Thursday, March 30, 2017

Art exhibitions seen recently

Eastside Road, March 30, 2017—
VERY QUICKLY because there's much to do before the weekend, an account of some recent museum exhibitions seen:

Eye of the Beholder –
The Sculpture and Early Prints of Nathan Oliveira

to April 2, 2017
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
551 Broadway Sonoma, CA 95476 707.939.7862

THIS IS A FINE tribute to a Bay Area painter, printmaker and sculptor who had a considerable influence on generations of artists, partly for his work on the faculty at Stanford University, partly for the many gallery exhibitions he had during his long career. With a few exceptions his work was remarkably consistent, centered on the human form, growing both more evanescent and more lyrical as Oliveira himself aged. The prints on view are mostly early ones, from the 1940s into the 1960s; the bronzes are later, in some cases much later.

It's easy to see the influences on the early prints: above all Northern European expressionism: it's also to see the community his work has with contemporaries like Manuel Neri and the early Joan Brown. Most remarkable, I think, is the tranquil, egoless quality of the work. Sculptures which might suggest vulnerability, even victimhood, seem to me rather to be transcendent, liberated. The installation is thoughtful and spacious: I'm sorry to be recommending the show so late in its run.

Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time
to May 7, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
IMG 4512

AN INTRIGUING IDEA on paper, with less focus in the installation, pairs two artists of unequal vision (I think) to explore how they responded, in their work, to the work of their antiquity — Picasso to Greco-Roman classicism and Iberian primitivism; Rivera to the art of pre-Columbian Mexico. One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the display of ancient objects from Picasso's and Diego Rivera's own collections.

The curatorial parallels wrestle with inequality — Picasso's Minotauromachia eclipses, I think, Rivera's cartoonish (yet powerful) adaptations of the Popul Veh. (One wants hours to inspect these two works, generously exhibited here.) And the interesting short film about Picasso's Guernica and Rivera's mural for the San Francisco City College auditorium (I think) reinforces the point: even when addressing an immediately contemporary event, the bombing of Guernica, Picasso's work seems to have an eternal significance, is not compromised by the representation of passing fashions in clothing and hair styling.

But the work is absorbing, all of it, and the installation is particularly spacious and handsome. What a pleasure to be able to move among these marvelous pieces at leisure, to contemplate their conversation at length!

Women of Abstract Expressionism
to May 28, 2017
Palm Springs Art Museum
IMG 4425

ANOTHER CURATORIAL IDEA that might seem reckless in today's politically overly conscious context, tucked away alas in a museum which however rewarding its architecture (and its permanent collection) is not exactly on the beaten track, this exhibition, organized by the Denver Art Museum, offers first-rate canvases by twelve painters from the San Francisco Bay Area and New York: Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Deborah Remington, and Ethel Schwabacher.

I, too, was unfamiliar with half these artists — and to tell the truth some of them, I think, at least as represented in this show, did not produce work of lasting interest. The familiar names, though, responded to the uncertainties of their time with power and energy, proving that the making of art need not be a gendered business.

The show includes well-written wall placards and useful videos in which the painters themselves speak to the issue of gender. One fascinating point: those active in the Bay Area — de Feo and Remington among them — state they had always felt completely accepted by the men of their community; the New Yorkers spoke of quite a different state of affairs.

This is a really important exhibition and it's a pity it doesn't travel further. It should certainly have been picked up by institutions in New York and the Bay Area; their failure to join the sponsorship is inexplicable. But Palm Springs has other attractions this time of year and isn't really that far from Los Angeles.

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