Calder’s nautically themed, silver wire headboard.

Falkenstein’s sensitive feel for her materials is fully realized in the wall-mounted sculpture offered here. In its airy yet complex construction she has devised a glimmering network that not only suggests the mysteries of the organic world, but also allows for the wonder of what humans can achieve in the act of creation. In this way, the work transcends the handmade and achieves the divine.