Five West Coast Artists: An East Coast Exhibition

Five West Coast artists: Bischoff, Diebenkorn, Neri, Park, and Thiebaud is a show up at Yale Gallery from March 28th to July 13th 2014. The show inhabits three modestly sized rooms, one of which is the size of the other two combined. Jock Reynolds, the director of Yale gallery, curated this show. He is from the West Coast and studied under Thiebaud, so some his personal reflections are quoted in the show.
There are paintings, drawings, prints, and to a lesser extent sculptures on display in this show. The artists showcased are all part of the Bay Area Figurative movement, and although this show is not explicitly about that movement these men were some of the leaders. The show unites the artists because, “They renounced abstraction and chose instead to include the human figure and other recognizable subjects in their work – albeit using the vigorous brushwork and strong compositional elements of their Abstract expressionist contemporaries.”
There is a nod in the exhibit to the fact that these West Coast artists are rarely shown on the east coast, and Yale boasts a rather large collection for an east coast museum. However this is used to explain a rather sparse show, for what the title suggests it might encompass. Not only is the curator in house, but almost all of the works are as well – the collection seems arbitrary, and indicative of Yale’s holdings rather than a critical analysis of these artists’ works.
The show does have pieces representative of these artists major works, some small Thiebaud cakes are on display, as well as a work from Diebenkorn’s famous Ocean Park series. However the show in part precipitated from the recent acquisition of Park’s masterpiece, The Model. This work is prominent in a room of figurative work. It presents a model with her head turned back to stare out of the frame, beside a painting that shows he frontal image. The figure of a woman occupies almost every image in this room, life size in the considerably large canvasses of Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn. Women’s bodies are made physical in Neri’s sculptures, which sit and stand almost in front of these paintings, so that the female form is mirrored and reflected all around this room.
The curation of this show is conscious and clear, if strikingly simplistic. Of the three rooms there is one of Diebenkorn’s abstractions, one of Thiebaud’s work, and the major room, which has a figurative theme, and comprises the three other artists’ works, and more of Diebenkorn’s work. Although the show purports to showcase five artists, the true focus is on Diebenkorn and Thiebaud, with the remaining three barely present. On display are only one paintings of Park, two by Bischoff, and two sculptures by Neri- everything else is Thiebaud and Diebenkorn. Furthermore the premise of the show is apparently the rejection of abstraction, but there is a whole room of Diebenkorn’s abstractions – which according to many were the highlight of his career, and came after his figurative work.
In one half of the largest room are several drawings and little paintings by Diebenkorn, inexplicably with a coffee cup theme that is emphasized by their placement, but not explained. A cityscape by Bischoff’s is placed strangely within the corner devoted to Diebenkorn, and without scrutiny seems to be a work by Diebenkorn. Clearly they influenced each other, but Bischoff’s cannot assert itself as distinct, perhaps because of the limited amount of his work on display, but also because it is the only part of the show where the works are not separated by artist.

David Park, The Model, 1959. Image via Yale

David Park, The Model, 1959.
Image via Yale

Even though the organization of the work leaves something to be desired, these artists produced some of the most satisfying images in the mid to late 20th century and their legacy deserves to see expansion. There is an implicit dialogue between the works of these West Coast master’s – and the well recorded rise of Abstract Expressionism on the East Coast that is displayed just downstairs from this exhibit. However is disappointing that more works could not be acquired, so that a larger sense of the artists and the work might be presented in this exhibit.

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