This fascinating exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art explores Richard Diebenkorn’s (1922-1993) artistic career, highlighting the inspiration he discovered in the work of French modernist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Diebenkorn first saw work by Matisse while an art student at Stanford in 1943, over the years he sought out more opportunities to view originals while living on the East and West Coasts of the US, and during a trip to the Soviet Union in 1964. In addition he collected books on Matisse, a handful of which are included in the exhibit.
Although the two artists never met, Matisse did visit San Francisco in 1930, which I hadn’t known. He stayed at the Sir Francis Hotel, and visited the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), Twin Peaks, Fisherman’s Wharf and Mt. Tam! Matisse’s great-granddaughter and Diebenkorn’s daughter met and viewed the exhibit before it opened on the East Coast,
It was quite striking to see paintings from the two artists side by side and explore the relationships and influence Matisse’s works had. I also enjoyed seeing works from the different stages of Diebenkorn’s career as he moved between abstract and representational, and was inspired by his immediate surroundings or not. Accompanying text noted he actually blacked out the windows of his studio while he was in the Midwest.
In some ways we’re terribly spoiled by the amount of imagery available at the click of a mouse, but there really is no substitute for seeing art in person – to really see the colors and textures, and the size! Particularly the Ocean Park series are quite large canvases, and to be able to take them in from both close up and far away in their entirety is something a book or computer just can’t reproduce. I’ve never worked so large, so I can’t imagine how one reconciles what one can see when at arm’s length actually painting with the overall piece.
Besides the paintings – almost all color – there was a room of drawings – black and white – ink, charcoal – which I always particularly enjoy getting to see an artist’s lines.
I was able to go on a weekday, and was somewhat surprised by the number of people there. Perhaps it’s (yikes!) even busier on weekends. Although a combination of the galleries getting larger as the exhibit continued and the unbunching of the folks that entered around the time I did (or maybe me just getting used to allthepeoples) it seemed less crowded as I went along. The one quibble I’d have with an otherwise excellently done exhibit was the timeline at the entrance with the dates of the two artists. Great information and well presented, but the entranceway was the narrowest spot, and that was probably the densest amount of information, so people jammed up trying to read it, plus it was left to right (which makes sense, it’s how we read) except that the end was where we first entered. So most people realized it was the latest date “first” and went to the other end to start at the beginning, which further jammed up the flow. Anyway, beyond that information was displayed more sensically in terms of amounts and locations. And, as noted, the works by the two artists were shown in relational proximity.
Although most of me would have preferred to have the art to myself, it can be kind of fun overhearing other people’s comments. As soon as they encountered the (some might say backwards) timeline one person said, “I think I might do headphones after all, because I’m confused.” (Which, there’s a whole nother discussion out of that…) Then about halfway through the exhibit I heard someone saying to their companion, “I’m really only interested in the Matisse. And that’s really reinforced when I see the two next to each other.” Huh. OK then. And then, as if reading my mind in front of a Matisse interior, someone else pipe up, “Is that a chair? It looks like a big piece of bread!”
Check it out! Through May 29, 2017.