Carrie Mae Weems
Elise S. Haas
Helen Hilton Raiser
On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the museum presents 'Focus on Artists', an exhibition celebrating the museum's close ties with modern and contemporary masters and the depth in which Sfmoma has collected their work; it looks at 18 artists who defined movements from Abstract Expressionism to Postminimalism and beyond, and whose iconic works. 'The View from Here', is a large-scale survey of California photography from the 1840s to the present that comprises some 275 photographs. 'Ewan Gibbs: San Francisco' premieres 18 of his urban portraits -drawn by hand- that depict views of the city. 'Long Play: Bruce Conner and the Singles Collection' presents newly acquired video installation.
Focus on Artists
On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents Focus on Artists, an exhibition celebrating the museum's close ties with modern and contemporary masters and the depth in which SFMOMA has collected their work. The exhibition reflects SFMOMA's dedication to organizing benchmark presentations and its history of fostering long-term relationships with artists. Focus on Artists is organized by Gary Garrels, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and will be on view from January 16 through May 23, 2010. Throughout the anniversary season, SFMOMA will present a series of exhibitions under the heading 75 Years of Looking Forward illustrating the story of the artists, collectors, cultural mavericks, and San Francisco leaders who founded, built, and have animated the museum.
While SFMOMA's holdings reflect a wide range of art movements, time periods, and geographic regions, the collection is distinguished by its rich concentration of works by a number of significant artists. Filling an entire floor of the museum, Focus on Artists looks at 18 artists who defined movements from Abstract Expressionism to Postminimalism and beyond, and whose iconic works are hallmarks of the SFMOMA collection.
The first section features eight American artists—Richard Diebenkorn, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Clyfford Still—whose practice fundamentally impacted the development of abstract art in the United States. The second section showcases an international selection of artists—Diane Arbus, Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Dan Graham, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo, Kara Walker, Jeff Wall, and Andy Warhol—whose work signaled a shift from the 1960s forward toward more psychological, social, and historical content in art.
Nearly one hundred paintings, sculptures, and photographs dating from 1944 to 2006 trace the evolution of SFMOMA's artist-focused collecting practice, with a single gallery dedicated to each artist's work. In many cases, the selection of works in each gallery spans the featured artist's entire career, and three galleries, those dedicated to Still, Kelly, and Stella, will rotate to chart the fullest range of artistic development and show as much of the collection as possible. In-gallery texts will offer insight into how the museum came to acquire particular objects, why patrons collect and donate to museums, and how relationships between collectors, artists, and museums form over time.
"This exhibition, like the collection it distills, offers a remarkable view of past 60 years of art," says Garrels. "Because of the collection's particular depth in important areas, it's more than just a repository of history. It also connects us to the genesis of an artwork and the spirit that underlies it, allowing us to be closer to the open-ended investigation intrinsic to the creation of great works of art, as well as the artist's process over time. This is the experience of SFMOMA's collection that we hope will further serve the public as both an educational resource and a source of pleasure."
The exhibition opens with a gallery devoted to Clyfford Still, whose generous gift of paintings to the museum reflects the artist's affection for the city of San Francisco and his desire to make SFMOMA a chief representative of his work. The museum's first painting by Still, a gift from Peggy Guggenheim, was acquired in 1947 following the artist's first solo museum exhibition, which was held at SFMOMA in 1943, several years prior to Still's appointment to an influential teaching post at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson gave the museum a second painting by the artist in 1974, a very large work from 1960. In tandem with preparations for a 1976 retrospective at SFMOMA, Still made a gift of 28 paintings to the museum—all selected by the artist himself—ranging from early figurative work completed in 1934 to two monumental abstract canvases from 1974, along with works from the late 1940s and the 1950s. SFMOMA now houses one of the world's great stores of Still's paintings and has dedicated a gallery to continuously showing a changing selection of these works. Focus on Artists will feature two complete rotations of the artist's paintings.
