San Francisco

“American Painting”

One expects the title “American Painting” to be exclusively reserved for particular creative contributions emanating from this continent. This exhibition, organ­ized and shown by this major Bay Area museum would incite howls of derision if shown under its present title in any other metropolitan center. Hung in three rooms, the work is divided into two rooms of predominently derivative figurative work pre-1945 in look, and post-1945–type painting in the third room. Somehow or other an impressive and beautiful Tanguy, an absolutely French painter, creeps in under this title. An exception to the weak deriva­tions shown in the first two rooms is an excellent precisionist work of George Ault entitled The Mill Room. The ma­jority of the paintings are small in size, but become large in size in the third, post-1945 room with works by Clayton Pinkerton, William Wiley, Roland Peter­sen, Bryan Wilson and others. What should be understood quite clearly at this point is that the discoveries of American art since 1945 are now world property and are no longer exclusive to this country. This exhibition could quite easily be the annual outing of the Royal Society of British Artists, in rooms one and two, and the London Group in room three. Any of Alan Davie’s students could have painted the Wiley (admitted­ly a student work) ten years ago, Davie first contacting the new American painting in 1947 and becoming its first European proponent. Only the creative orig­inators can be regarded as American exclusively, not the followers, as they exist in every country. But one gets the impression that any young English painter knows more of and has seen a wider range of the best and most cre­ative American painting from Pollock to Larry Rivers than the Museum staffs of the Bay Area. Which brings up the in­evitable question: when will San Fran­cisco’s three museums integrate their program of contemporary art so that the best of American painting can be seen, instead of trivial exhibitions of this type? The beautiful Motherwell retrospective at the Pasadena Museum was by-passed here as will be the im­portant Newman retrospective next year. And when will those major artists of this area such as Frank Lobdell or Hassel Smith be given now overdue retrospective exhibitions with the cor­rect and scholarly documentation?

John Coplans