Tuesday, September 23, 2014

California Culture 1: Fertile Ground at the Oakland Museum

SFMOMA On-The-Go has loaned out more of their collection and joined with the Oakland Museum for a small exhibit called Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California. The show starts with "the circle of artists who worked with, influenced, and were influenced by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in San Francisco in the 1930s," which seems rather limiting in scope. It's also stretching the definition of "California Art" because Diego and Frida were Mexico City artists who would occasionally travel to destinations in the U.S. for Rivera's mural commissions. It's rather like asserting that writer Robert Louis Stevenson was a California writer because he spent some time in Monterey in the 19th century.

A better description would be a look at the Coit Tower muralists and their friends. (The painting above is Dorothy Winslade's 1934 Storm Over Coit Tower.)

Most of them were wild leftists and perfect bohemians.

The photograph above is Peter Stackpole capturing his painter father in Ralph Stackpole Sketching Nude.

The second of the four artistic group flowerings under consideration is the California School of Fine Arts. The school changed its name in 1961 to the San Francisco Art Institute, and that art school still looms over Russian Hill on Chestnut Street, home to many brilliant, neurotic rich kids and my favorite Diego Rivera mural in the world.

The period being addressed in the exhibit is the 1940s and 1950s where the roster of talented professors included Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Clyfford Still, whose the 1945 Untitled (formerly Self Portrait) hangs in the show...

...along with the 1953 James Weeks untitled painting above of a jazz club.

Marching along with the decades, the next section is devoted to the 1960s and 1970s at UC Davis art department where two of the star faculty members were Wayne Thiebaud (his 1961 Delicatessen Counter is above)...

...and the ceramicist Robert Arneson who has a number of pieces in the exhibit, including the 1989 Wolf Head sculpture of Jackson Pollock.

The final segment depicts something called The Mission School from the 1990s, which was basically a bunch of students from the San Francisco Art Institute who were doing art in the streets, and the work is hard to take seriously...

...including the constantly evolving, metatastic installation above by Barry McGee.


Nancy Ewart said...

I have never understood the hype around the "Mission School" and the cult of Barry McGee.

I loved the hot magenta walls for Diego R's paintings. That works so much better than the generic museum white walls.

I saw you there but you were deep in conversation so didn't want to interrupt. Nice photos!

Civic Center said...

Dear Nancy: Thanks. I don't get the "Mission School" either, other than that they seem to be well-connected.

janinsanfran said...

When we get back to our home part of the world, I'm going to try hard to get to this one.