Claire Falkenstein, innovative and prolific Modernist sculptor and painter known for her heroic and often controversial metal and glass public art, has died. She was 89.
Falkenstein died Thursday of stomach cancer at her combination home and studio in Venice.
The versatile sculptor added a light-filled studio for painting to her home in 1990 and had devoted the last seven years of her life to the easel. An indefatigable artist, she created more than 4,000 sculptures, paintings and drawings.
Many of her recent paintings are on view in a 70-year retrospective at the Fresno Art Museum titled "Claire Falkenstein, Looking Within: A Point of Departure."
"Most clearly she is an artist for our time, who has shaped her own course based on the recent scientific concepts regarding space, time, light and motion," exhibit curator Jacquelin Pilar wrote for the program of the Fresno retrospective. "[She] has incorporated the new industrial materials and technologies as a part of her oeuvre and continues to devise and evolve new ways in which to work."
Internationally, one of Falkenstein's best-known works is the Guggenheim Gates at the home-cum-museum of her longtime friend Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, Italy.
In the 1950s, art patron Guggenheim jokingly reminded Falkenstein: "Now go home and do your knitting."
Taught by private artists here and throughout Europe, Falkenstein had many ideas to knit. Typical was her "Sculptured Water," a fountain of copper tubing interspersed with Venetian glass created in 1965 for the 28-story California Federal Savings & Loan Assn. building at Wilshire Boulevard and Hauser Avenue.
When Falkenstein's concept of integrating water as sculpture, which she originated in 1954, materialized on Wilshire, critics on both sides weighed in strongly. The then-vice president of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission branded it "incongruous, indeed inappropriate" and even said the sculpture smacked of "ugliness." Saturday Review critic Katharine Kuh countered by praising the sculpture for its "daring scale and imaginative vigor."
Also on Wilshire Boulevard, Falkenstein was known for the stained-glass windows she created along with doors and gates for St. Basil's Catholic Church. Many consider the church pieces completed in 1969 her masterwork.
Many of her artworks occupy large spaces on college campuses. She described her sculpture on the physical education building at Cal State Fullerton, which attracted more controversy, as "metallic joy--an activity of forces."
Using logs, rather than her usual metal, Falkenstein in 1984 built "Forum," an outdoor meeting place at Cal State Dominguez Hills as a tribute to architect A. Quincy Jones.
Other pieces adorn campuses or buildings at UCLA, USC and Cal State Long Beach.
Major works also accent the public Fulton Mall in Fresno and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Falkenstein also created "Interchange (Traffic)" for the Department of Motor Vehicles in downtown Los Angeles.
In recognition of her importance to art in California and elsewhere, Falkenstein was named a Times Woman of the Year for Art in 1969 and was interviewed for UCLA's oral history project "Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait" in 1982.
Falkenstein, who grew up in Coos Bay, Ore., and studied at UC Berkeley and in Paris, had said that she settled in Los Angeles because it is "sort of a frontier town and there's a sense of liberty here to do things."