San Francisco

“Current Painting and Sculpture of the Bay Area”

Stanford Museum of Art

To celebrate the opening of newly renovated galleries the Stanford Art Department. under the direction of Lorenz Eitner, installed a large group exhibit of recent Bay Area painting and sculpture in the Stanford Museum building.

As a totality the exhibit duplicates such large group gatherings as the S. F. A. I. Annual, The Richmond Annual, or the revolving group shows-in-depth at the San Francisco Museum, held during the three summer months. With the possible exception of Mel Ramos and William Reynolds all the artists, including Elmer Bischoff, Keith Boyle, Joan Brown, Ron Davis, Tony Delap, Roy De Forest, Charles Gill, Wally Hedrick, Tom Holland, Robert Hudson, David Lynn, Fred Martin, Charles Mattox, Clark Murray, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, Harold Paris, Charles Ross, Stephen De Staebler, Wayne Thiebaud, and William Wiley have been seen in shows of this sort during the last twelve months. This exhibition is another general survey show with no underlying theme, other than bringing together 23 very diverse artistic sensibilities under a newly renovated roof in Palo Alto rather than in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, or Richmond. However, as a testament of support for contemporary art in the area it is commendable that Stanford University has demonstrated its with-it-ness.

Ron Davis, Clark Murray and William Reynolds reflect the feeling of a younger generation of artists recently graduated from art school. Their allegiances have been formed, and hard-edge styles reflect a complete break with Expressionist doctrines. Their cases are not peculiar, nor for that matter unusual, except perhaps in the Bay region, where the vitality of the area has been completely dependent on the philosophies of figurative and nonfigurative Expressionism since the late 1940s. Ron Davis, in spite of his stylistic change, recalls the Expressionist fantasy implicit in his earlier student work in the painting titled Drag On Lady, a large work measuring ten by seven feet which contains a vast area of black flocking material flanked by flatly painted undulating color ribbons. The whole is accented by a small patch of glitter, and the resultant effect is a hard brittle sexuality. Davis’ use of diverse materials, juxtaposed to create obvious symbols, places this particular picture somewhere between the formal purity of current hard edge painting and the symbolically loaded pictures of the Expressionist or Surrealist idiom.

Both Murray and Reynolds pursue more strictly formal relationships than does Davis. Murray’s painting entitled Tomich employs two colors, red and blue, vibrating in unison, while the visually bisected canvas is further animated by concentric circular segments which swing the eye clockwise and counter clockwise with the precision of a professional juggling act. Reynolds, like Davis, is more playful coloristically than Murray, and employs triangular formats for his problems. The smallest work, Little Rootie-Tootie, is certainly the most entertaining and most cohesive coloristically. The strong red-green segment opposes an equally strong yellow-green segment. The color and pattern differences on a small (24'' x 24'') format swing the eye from section to section quickly but without clumsiness. The quality of color in Reynolds’ two other works is not what it could or should be.

A young sculptor, Charles Ross, whose work in the past has shown a great amount of facility and elegance, in this exhibit chose to show new work, breaking completely with his previous welded metal and wood constructions. Ross’ sculpture presents the viewer with a rough cabinetry composed of wood lathe joined as in frontier cabin construction or the kind of engineering children use to build boxes and playthings from popsicle sticks. Ross elaborates on this simple principle of construction to make witty sculptures. Like Mel Moss, Arlo Acton, Mel Henderson, Robert Hudson, and others Ross has sought and found a way out of the now traditional assembled construction sometimes called junk sculpture or linear sculpture. In any case, the congruity of the new approach to sculpture taken by these young sculptors is curious when one thinks of the force clay and cast bronze exerted on younger talents just two years ago.

The other exhibitors in the show, with the prime exceptions of Ross, Murray, Davis, and Reynolds, have been seen a great deal in recent months. Their work on view at Stanford is in most cases work exhibited before, or, in a few cases, an extension of earlier developments.

What the Stanford exhibit lacks is any sort of definitiveness. Mr. Eitner excuses this lack by saying, “While the exhibition embraces the main directions of what is termed ‘contemporary,’ ie., consciously experimental and non-derivative art, it does not include all the artists of this region who represent these directions.” Mr. Eitner gingerly side-steps the issue of definitiveness, but he has not replaced it with any structure necessary to support an otherwise meaningless grouping of art works, nor has he gone beyond choosing the superficially obvious artists who are to be seen in any major modern gallery in the area.

James Monte