San Francisco

“Phelan Awards in Painting”

M. H. De Young Me­morial Museum

Because the bequest which makes this exhibition possible, and which provides the award money, provides that it be limited to native Californians only, the show gets off to a crippled start from which it cannot possibly recover. (Imagine a New York exhibition limited to native New York­ers; the image that would emerge would be, at best, a distorted shadow of what New York painting actually is like.) One must subtract not only the non-natives, but the natives who do not enter, which leaves pretty slim pickings from which the jury must fill three large rooms. The result is a show with a few good paint­ings, a lot of bad paintings, and a theme that is of no interest, for when we know what a group of people paint like who have in common only the fact that they were born in California, we know nothing at all. Why doesn’t the museum refuse to mount such an exhibition on the grounds that the terms of the bequest prevent the museum from fulfilling its function?

Joan Brown’s arresting Portrait of Lupe deserved its award, in the con­text, despite a lot of pointless impasto as did James Monte’s Redline, a tough essay in good paint handling. Nancy Genn’s image, traumatized by early Goodnough, really has nothing to offer and if honorable mentions are to be given to derivative paintings, then A. Kalimos’s Goldberg deserved one more than I. Cheifetz’s de Kooning. No prize or honorable mention was given to what is probably the best painting in the exhibition, Jack Carrigg’s Fife. Very fine work is shown by Michael Fender, Elwood Flitcraft, David Sucec and Louis Gutierriez, whose finish, unfortunately, tends to dissipate the ominous mood of his work.

Most interesting is the weak showing of the abstract landscapists. Paintings by Don Reich, John Magill, Barbara Evans, Robert McClay, Curt Nelson, Wil­liam Lundberg and Dan Nunez, among others which derive in one measure or another from a landscape reference, uni­versally present an insipid, totally life­less appearance. William Morehouse whose progression has been steadily from a highly abstracted landscape to a more and more representational one, startles the viewer with a distinct refer­ence to “Der Blaue Reiter.” Kandinsky in the Marin County hills? Why? Isn’t there a more relevant source for what­ever serum California landscape paint­ing needs? Is Morehouse the only one looking for it? It’s hard to tell: so many other artists whose work might have deepened our understanding of Morehouse’s concern, could it be seen along­side, were, evidently, born in the wrong place.

––Philip Leider