Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997) sculptor, painter, printmaker, jewelry designer, teacher

Born and raised in a small town on Coos Bay, Oregon, Claire Falkenstein was inspired by natural forms on the beach such as shells, rocks, seaweed, and driftwood. She graduated from Berkeley with a major in art in 1930, and had her first one-woman show at the East-West Gallery in San Francisco the same year. In 1933, Falkenstein received a grant to study at Mills College in Oakland with abstract sculptor Alexander Archipenko, and worked also with Bauhaus émigrés László Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes.

When she moved to San Francisco in 1940, Falkenstein was working predominantly in wood and ceramics. She continued experimenting with techniques and materials, creating abstract forms reflecting the influence of twentieth-century scientific and philosophical concepts. She produced a series of wood pieces called "exploded volumes," comprising interlocking parts that could be moved and recombined by the viewer. She also created ceramic sculptures of interwoven Mobius strips. Today these are considered some of the earliest nonobjective sculptural works by an American artist. Falkenstein developed distinctive ideas about matter and space, naming her artistic mode "topology," and referring to her work as structure, rather than sculpture or painting per se.

In 1944 Falkenstein had her first New York show, a solo exhibition at Bonestall Gallery. In the late 1940s, she began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. There she became colleagues with abstract expressionist painter Clyfford Still, who influenced her own approach to sculpture. A freer, open-form expressiveness was evident in her 1948 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

In 1950 Falkenstein moved to Paris, where she became friends with artists such as Jean Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Sam Francis and Paul Jenkins. She created some of her most important works in Europe, such as the Sun Series, welded wire sculptures that expressed her ideas about negative space. Falkenstein was the only non-German artist included in the 1952 Werkbund exhibition. In 1958 she had a show at Galleria Spazio in Rome, for which she designed a welded stair railing in copper tubing and colored glass, using a unique technique of her own invention.

Falkenstein worked in the gamut of materials - wood, stone, plastic, steel, aluminum, glass - designing furniture, architectural elements, fountains, screens, wallpaper, and jewelry. She favored open structures that built into successively larger forms, with pronounced openings between them, a concept she called “expanding space.” One critic described Falkenstein's work in the 1950s as "a Jackson Pollock in three dimensions." Her 1954 piece Sun #5 (1954) beautifully exemplifies the style for which she would became world-renowned.

In 1960 Falkenstein returned to the U.S., settling in Venice, California. Now represented by Galerie Stadler in Paris, and the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, she executed a number of commissions, including the intricate bronze, steel and glass doors of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy, completed in 1962 and called “The New Gates of Paradise." Her first public commission in Los Angeles (1963-1965) was a welded copper tube and glass " fountain for the California Federal Savings Bank. Her most monumental commission in the U. S. was for the doors, gates, grills and stainedglass windows of St. Basil's Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, completed in 1969. In these works, Falkenstein developed her concept of the “never ending screen,” in which a single module is repeated in all directions as if continuing infinitely. This becomes a recurring theme in her work across different mediums.

Falkenstein went on to complete numerous other commissions in Southern California, including for various campuses of the University of California. Her 1972 fountain, Structure and Flow, at The Long Beach Museum of Art museum in 1972, is considered to be among her finest works. In 1978, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Arts. From about 1990 until her death in 1997, her work was concentrated on painting rather than sculpture. Falkenstein produced over 4,000 sculptures, paintings, and drawings over the course of her career. She is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museums in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.

Selected Exhibitions
San Fransisco Museum af Art, 1940
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1948
Werkbund, Berlin, Germany, 1952
Institue of Contemporary Art, London, 1953
Galeria Spazio, Rome, Italy, 1954
Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 1954
Galerie Stadler, Paris, France, 1957
Sals Gaspar, Barcelona, Spain, 1957
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1958
Osaka International, Osaka, Japan, 1958
Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, Germany, 1960
Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, 1960
Art Biennale, Paris, 1960
Musee Rodin, Parism, France, 1961
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Palais de Louvre, Paris, France, 1962
Martha Jackson Gallery, NYC, 1963
San Fransisco Museum of Art, 1963
Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, 1964
Phoenix Museum of Art, Phoenix, 1967
Long Beach Museum, Long Beach, CA, 1968
Fresno Art Center, Fresno, CA, 1969
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, 1970
Drawing and Performance, E.A.T SHOW, U.S.C., Fisher Gallery, 1970
Art and Technology, Brooklyn Museum, 1970
Selected Exhibitions continued
Phoenix Art Museum, 1975
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1977
Guggenheim Museum, NYC, 1978
Tate Gallery, 1978
Seattle Art Museum, 1979
Palm Springs Museum, Palm Springs, CA, 1980
Tortue Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 1981
Iniversity of California, Riverside, CA, 1984
Jack Ruthberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA, 1984
National Musuem of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, 1985
Galerie Stadler, Paris, France, 1985
Peggy Guggenheim's Other Legacy, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1987
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN, 1989
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1992
Corcoran Gallery, 1994
46th International Venice Biennale, 1995
The Transatlantic War of Images…1946-1956, Barcelona Museum of Contemporary
Art, 2007 Modernism and the Wichner Collection, Long Beach Museum of Art, 2008
Claire Falkenstein: An Expansive Universe, Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, 2012

Selected Publications
Claire Falkenstein, by Michel Tapie, De Luca Publishers, Rome, 1958
Claire Falkenstein: Chance and Choice, by Jack V. Rutberg, Maren Henderson; Jack
Rutberg Fine Arts Inc., 1989
Claire Falkenstein: Structure and Flow, Works from 1950-1980, by Maren Henderson,
Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2006
Claire Falkenstein, by Susan M. Anderson, Michael Duncan, Maren Henderson; Ram
Publications, 2012