The museum's relationship with painter Philip Guston was another milestone of the 1970s. In a move considered extremely risky at that time, SFMOMA added to its existing Guston holdings (superb abstract drawings and paintings from the 1950s) several examples of the artist's later figurative paintings, including the triptych Red Sea; The Swell; Blue Light (1975), which had been dismissed by many of Guston's early supporters. Undaunted by the critics, SFMOMA director Henry Hopkins sanctioned a full-scale retrospective of Guston's work that opened at SFMOMA in 1980 to widespread acclaim, establishing him as a central figure in 20th-century painting. In 1982 four major works selected by Guston to augment the museum's holdings came to SFMOMA as posthumous gifts. Subsequently, trustees and patrons built upon this legacy by giving the museum other Guston paintings and drawings considered among the best in his oeuvre.
Following a different model, SFMOMA has gradually amassed works by Richard Diebenkorn, who maintained close connections to the Bay Area throughout his life. The museum organized a solo exhibition of Diebenkorn's work in 1954 and the following year acquired its first Diebenkorn painting and works on paper as gifts. In 1958, the museum purchased a major abstract painting from 1955, and in 1964 acquired a key landscape painting and a figurative drawing. In 1972 the museum organized an exhibition of the artist's Ocean Park abstractions and purchased a prime painting from the series, finished that year, to honor retiring director Gerald Nordland. This collecting pattern has continued to the present, with works acquired intermittently by both gift and purchase, so that SFMOMA now hosts one of the outstanding museum collections of Diebenkorn's work.
From its inception in 1987, SFMOMA's New Work exhibition series, which typically presents works by up-and-coming artists, has been critical in establishing the museum's long-range collaborations with living artists. SFMOMA organized Matthew Barney's first solo museum exhibition in 1991. It also became the first museum to collect his work with the purchase of the artist's groundbreaking installation Transexualis (1991). A second installation, CREMASTER 2: The Drones' Exposition (1999), was jointly acquired in 2000 with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and had its West Coast premiere in San Francisco. Building on a 15-year commitment to Barney, SFMOMA mounted the only U.S. presentation of a large-scale survey of the artist's complete DRAWING RESTRAINT series in 2006, for which the artist executed a performance work that involved climbing under the museum's Haas Atrium bridge dressed as General Douglas MacArthur and drawing on the wall of the turret. Besides showing early work by Barney, Focus on Artists will reactivate this site-specific installation—now a symbiotic feature of SFMOMA's interior architecture—by screening the video of the action.
Celebrated contemporary artist Kara Walker also had her first museum exhibition at SFMOMA in 1997 as part of the New Work program. Three years later the museum acquired her room-sized installation No Mere Words Can Adequately Reflect the Remorse This Negress Feels… (1999), a stunning example of her signature cut-paper silhouette tableaux depicting haunting historical narratives set in the American South before the Civil War.
Important sculptures by Colombian-born artist Doris Salcedo, also the focus of a New Work exhibition in 1999, have systematically been brought into the collection over the past ten years, giving the museum one of the best representations of the artist's work. Prime examples from her Unland series (1995–98) and her untitled "cabinet" series (1989 to the present) will be juxtaposed.
Other highlights of Focus on Artists include selections from SFMOMA's considerable body of work by painter Robert Ryman, which were chosen by the artist and Garrels specifically for SFMOMA's galleries and then brought into the collection through gifts of Mimi and Peter Haas. The exhibition will also present key paintings and sculptures spanning Frank Stella's entire career, many of which were acquired by purchase and gift from Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, as well as selections from SFMOMA's sizeable collection of postwar German art, including monumental paintings by Sigmar Polke and masterworks by Gerhard Richter. Stellar groupings by Robert Gober, Diane Arbus, and Jeff Wall—the subjects of retrospectives at SFMOMA in 2000, 2003, and 2007, respectively—will be featured, along with major works by Dan Graham, Brice Marden, and Andy Warhol. Also on view will be SFMOMA's permanently installed lead "splash" piece by Bay Area native Richard Serra, which was executed on site in 1995 as a gift from Jasper Johns in honor of the museum's new building.
