Sculpture Gardens at Oakland Museum of California
This blog travels! We go west for Thanksgiving, and before we sit down to dinner together, let us look around the art scene in Oakland ( California, that is ). The New York Times said recently that “Oakland is the new Brooklyn” – and having lived for a while in Brooklyn, I just had to go and see for myself..
William Harsh, oil on canvas
at Vessel Gallery, 471 25th Street, Oakland, CA
We stopped to take in the gallery scene not far off from Telegraph Avenue with a tour of a 5000 sq. ft. gallery space called Vessel which featured a large selection of paintings and prints from the late William Harsh who passed away in 2012 at age 59. Harsh had been a student of the painters James Weeks, and Philip Guston.
When I was a student I heard Guston speak at the New York Studio School, and I was also familiar with James Weeks having studied with him at Tanglewood, so I was eager to find out more about William Harsh, and I could see right off that his art owes a strong debt to Guston and to a lesser extent to James Weeks. Harsh is at the cusp of expressionism and representation, and the stacked nature of this deck of cards sometimes tumbles into a caricature of Philip Guston without presenting something more original.
Viola Frey ( 1933-2004 ) at Oakland Museum of California
It was a beautiful day in downtown Oakland, so we moved on to the Oakland Museum of California perched near Lake Merritt at 1000 Oak Street. This modern building is really a series of museums that incorporate a terraced sculpture garden with many levels and many views and some engaging modernist sculpture. Greeting us at the door was this larger-than-life glazed ceramic woman from the artist Viola Frey whose work I used to see frequently at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City.
Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California
Once inside the museum, the show that attracted my attention was all about the visual arts and a strong relationship to communities that grew up around the artists living and working in the Bay Area. This is a bit of a history show, and you are greeted at the beginning with well-known works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Diego Rivera ( small scale rendition of “The Allegory of California” )
Most impressive, on our tour of the show is Diego Rivera’s mural “The Allegory of California” which was created for a stairwell in the Pacific Stock Exchange building. Here is the story of an activist painter with ties to leftist politics being commissioned to paint at the seat of capitalism – and boy – did that rub some people in the wrong way!
Rivera on the ceiling ( The Allegory of California )
The photographic scene in San Francisco is also honored with a few images ( too few from my perspective ) and that section of the show deserved a better treatment – because the photographers that are included continue to be a major force in the art form ( Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham among others ).
“Today, painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within.”
There was a period of time after WWll that artists who are now of international stature were in the higher educational field in the Bay Area , such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko. They were in the process of making a name for themselves and had a strong effect on the path that painting was to take. Two others Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock met at school in California before migrating to New York City to find fame and fortune.
I was influenced by the painters who came to my attention from the 1960’s onward, and that included Richard Diebenkorn who regularly exhibited at the Poindexter Gallery near 57th street in Manhattan, and Wayne Thiebaud, who is still alive and working today ( talk about longevity! ).
Wayne Thiebaud in “Fertile Ground”
The show concludes with a group of current artists who grew up in part with graffiti, skateboards, and found object/installation art. Some of these folks were in the movie “Beautiful Losers” that came out a few years ago. Prominent in this show is the art of Barry McGee who has a kind of funhouse installation of hundreds of small framed patterns and figuration that is in total truly memorable and mind bending.