May 8 - July 11, 2004
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s was composed of a cadre of extraordinarily gifted and energetic artists engaged in the preeminent artistic movement of the post-war era, Abstract Expressionism. While each of these artists had a distinct vision of Abstract Expressionism, they all shared a commitment to the fundamental tenets of the movement, from the rigorous, calculating formal techniques of abstraction to the depth of intellectual activity and heavy-handed emotionalism of expressionism. Though these tenets extended to East Coast Abstract Expressionism as well, West Coast artists were arguably more introspective than their New York counterparts, and in the San Francisco Bay Area Abstract Expressionism found a unique vocabulary.
This West Coast vocabulary is richly displayed in San Francisco and the Second Wave: The Blair Collection of Bay Area Abstract Expressionism. Although California had been regarded as a mere province on the landscape of American avant-garde art in the first half of the twentieth century, by the mid-sixties that perception began to change as influences from a more international academy were assimilated into visual art almost daily. As authors such as Bruce Nixson have observed, during the post-war era of the 1950s and 1960s, West Coast artists, particularly those in California, helped shape a major trend in Modern art for the first time. In this vein, the Blair Collection affords a rare opportunity to reexamine these California contributions to Abstract Expressionism.
The Blair Collection provides an especially rich view of California Abstract Expressionist painting, spanning three critical decades of the history of California art with works by more than sixty artists. In many cases, the paintings in the Blair Collection have not been displayed for over forty years, and while the Blair Collection includes a few easily recognizable names, many more of the works in the exhibition are by artists who form a lesser known but equally significant, California-based "Second Wave" of Abstract Expressionist painting.
Most of the paintings in San Francisco and the Second Wave: The Blair Collection of Bay Area Abstract Expressionism are by artists who either studied or taught at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, during the post-war period of 1945 to 1965. Established in 1871 as the San Francisco Art Association, the San Francisco Art Institute is one of the nation's oldest and strongest art schools. During the post-war years, under the direction of Douglas MacAgy, the school flourished, offering students, and in particular returning GIs, excellent opportunities through its faculty and visiting artists, including such individuals as Hassel Smith, Edward Corbett, James Budd Dixon, and Sam Tchakalian.
San Francisco and the Second Wave: The Blair Collection of Bay Area Abstract Expressionism reevaluates the careers and work of these and other artists, many of whom are unknown to the public. The purpose of the exhibition is to place certain lesser known artists alongside other artists of now greater repute - such as Diebenkorn, Park, and Wonner - so that viewers can help decide the future of these artists who are being introduced to the viewing public once again. These artists, the so-called "Second Wave," were often teachers and theoreticians, and their impact is more felt than seen on the landscape of art history. To increase their public exposure today is to explore the individual and collective aesthetic sensibilities, as well as the intellectual undercurrents, that gave birth not only to West Coast Abstract Expressionism, but to generations of art and artists in the San Francisco Bay Area.