March 5, 2017


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Lot 357: Vasa Mihich

Lot 357: Vasa Mihich


Laminated cast acrylic
Signed, dated, and inscribed "#1405 Vasa 79"
99.625" x 10.25" x 9"; Overall (including base): 105" x 20" x 19.75"
Provenance: Private Collection, Beverly Hills, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $5,000 - $7,000
Price Realized: $11,250
Inventory Id: 24340

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The work of Vasa Mihich is among the most vibrant and exquisitely crafted to emerge in the post–war art scene of Southern California. Born in Yugoslavia in 1933, the artist relocated to the United States in 1960, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Initially influenced by California Hard–Edge painters like John McLaughlin, Vasa became interested in the concept of producing pure planes of color in space. Thus began his life–long experimentations with acrylic sculpture, for which he is best known. He was included in the momentous exhibition “American Sculpture of the Sixties” at LACMA in 1967 and was senior Professor of Design at UCLA for many years.

In these works, Vasa cut and laminated industrial pre–made plastic together to create geometric forms. This strand of his practice first emerged in 1967, during the heyday of the Light and Space movement in California, when artists like Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, and Peter Alexander were also exploring the formal and perceptual properties of plastics. Often characterized as ‘finish fetish,’ Vasa’s sculptures kaleidoscopically refract and reflect light, producing dramatic effects.

Vasa recently spoke with Los Angeles Modern Auctions to discuss his work:

LAMA: You were a senior Professor of Design at UCLA for many years—how did you end up in Los Angeles and how important has the city been to your career?

VM: I came to the United States because I was inspired by the works of the Abstract Expressionists, which I saw in Paris in 1956. I stayed in New York for three or four months, then I went to Los Angeles to visit my parents. I had planned to move to San Francisco but I found L.A. more comfortable, with better weather. It turned out to be very good to end up here.

I love L.A. I talked about this with Reyner Banham in 1972 for “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles,” his documentary about the city. I said to him, “It’s the light, the people and the space. Here, I feel like a fish in water. In this town, you feel free.”

I brought my paintings from my last show in Serbia in 1959 and showed them to the Silvan Simone Gallery on Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Mr. Simone was very excited but didn’t sell any of these works. I decided then to change my approach and make some new paintings and spent a year on a body of work that I then proudly showed to the gallery. My new paintings had become more geometric, but Mr. Simone was into figurative art, so he looked at the work and said, “I don’t need another Mondrian.” My work, in fact, looked nothing like Mondrian. When I left the gallery—and was happy to do so — I decided that I had to learn more about what was happening in art in the United States. I had an academic education, but I didn’t know much about modern art, so I had to start again. I decided not to do any commercial art, so I was doing house–painting during the day, then studying and making art on my own at night. I never stopped making art and being an artist. It took five years until I was ready to exhibit.

When I came to Los Angeles in 1960, I realized that Abstract Expressionism was finished and that artists were reacting to this by taking new directions with their work. Looking back, I feel very fortunate that I was part of that period, perhaps my favorite time as an artist.

LAMA: Who are your formative artistic influences?

VM: It was between 1961–1965 that I was the most influenced by other contemporary artists, especially the California Hard–Edge painters. John McLaughlin deeply impressed me. In 1965 I took a different approach, applying the abstract concepts from my paintings to three–dimensional geometric objects. This created the basis for a new direction in my art.

LAMA: Where do you see yourself in the art historical canon—do you fit with the Light and Space or “finish fetish” movement?

VM: My first Los Angeles show could be classified as Finish Fetish, so I’m fine with that label! Finish fetish was what was unique for Los Angeles at that time in the early 1960s.

LAMA: Many artists from that generation poured resins into molds, whereas you use pre–formed industrial acrylics that you cut and laminate together. Could you tell us more about the process by which you make your work?

VM: I have worked in plastic since 1967. Lots of important artists worked with plastic, but people sometimes try to put us into the same category because we use similar material. We did exhibit together in “The Last Plastics Show” at CalArts in 1972, but my approach was different.

I had the idea to support the colors in space by laminating transparent colors in between clear plastic. Those artists who worked with polyester resin use molds, with a monolith of a single color which changes shade due to the changing thickness of the material. However, because of lamination, I ended up making sculptures that were closer to paintings, what I call, “painting with plastic.”

When I started to work with plastic, I met Frederick R. Weisman and his wife Marcia who were major collectors and good friends, too. They liked what I was doing and provided me with financial support to develop my work. This enabled me to buy some machines which I needed in my studio, so I had the opportunity to make some large sculptures. In 1970, I met the architect Craig Ellwood, who was designing a Palm Springs home for Max Palevsky and they commissioned me to make the biggest sculpture I have made to date. I made many sculptures for Fred and Marcia and in 1983 Fred asked me to make a large fountain for his garden, which you can see at the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation in Beverly Hills. There are several of my pieces there.

LAMA: There are some spheres in this sale, but a more common motif across your work is the rectilinear shape. What does this mean to you?

VM: I use universal geometric shapes as containers for transparency and refraction. It’s about optical effects, light and color — not geometry. I do use geometric shapes, but they are not the subject. I’ve also made spheres ad triangles and cylinders. The sphere is a different type of container because it creates a curvilinear reflection, in contrast to the reflections in a rectangular shape.

LAMA: You are best known for your acrylic sculptures, which refract and reflect light. Are you interested in exploring visual perception in these works?

VM: The principle behind the constructions was to liberate the individual sections of color from the common flat surface of the painting and lift them into space, exposing them to the light in different angles. I don’t think too much about how people are going to see them, I make them because I am curious about these concepts, to see how they work. Ultimately, the works are interactive. You have to walk all around them in order to fully see them. When you move around, one’s perception of the sculpture changes.