In the second recent exhibition featuring masterworks of figurative art from its Stussy Collection, Woodbury University will host The Mortal Machine: Art of Maxine Kim Stussy & Jan Stussy. A joint project between the School of Media, Culture and Design and the School of Architecture, the exhibition will run from October 7 through November 12, at the Nan Rae Gallery on the Woodbury campus, with the opening reception set for Oct. 7, from 3p.m. to 5 p.m.
Curating the exhibition is Michael Duncan, an esteemed Los Angeles-based writer and critic of mid-century and contemporary art. Duncan is the longtime L.A. corresponding editor for Art in America and contributed an essay to the recent LACMA catalog for the John McClaughlin retrospective. He curated the 2012 photography exhibition Building: Grant Mudford at Woodbury University Hollywood Outpost (WUHO), sponsored by the Julius Shulman Institute, along with a national survey of the work of Sister Corita Kent and last year’s Peter Krasnow survey at the Laguna Art Museum. Duncan’s visceral 2012 exhibition, LA RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy, was a revelatory part of the Getty Museum’s 60-exhibition initiative, “Pacific Standard Time.”
LA RAW traced the distinctive aesthetic of figurative expressionism from the end of World War II, bringing together more than 120 works by 41 artists in a variety of media: painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. The exhibition was accompanied by a 208-page catalogue, a much-needed reference for the study of post-war American figurative art.
The Mortal Machine follows The Human Beast: Art of Maxine Kim Stussy & Jan Stussy, the 2016 exhibition at WUHO. The Mortal Machine further explores the artists’ fascination with the physical nature of the human body. Both artists have presented human figures with mechanical appendages or extensions. Their doll-like figures include anatomical extrapolations that seem manifestations of extreme psychological states. Jan and Maxine influenced each other’s work, shaping an unusual public image that balanced their respective talents and cooperative association. The exhibitions will celebrate this unique partnership.
In their masterful sculptures, paintings, and prints, the artists extend experiments with depictions of the human form that were begun by the German Expressionists and continued throughout the twentieth century by artists such as Beckmann, Modigliani and Bacon. Maxine Kim Stussy and Jan Stussy are important, underrated forces in the postwar blossoming of art in Southern California. Their unique styles of figuration are also crucial predecessors for artists today who are investigating issues of gender and racial identity.
A powerhouse art couple of mid-century Los Angeles, Jan Stussy (1921-1990) and sculptor Maxine Kim Stussy Frankel (b. 1923) became known for their gutsy approaches to figurative art. In 1948, Jan and Max met as teaching assistants at UCLA where Jan went on to become a full professor in 1963, teaching there until the last year of his life. Both exquisite craftspersons, they revealed in their early works a mutual interest in a fantastical approach to the figure, melding animalistic and human traits. Often exhibiting together in the late 1950s, they enjoyed shows at the Esther Robles Gallery and in the 1960s at Ceeje Gallery. Their works were reviewed favorably and associated with those by Los Angeles artists such as Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Rico Lebrun, Howard Warshaw, and Lorser Feitelson.
Max’s early plaster and ceramic sculptures led in the 1970s and 1980s to remarkable amalgam sculptures of wood, cast wood, and metals. A wildly prolific artist, Jan produced large bodies of prints, drawings, and paintings that developed a variety of metaphorical and lyrical ideas about the human form. Begun in 1963, his best known series of paintings, Man in a Box, was widely exhibited and featured in a review in Time magazine. In 1975 he received an Academy Award for his short film, Gravity Is My Enemy, which documented the life and work of Mark Hicks, a quadriplegic student. His works were included in LA RAW, which Michael Duncan curated. Duncan said this of Jan Stussy: “A brilliant draftsman and important educator, Jan Stussy made tough-minded paintings, drawings, and prints that strip human pretenses to their grim essences.”
What: Stussy Collection at Woodbury University
The Jan Stussy Collection consists of approximately 9,000 artworks, 2,500 of which have been archived. As a member of the Art Faculty at UCLA, Stussy felt an obligation to press creative young students, helping them to understand what is most important to them — in their work, their projects, and in their life.
With her husband Ray Frankel, Maxine gifted the collection to the Woodbury School of Architecture in 2007. Since then, Woodbury has taken significant steps to preserve and protect the collection of this important mid-century California painter including appraising, cataloguing, photographing and storing a portion of the artworks.
The current project builds on Woodbury’s commitment to produce exhibitions that rediscover and reposition important voices that have made significant contributions in design in Southern California and that have been lost. These include the 2013 exhibition at WUHO entitled, “Deborah Sussman Loves L.A.,” which led to her work being archived by the Getty and LACMA, and the exhibition of the photographs of Pedro E. Guerrero that helped establish the archive for the PBS documentary, “American Masters: Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey.”
When: Opening reception: Sunday, October 7, from 3 – 5 p.m.
Gallery hours: Weds. 12 – 8 p.m., Thurs. – Sun., 12 – 5 p.m.
Exhibition closes November 12
Woodbury University/Nan Rae Gallery
7500 Glenoaks Blvd.