Through its emphasis on important retrospectives and innovative conservation efforts, SFMOMA remains true to the institution's founding vision of adventurous artistic programming, with a growing collection that reflects not only the rich traditions of modern and contemporary art but also lifelong commitments to individual artists.
The View from Here
As part of its 75th anniversary celebration from January 16 through June 27, 2010, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present The View from Here, a large-scale survey of California photography from the 1840s to the present. Organized by Erin O'Toole, SFMOMA assistant curator of photography, the exhibition comprises some 275 photographs drawn exclusively from the museum's extensive photography collection and the Sack Photographic Trust. Throughout the anniversary season, SFMOMA will present a series of exhibitions under the heading 75 Years of Looking Forward illustrating the story of the artists, collectors, cultural mavericks, and San Francisco leaders who founded, built, and have animated the museum.
The View from Here explores the vitality and diversity of California's indigenous tradition of photography from SFMOMA's perspective. Founded in 1935, SFMOMA was one of the first museums in the country to treat photography as an art form on a par with painting and sculpture. The exhibition showcases the extraordinary depth of California photography in the museum's collection, which was initiated with the gift of a group of Ansel Adams photographs the year it opened and has expanded in the intervening 75 years to include works by the major figures in the history of the medium.
SFMOMA's long-standing commitment to photography reflects the city of San Francisco's especially deep and symbiotic relationship with the medium. Since its earliest days, the city has been both a favorite subject of photographers as well as an incubator for photographic art. Following the 1849 California Gold Rush, the rapid transformation of the tiny hamlet of Yerba Buena (as San Francisco was formerly known) into a bustling city occurred just as the recently invented photographic medium began to flourish. The city's development in the 1850s and 1860s was extensively documented in photographs that were used as propaganda to lure Easterners to the West. Since that time, photographic representations have shaped public perception of San Francisco, and, indeed, of California as a whole. Photographs have educated the American public about the realities of life in California, as well as propagated myths that have fueled the public imagination.
Beginning in the 1860s, when few Americans considered photographs works of art, San Franciscans framed landscapes of California's scenic wonders by photographers such as Carleton Watkins, displaying them in their homes like paintings or lithographs. At the turn of the century, a thriving community of local photographers embraced the international style of Pictorialism, a soft-focus genre that emulated popular styles of painting, and argued for photography's acceptance as a fine art. In the 1930s local modernists Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston banded together with other like-minded photographers to form Group f.64, which promoted photography as modern art and inspired generations of photographers to live and work in the Bay Area. With the founding of SFMOMA in 1935 and the establishment of photography departments at several area art colleges and universities in subsequent years, San Francisco became the thriving photographic center it remains today.
The View from Here surveys major trends in the history of California photography, looking exclusively at work by photographers who lived and worked in California for a significant period of their lives. Installed chronologically, the exhibition begins with the origins of photography in the 1840s, featuring daguerreotypes made around the time of the Gold Rush, some of the first photographs made on paper in California, and dramatic multipart panoramas of the city by Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins. The exhibition also includes photographs documenting the shocking devastation of San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906, and work by local Pictorialist photographers such as Weston and Tina Modotti. One gallery will be dedicated to the work of members of Group f.64, including Adams, Cunningham, Weston, and their peers. John Gutmann, William Heick, Dorothea Lange, Homer Page, and other modernists who were concerned primarily with chronicling life on the street are grouped together in a gallery, as are photographers such as Wynn Bullock, Edmund Teske, and Minor White, who shared an interest in exploring the metaphysical in their work. The exhibition also includes work by conceptual photographers of the 1970s, such as Robert Cumming and Lew Thomas; photographers whose primary subject has been the changing Western landscape, such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz; as well as work by contemporary artists such as Anthony Hernandez, Larry Sultan, Carrie Mae Weems, Henry Wessel, and many others.
