San Francisco

Winter Invitational

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

For the past four winters the Assistant Director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Mr. Howard Ross Smith, has been instrumental in organizing and choosing the paintings which are to be shown in this annual non-juried event. The Legion in 1951, under the directorship of Mr. Thomas C. Howe, had its last invitational exhibition called, “The Fifth Annual.” The policy of having these large un-juried exhibits was resumed in 1959 and has continued yearly to date.

The official intention of these large (130 paintings in the current show), exhibits is to give a fair sampling or cross section of what is being painted in the northern California area. Admittedly, this is a worthy cause but it also puts an enormous burden of selection on theshoulders of one individual. If the exhibit is attacked because of its overall esthetic content or lack of it, the attack must finally reach Mr. Smith for he alone, for the past four years, has been the sole juror. In other words, this cross section of pictures is Mr. Smith’s idea of what has validity in the northern section of California. The pressures from the Board of Trustees, art galleries, art schools and colleges and individual artists must certainly be colossal. Instead of decreasing over the years, those pressures must surely increase as more interested parties learn that Mr. Smith is the lone arbitor of such a vast museum exhibit. If the same system is to be continued it might be advantageous to choose a man outside the museum staff who is thoroughly familiar with the mainstream of painting in the northern California area to act as juror for one year. Or, a modified Salon de Mai policy could be adopted. This would certainly serve, at least, to take some of the strain off Mr. Smith.

Each year, the Winter Invitational exhibit has been badly marred by the inclusion of yards and yards of extremely pedestrian works. The current show is no exception. This is an unfortunate situation for at least two reasons. The first is that the paintings of outstanding quality are surrounded with so much dross that their very proximity causes the better work to suffer. The second reason is that the space taken by obviously inferior work could be filled with work by younger artists of promise as well as older artists who have not as yet been invited to exhibit. In sum, the point of irritation is this: Why, in a museum, under the cloak of catholicity, exhibit such an immense number of cute, tricky and commercial paintings which serve no purpose other than to echo feebly the revolutionary developments of ten, thirty, sixty or eighty years ago?

Elmer Bischoff’s painting of a head in profile is a wonderfully direct portrait statement. Fletcher Benton is represented by a big abstract landscape which captures the light quality and topography of northern Marin County in a bold, gusty manner. Jack Carrigg’s painting, a prize winner, is one of the finest in the exhibition. This young man, a little-shown painter, deserves more acclaim for his work than he has yet received. “Two Tone Deluxe” by John Coplans, militantly dominates the entire wall upon which it is hanging. The simplicity of image gives the observer second thoughts about the surrounding cuisine. Richard Diebenkorn’s painting re-entrenches in the viewer’s mind the fact that spatial division is of crucial importance to this artist. Diebenkorn’s painting in this exhibit points out exactly how adroitly he can manage space. Arne Hiersoux’s painting-collage, another prize winner, has a very genuine painterly vitality that places it far beyond most works in the exhibit. John Saccaro, Sonya Rapoport, Deborah Remington and Sam Tchakalian are some of the other notable painters represented by works of outstanding worth.

James Monte