San Francisco

San Francisco

Evidently desperate to show the area what a “real” collector looks like, the San Francisco Museum’s Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art invited Mrs. Burton Tremaine, the well-known New York collector, to select an exhibition of works designed to tempt the taste and pocketbooks of would-be Bay Area collectors. Mrs. Tremaine not only complied, but even came along to lecture to the Society on the joys and sorrows of bigtime collecting. Humiliating as the device may have been, it is just possible that Mrs. Tremaine’s exhibition and forthright talk may have provided some members with their first real insight into the tough, acquisitive mentality and the large, risky bankroll needed for serious collecting.

Mrs. Tremaine’s predilection for the very new was clearly pointed up in the show itself. It ranged from classic Pop (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist) to recent optical and shaped canvas painting (Hinman, Riley, Valador, Williams). The show contained, especially among the lesser known, younger artists, a peculiar hybridization of styles. Neil Williams’ curious stellar canvas with a veritable rainbow of non-working color that is hard-edge, yet painted carelessly, looks unexpectedly like Abstract Pop. Lichtenstein enforces the notion of hybridization with a laminated glass construction of a sea-and sky-scape which is really an intellectual abstraction of his earlier Pop working method (Ben Day dots and hard contours) taken out of its banal pictorial context and placed on a very pure visual level. Lichtenstein’s brand of mechanical beauty really extends what Leger was concerned with in the thirties. The mixing of styles continues with deadpan earnestness in the work of the young English artist, Gerald Laing. His single canvas presents a frontal view of a drag racing machine replete with driver and a parachute brake billowing mechanically in the background. The techniques used to render the dragster and driver include, variously, copying the photo-mechanical screen dots used to copy “original” photographs, and in turn abstracting this technique. Further, to render the parachute, Laing has employed a hard-edge technique combined with a flat stylization of the object.

The secondary function the exhibit serves is strictly informative. Since there is no gallery in the San Francisco area that deals in avant-garde work produced outside the area there is a very real gap between what is being done in the rest of the country and what is visually available in the Bay Area. This situation is particularly evident in viewing the work of students and younger artists whose aims are clearly committed to post-Abstract Expressionist styles. With all their zeal to leave the Abstract Expressionist fold, their comprehension of alternate styles is virtually zero. The S.E.C.A. exhibit is not a cure-all (in fact it is quite a weak grouping, considering the possibilities) yet it does give students, artists, and collectors a limited acquaintanceship with what is being produced by the New York and London avant-garde.

At the Dilexi Gallery, after an exhibiting absence of two years, the new work of sculptor Sidney Gordin is a surprising about face. Speculation on the direction Gordin’s small-scale hammered and welded bronze and steel works might have taken could include the obvious one of enlargement and perhaps further simplification of formal means or perhaps exorcising the strict, almost two-dimensional, frontality and complicating the finished work by adding in-and-out directional movement, as well as side-to-side and up-and-down directions. Gordin’s new work takes into account all these ideas yet it does so in wall-mounted wooden reliefs which completely eschew the open metal tradition he was so closely identified with until recently. These reliefs are painted white with color added in some cases to single out a shape or underscore its relationship to the white ground. This accentuation of shape is nicely reiterated in the few paintings exhibited. The sinuous curvilinear shapes are popped into illusionist rather than true relief by flat black beneath, say, red or blue, to give the effect of deep space between the ground color and the shape-object color. The black acts as shadow and at the same moment as pure accent. The show, taken completely, is quite satisfying and does open a whole range of new possibilities for Gordin to take into account at some future date. The only qualms one has have nothing really to do with the initial concept of any individual piece or painting, although some, naturally enough, are stronger than others, but with the roughness of execution some works display. Purity of concept, which these reliefs obviously display, dictates purity of execution.

At the Lanyon Gallery in Palo Alto the new work of Keith Boyle is on display. Boyle, an assistant professor of art at the expanded art facilities on the Stanford campus, is having his second one-man exhibit at this gallery, and his seventh since 1958. This show is the strongest to date. There are fewer works in the exhibit than in any previous. The generous size and scale of the formats are enhanced by new color relationships and less fussy imagery. Two of the current works, “Time Out” and “Passion Flower,” are really first rate. The former presents a specific image of a series of concentric circles within which crossed bars touch the inside edge of the innermost circle at top and bottom and are just a few inches away on the sides. The tension north and south tends to push the circle into a spheroid, not with optical violence but with a gentle persistence. This effect is complemented by the slight optical jump of the various blue circles, surrounded by a generous expanse of orange and red-orange working back and forth along the edges where the colors meet. One is not aware of the optical interplay as a primary experience, as in one or two others, but rather as a tertiary developing sensation as one continues to look at the painting. The painting entitled “Passion Flower” is the strongest single work Boyle has exhibited. The design qualities are excellent, with space intervals between colors as acutely conceived as one could wish for in this type of hard-edge painting. The color and design keep the flatness of the picture plane nicely (a serious problem in most of the works in the show) and advance the visual “history” of the work without unnecessary asides or unnecessary shapes. A permanent green ground surrounds a modified rectangle of lavender, in turn surrounding a narrow red and black area. The color progression is assured and inevitable without being dull, a welcome advance, since Boyle’s use of color has in the past been analagous rather than orchestrated as in this work.