Ewan Gibbs: San Francisco
From January 16 to June 27, 2010, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Ewan Gibbs: San Francisco. Made up of works commissioned for the museum's 75th anniversary, the exhibition premieres 18 of Gibbs's urban portraits—drawn by hand—that depict views of the city familiar to visitors and residents alike. Using his signature visual language of marks derived from knitting patterns, Gibbs produces drawings that challenge the recognizability of their subject matter by reducing the image to something more pixilated, abstract, and nearly absent. Throughout the anniversary season, SFMOMA will present a series of exhibitions, including a number of special commissions and acquisitions, under the heading 75 Years of Looking Forward illustrating the story of the artists, collectors, cultural mavericks, and San Francisco leaders who founded, built, and have animated the museum.
Ewan Gibbs: San Francisco is the artist's first solo museum exhibition. The work has been commissioned by SFMOMA and curated by Henry Urbach, SFMOMA Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design. The drawings are based on snapshots the artist took while visiting San Francisco last year and feature well-known landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower seen within their urban context.
Urbach states, "Gibbs's delicate and dense drawings present iconic, postcardlike images of cityscapes we all know. But rendered through his singular technique of using marks that are almost not there, they hover between photography and drawing, between the documented and the half remembered. His work brings us towards the artist's own absorption in translating an image into something ineffable."
Approximately 11 by 8 inches each, the pencil drawings are entirely composed of knitting pattern symbols—miniscule slashes or circles—on paper marked with a faint grid. Working from a photograph, Gibbs translates the image into delicate, discrete pencil strokes. The result is an image that is almost recognizable from a distance, yet significantly more abstract—almost invisible—at close range. Gibbs's way of working appears, on the surface, to be a kind of neo-pointillism or Impressionism, while, in fact, his interests and the work's visual effects owe more to the legacy of Minimalism and Conceptualism.
"When I first came across the knitting charts at a London flea market," Gibbs explains, referring to his discovery more than 15 years ago, "they made perfect sense to me as a functional language and a practical means of depicting an image. Each code represents a different color or type of stitch. I also love the fact that the patterns are based on a grid, which has served artists for hundreds of years as a way of breaking down an image. By using the grid I discovered I could work my way along, row by row, in much the same way a computer printer works. This, in turn, solved one of the biggest anxieties that I and perhaps most artists have: knowing when a work is finished."
Gibbs, who was the featured artist in the 2009 Armory Show in New York, initially became known for his drawings of hotel room interiors, which were inspired by pictures found in travel brochures. Since then he has completed numerous series of drawings based on hotel facades, baseball, urban street scenes, and major landmarks in New York, London, and Paris.
Born in 1973, Gibbs graduated from Goldsmiths College of Art in 1996 and currently lives and works outside of London. He has exhibited internationally, with recent solo exhibitions at Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago (2010); Baldwin Gallery, Aspen (2009); Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2008); Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin (2008); and Paul Morris Gallery, New York (2007). Group exhibitions include: The Armory Show (2009); Attention to Detail (curated by Chuck Close), The FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2008); Agnes Martin, Vija Celmins, and Ewan Gibbs, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2006); Originality and Repetition: The Grid in Contemporary Works on Paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2005); and Surfacing: Contemporary Drawing, ICA, London (1998). His work is in the collections of major institutions including SFMOMA; MoMA, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Long Play: Bruce Conner and the Singles Collection
From January 16 to May 23, 2010, in conjunction with the museum's 75th anniversary, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the exhibition Long Play: Bruce Conner and the Singles Collection, premiering the newly acquired video installation THREE SCREEN RAY (2006) by the late San Francisco–based artist and filmmaker. A master of a diversity of media and techniques from assemblage to photograms, Conner's experimental, non-narrative film shorts established him as a leading figure in avant-garde film. SFMOMA's collection contains Conner's highly significant work spanning five decades of art making (which will also be highlighted in the concurrent exhibition The Anniversary Show). Throughout the anniversary season, SFMOMA will present a series of exhibitions, including a number of special commissions and acquisitions, under the heading 75 Years of Looking Forward illustrating the story of the artists, collectors, cultural mavericks, and San Francisco leaders who founded, built, and have animated the museum.
