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PRINT March 1999

SUNNY SIDE UP: SAM FRANCIS

Simultaneous home-turf retrospectives for California native Sam Francis and west cast adoptee Bas Jan Ader provide the occasion for a pair of Artforum contributing editors to reassess the respective legacies of two central protagonists in the prehistory of LA’s current artistic flowering.

As “SAM FRANCIS: Paintings 1947–1990” goes on view at LA MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary, PETER PLAGENS asks how Abstract Expressionism’s sunny sybarite will hold up in the long view.

Alot of people still wonder whether or not Sam Francis was a bona fide Abstract Expressionist. Of course he was. His paintings are abstract, aren’t they? And they’re “expressionist”—at least in the evident sense that he applied paint in a loose, vigorous manner and left a lot of the details to chance. But if expressionism also implies some special access to raw emotion, particularly of the angsty, heart-of-darkness variety, then Francis’s sea-and-spray lyricism strains the notion pretty much to the breaking point (though the brooding side of the story ain’t exactly a tight fit when it comes to a lot of the core Tenth Streeters either). And then there’s the related question of locale. Did living in New York confer

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