The other pictures in the exhibit, with the exception of two excellent small works are closer to earlier examples seen at his De Young Museum show in 1964. Their emblematic characteristics suggested road signs, Christian symbols, badges and labels, without being specifically present and readily identifiable as in, for example, the work of Robert Indiana. Their function lay somewhere between being cryptographic and being merely convenient vessels to carry color. Either approach might have been quite valid, but Boyle couldn’t make the emblems work either coloristically or as functioning design elements. His choice, as seen in the two pictures at Lanyon, was to negate the emblematic qualities and concentrate attention on the essentially objectless color and form. It seems a wise choice indeed.

If Boyle seems disenchanted with the emblem as a receptacle for artistic endeavor, Dennis Beall conversely embraces it with a pell-mell ardor. Beall is currently showing an ambitious series of large size etchings at the Hansen Galleries, climaxing a body of work first shown in a San Francisco Art Institute Annual two years ago. Beall’s career as etcher and lithographer has been extensive and varied since his first show at Mrs. Gestoff’s East-West Gallery in 1957. His prints are in numerous public and private collections including the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts and the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. The recent series of etchings are interrelated. They each have specific references to a federal emblem of some type: stars and stripes, federal stamps, isolated elements seen on money or some-such motif bearing the unmistakable iconography of the federal government. Beall, having decided on a particular predesigned insignia or emblem, adds another layer of meaning to the purely visual design. The additive procedure is two-fold in character. The first and constant factor in every print is the poetic treatment of the subject matter, a treatment paralleling Jasper Johns’ graphic work. The secondary level is the addition of a small vignette, a nude or a schematized rifle, as in the print titled “Seven Ninety-Two.” The rifle inserted into the emblem comments on the immediate availability of firearms in the United States with telling precision. Other prints pungently satirize our sillier national mores.

Richard Graf, another strong graphic artist with a humanistic and poetic turn of mind, heads the printmaking department at the San Francisco Art Institute. The department recently received a direct grant-in-aid from the Ford Foundation of $22,000 to expand its far-from-adequate studios. Under Graf’s excellent leadership this department, vastly hampered as it is and has been, continues to turn out excellent students (as it did when Nathan Oliveira was department chairman). The high point of Graf’s extensive exhibition of prints at the Cellini Gallery is the serial group of interrelated prints on the theme of growth and destruction. The hallucinatory development of a single figure turning into a group of figures in the first five stages of printing is remarkably handled. The first proof is light in tone and rather pleasant. The succeeding four pulls grow restive and by degrees, darker. The fifth proof, almost entirely black, ends the growth cycle, and the sixth to eleventh proofs shatter, by stages, the visible forms.

After the serial portfolio of prints there are a number of single pulls with perhaps a more illustrative approach to dealing with the human form than the “serial edition.” Graf has a personal approach to treating massed groups of people reminiscent of early Kokoschka. In some works the treatment of trees, foliage, interior furnishings, and other impedimenta seems to be treated with an emphasis equal to the figures and animals in the allegorical fantasies, really undermining the tension and pictorial force in a gratuitous manner. One wishes for less unnecessary stagecraft in these otherwise very effective prints.

The Quay Gallery in Tiburon has an excellent show of drawings this month, including two well-known draftsmen, John Altoon and Ernest Rosenthal, as well as two new talents, Jen Huebsch and John Haugse. Both Altoon and Rosenthal are represented by works of the highest quality. Rosenthal in particular seems to have loosened the elegant draperies of human forms coupled in mortal combat so characteristic of his earlier drawings, in order to achieve a more generalized abstract interplay of shape against shape. Jen Huebsch draws in charcoal as if it were paint, using the “push-pull” principle of Hans Hofmann to animate the rectilinear shapes employed. The interplay of flat torn masses of ink seems to recede in the drawings of John Haugse revealing carefully drawn surreal imagery. This half-abstract half-surreal approach to drawing and painting reveals a debt to both Frank Lobdell and William Wiley. It is interesting to note a growing acceptance on the part of many younger artists in the region of this avenue of development out of Abstract Expressionism.

More drawings are to be seen at the first exhibition of the new Arleigh Gallery in San Francisco, as well as paintings and some witty constructions. The whited out walls of this second story Victorian apartment on Pacific Street lend themselves to the display of Jacques Fabert’s drawings. These have become less Cubist and more personal since his last exhibit at Gump’s Gallery. “Woman Undressing” and “Woman Dressing” still show a strange detached execution as in Fabert’s earlier work, yet they have a certain thoughtful charm. Ivan Majdrakoff’s “Uniform Road Chart” and “Motorcycle Rider” are two very good and very funny objects. “Road Chart” puns on the infinite possibilities of misdirection and indecision the motorist faces every driving day of his life. The desecrated road chart turns out to be a visual dictionary of all the signs and symbols used by the California Department of Highways, revised considerably to suit Majdrakoff’s sensibilities.

––James Monte

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