March 1, 2015

MODERN ART & DESIGN AUCTION

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Lot 13: Peter Alexander

Lot 13: Peter Alexander

Wedge with Puff

1968
Polyester resin
11.5" x 15.25" x 11.5"
Together with copy of receipt from the artist
Provenance: Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, 1968)
Literature: Plagens, Peter. "The Sculpture of Peter Alexander." Artforum Oct. 1970: 48-51 for similar example from the same period illustrated.
Estimate: $7,000 - $9,000
Price Realized: $68,750
Inventory Id: 17912

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The atmospheric phenomena and contemporary art scene of Los Angeles have always been source and inspiration for Light and Space artist Peter Alexander. A surfer since the age of 13, the artist summed up his love of Los Angeles this way: "It had to do with the ocean. It had to do with climate. It had to do with the drive-ins. It had to do with all the aspects of what constitute this a place. Even though I loved being in London and Philadelphia… it never occurred to me to live in any of those places [… ]. It's still the same. I don't want to live anyplace else." Initially pursuing a degree in architecture, Alexander realized that "architecture wasn't for me" while working under preeminent modernist architects Richard Neutra and William Pereira. He went on to enroll in the art department at UCLA, where he would graduate with his BA and MFA in 1966.

Several moments in his life coalesced to result in his signature plastic resin sculptures. While preparing his surfboard, he observed clear resin in a cup, and it sparked the idea to explore plastics not for its intended industrial, utilitarian use, but as an art medium. He was also conscious of experiments in plastics by Ferus Gallery artists such as Robert Irwin, and counted contemporary Larry Bell and his inimitable glass cubes among his greatest influences: "I recall what I loved most about it was that somebody would do something. You [Robert Irwin] would do something or Craig Kauffman would do something or Larry [Bell], and I would see it and go 'wow that's amazing … I bet I can do better.' "

The lots on offer—both acquired directly from the artist at the same time—are among some of Alexander's earliest cast polyester resin pieces. Alexander relates the geometric qualities of these sculptures and the careful planning they require to his education in architecture. A mold is designed and created, then "the awful sticky, syrupy [resin]… so agonizing to get that stuff on you," is poured. He discontinued the use of resin for a period of time due to negative health effects from the toxicity of the materials, and it was not until Alexander encountered the less toxic urethane that he continued his work in this vein. Alexander recounts: "I mean, when I started working in resin, it was plastic. Art was not made out of plastic in those days. Art was made out of all the things that history has said art is made of. So one of the reasons why I liked plastic was that it was sort of anti-art, so to speak." The gradient color in Wedge with Puff (1968) reflects and refracts to delightful effect, creating different qualities of light in one object. A bright, clear luster shines through the margins, while a more muted glow emanates from within the puff and its borders. Using a completely novel medium, Alexander continues the exploration of light in the tradition of Johannes Vermeer, considered "the master of light" in the art historical cannon.

Green Sphere (Box) (1967) references Bell's cubes, though Alexander adds a pale green floating orb within his angular sculpture. Both of these pieces capture the effects of sunlight and water that Alexander observed while surfing. Alexander asked himself, "How can I put 'air' into an art form? How can I replicate a natural occurring thing by using industrial materials?" Alexander's answer goes beyond just the visual: "… these are not literal translations, they are sensual translations."

Alexander continues to live and work in Los Angeles. In 2014, he was awarded the California Art Award by the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, California. The J. Paul Getty Museum featured his work prominently in their landmark initiative of 2011, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980. Public holdings of his resin works include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Alexander, Peter, Dave Hickey, and Naomi Vine. Peter Alexander: In this Light. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999. Print. Getty Conservation Institute. "Peter Alexander: The Color of Light." Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 8 Jan. 2015. "Robert Irwin and Peter Alexander, 04/19/13 Perception of Desire Dialog + Q&A." Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 4 June 2013, Web. 8 Jan. 2015. "Oral history interview with Peter Alexander, 13 Dec. 1995–8 May 1996." Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 16 Sept. 2003. Web. 8 Jan. 2015.

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