Organized by SFMOMA Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling, the exhibition highlights the practice of appropriating sound and images in film and video. Says Frieling, "Bruce Conner's impact on the way artists are sampling and reworking images electronically and digitally is immense. Long Play recognizes his lasting influence and presents a series of 'singles' from the collection that are related to the genre of music video, which owes its energy to avant-garde artists like Conner."
THREE SCREEN RAY, presented as a premiere in its final museum format, is an extended version of Conner's second film, COSMIC RAY (1961, black-and-white, 16mm) and EVE-RAY-FOREVER (1965, 8mm), re-edited into three video projections. Like the original single-screen version, THREE SCREEN RAY features a sexually charged, live performance of Ray Charles's 1959 hit song "What'd I Say" set to an ecstatic, fast-paced collage of preexisting and original imagery, including newsreel footage of bomb explosions, cartoons, television commercials, fireworks, flashing lights, and his signature use of countdown leader. A tour de force of editing and film techniques, the film itself is manipulated by Conner with hole punches and ink stains. The central image is of COSMIC RAY, featuring Conner's multiple exposures of a woman (Kansas-born artist Beth Pewther) dancing in various states of undress. The painter Joan Brown makes a cameo toward the end in a sequence of stop-motion shots of her donning different hats and accessories: "I felt that I was in a way presenting the eyes for Ray Charles, who is a blind musician. I was supplying his vision," Conner states.
In 1965, for a solo exhibition at The Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, Conner exhibited his earliest attempt at an expanded cinema version of COSMIC RAY under the title of EVE-RAY-FOREVER, a film installation of three unsynchronized silent 8mm film loops. In light of the fact that the original exhibition prints were too fragile to be shown and negatives were lost, Conner, in collaboration with his longtime editor Michelle Silva, embarked in 2005 on a restoration project, digitally remixing footage from the 1965 version with other existing copies of 16mm prints and transferring the onto digital video, using synchronous multi-channel editing to arrive at THREE SCREEN RAY, a three-channel video installation with sound to be exhibited in the gallery context.
Acknowledged as the first filmmaker to use pop music for a film soundtrack, prefiguring the music video genre, Conner collaborated with various musicians and composers including David Byrne, Devo, Brian Eno, and Terry Riley. The central dancing figure in THREE SCREEN RAY is echoed by the liberated female subject in BREAKAWAY (1966). Set to the eponymous pop single of Antonia Christina Basilotta (Toni Basil), the five-minute film (included in a video program in the adjacent gallery) features the singer dancing wildly and posing in various outfits, her silhouette starkly contrasted against the black background. Conner's rapid-fire editing and experimentation with film speed and reversals create an almost spectral image.
Conner's films have been a vital thread throughout the history of SFMOMA's film program. The museum's Art in Cinema program (founded in 1946) was dedicated to the modern movement of avant-garde cinema and significantly contributed to the formation of its canon and aesthetics. Conner belonged to a group of Bay Area experimental filmmakers who, through their individual practices and their roles as founding members of SF Cinematheque and the filmmakers' cooperative Canyon Cinema in the 1960s, established the region's ongoing reputation as an epicenter of avant-garde film. Conner's experimental shorts have been included in various film programs at SFMOMA, from a monographic screening in 1969 to the more recent The Seventh Art: The Films of Bruce Conner (2004), Conner Obscura (2005), and Crossroads: The Films of Bruce Conner (2008).
Since it was founded in 1987, SFMOMA's Department of Media Arts has acquired a number of single-channel videos that are classic examples of media critique and draw from various source materials, including mainstream cinema and popular television. The exhibition will be accompanied by a rotating selection of works from the collection by artists Cory Arcangel, Michael Bell-Smith, Dara Birnbaum, Klaus vom Bruch, Tony Cokes, Christian Marclay, Pipilotti Rist, and Steina that investigate the relationship between sound and image and reflect on the scope of historic and contemporary approaches in video art. A "bonus tracks" compilation program of videos by Bay Area–based artists will also be featured.
Image: Bruce Conner, BREAKAWAY (film still), 1966; 16mm film, black-and-white, sound, 5 min.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust; image: courtesy Conner Family Trust
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