The spectacular exhibit Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953–1966, concludes Sunday, September 29th at the de Young Museum. It is the first in-depth exhibition to explore the work produced by the artist during the years he lived in Berkeley. The showing includes more than 130 of the artist’s paintings and drawings assembled from collections across the country, many of them rarely or never before seen in public exhibitions. Diebenkorn’s engagement with the unique settings of the Bay Area, along with his personal history, ties this exhibition deeply to the region.
“Diebenkorn is very much a hometown hero,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, the Ednah Root curator-in-charge of American art. “He is someone who is deeply imbued in both the natural landscape and cultural landscape. He has persistent themes and concerns that carry across his work. In the Fall of 1953 he arrives in Berkeley, spends thirteen years here, this is the very first exhibition devoted to the entire Berkeley period—that thirteen-year stint. This is when Diebenkorn becomes Diebenkorn—when he developed his working methods and styles, his consistent themes and interests, and when he becomes known to a broader public.”
His challenge to prevailing orthodoxy also helped to elevate Diebenkorn’s national profile. As contemporaries like Willem De Kooning and Jackson Pollock wrestled publicly with Abstract Expressionism, Diebenkorn’s work offered another important perspective in the critical conversation of the time. His appearance in Life magazine, as well as an article titled, “Diebenkorn Paints a Picture” in ARTnews magazine, both published in 1957, further expanded the painter’s influence.
“It was during this period that Diebenkorn really became Diebenkorn,” said Burgard. “His artistic integrity rendered him immune to external pressure to conform to either abstract or figurative styles, and set a liberating example that seems remarkably prescient given the inclusive nature of the contemporary art world.”
Diebenkorn was profoundly influenced by the nature and culture of the Bay Area, and many of these works are saturated with light and atmosphere, as well as the deep reds, greens, and ochres of the region.
“Diebenkorn never painted a specific subject per se. These are not about trying to depict nature. I think they are about trying to be like nature, to be a force of nature, to paint like nature. They have that organic vitality and sort of potency. One of the most telling aspects of his tenure here is that, although Diebenkorn had four studios here–including the one he built in his backyard at Hillcrest Road–not one of them had an expansive view of the bay or the Bay Area. They are drawn from the imagination, these are landscapes of the mind. One of his paintings, which he very rarely titled, was called 'Inscape'—suggesting it was about an interior world, rather than the exterior world. I think that is the best way to think about it, even though when standing in front of them we feel this sort of collision of the forces of nature."
Although born in Portland, Oregon, Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco’s Ingleside Terraces neighborhood, attended Stanford University and UC Berkeley, and was both a student and an instructor at the California School of Fine Arts—known today as the San Francisco Art Institute.
“But the painting that is the official iconic story—and maybe he means the one where he first went out into the world—is 'Chabot Valley, 1955'. This became for him a sort-of talisman of what direction his art might take. Although it’s very modest in scale, though I would argue exceptionally beautiful, it also pre-figures a lot of the geometricization of his compositions that prefigure 'Ocean Park' and other works—the sensitivity to the edge, the sensitivity to light and color, the sort-of building blocks of composition that are so reminiscent of Cezanne. It is a remarkable painting. He got into his car and drove out to the Berkeley hills, took this little portable canvas—and there it is.”
Diebenkorn’s very first solo museum exhibition was held at the Legion of Honor in 1948. Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 continues the Fine Arts Museums’ long engagement with the artist’s work. Though Diebenkorn would also make significant contributions to the modernist tradition through his work in New Mexico and Southern California, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 is a story rooted in the Bay Area, an exploration of one of the most complex and interesting chapters in postwar American art.
Click here for more information: DIEBENKORN
COMING TO THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM
9-21-13—2-17-14: The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950–1990
10-26-13—1-20-14 David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition