Saturday, July 10, 2010

SFMOMA Presents the Fisher Collection: Calder to Warhol

SF MOMA presents the Fisher Collection, or, all's well that ends well. I was out of town last month so I missed the press preview. However, one of the first things I did on my return was to get over to SFMOMA and see what all the shouting has been about. The museum is celebrating its 75th year and this collection gives them another reason to break out the champagne.

Anselm Kiefer. Melancholia. 

The current exhibit, an introduction to the treasures of the Fisher collection, presents 160 works by 55 artists. This sweeping exhibition, entitled Calder to Warhol: Introducing The Fisher Collection, offers an extraordinary preview of the depth, breadth, and quality of the Fisher holdings, with works by Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Sam Francis, Philip Guston, Anselm Kiefer, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Wayne Thiebaud, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Lichtenstein, Reflections

Anybody who has followed the saga of the Fisher's and their art knows about the long and acrimonious battle over his wish to have a museum at the Presidio. Conservationists and wiser heads prevailed to stop it. It wasn't just a case of NIMBY but serious issues over questions of traffic, a huge footprint and, frankly, some distrust of what would happen "after" all the shouting died down. SF's supervisors were anxious to keep the collection in the city and passed a resolution in 2007 to that effect.

 Chuck Close, Agnes Martin.

Still, the ultimate fate of the collection was unknown until the Fishers finally announced that the collection would to to the museum, by means of a 100-year renewable loan. Maybe it was an intimation of mortality that made Don Fisher agree to this for he passed away a few days later, in September 2009. In any case, the collection puts the museum on the map as a major destination for lovers of modern art.

 Andy Warhol, Nine Multi Colored Marilyns.

With few notable exceptions, the pieces are huge, bold and brassy, with a focus on the blue chip artists of the last decade or so. It's beautifully organized and hung, thanks to the curator, Gary Garrels.

Alexander Calder, Double Gong.

The entire fourth and fifth floors of the museum, including the Rooftop Garden, present a distillation of the Fisher Collection. The Fifth Floor gallery is full of light and airy Calder mobiles. One of the pieces, a charming freestanding sculpture evokes the aquarium of the title with a few witty twists and scrolls of wire. Calder could have given lessons to any minimalist sculptor on elegant simplicity. Major works by Serra, Richter and Kiefer, Lewit and Bourgeois are also on display. After all that, you will need a big cup of Blue Bottle coffee to tackle the rest of the show.

Ellsworth Kelly, Red/Green. 1968

The Ellsworth Kelly pieces are textbook examples of his statement that paintings should be the wall, art as a geometric idea and not an emotion. In contrast, Kiefer's enigmatic and emotional  pieces display an evocative Teutonic angst combined with an awesome list of painting materials.

Anselm Kiefer. Sulamith

The exhibit is organized in sections, alternating concentrations of works from a single artist with groups of works by others with a shared perspective. Throughout the exhibit, the pieces are beautifully paired against one another - a thickly textured Sam Francis (Middle Blue, 1959) matched with the more open brushwork of a 1989 Joan Mitchell; Diebenkorn's Ocean Park #67 on a wall where it can visually lead to the gallery full of Agnes Martin's pieces. One of those paintings, (Wheat) with its subtle rectangles of cream, parchment and a glaze of creamy yellow is possibly one of the quietest and most beautiful pieces in the show.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #67

The fourth floor is too full of good pieces to list but one in particular - a great Cleas Oldenburg "Apple Core, " exhibited on the fourth floor foyer, adds a much needed taste of wit to the more ponderous pieces in the collection.

 Oldenburg - Apple (courtesy of Mike of Civic Center Blog Fame - check out his blog for an up-close and honest look at how Fisher got his billions:

SFMOMA has announced plans for a vast addition to the museum and they are currently looking for an architect. When the new wing opens in 2016, it will include a 60,000-square-foot Fisher Wing and allow a far more extensive display of the collection.

"At this momentous time in SFMOMA's history, we are not only celebrating 75 years of accomplishments and innovation, we're also looking forward to a new era of growth and community service that will be greatly enhanced by the museum's presentation of these outstanding works of art from the Fisher Collection," said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. "Our collaboration with the Fisher family will give visitors access to some of the finest modern and contemporary masterpieces, placing SFMOMA among the greatest museums for contemporary art and elevating the cultural profile of the city as a whole. As the first unveiling of Doris and Don's incredible gift to the city of San Francisco, this exhibition will introduce the public to an incomparable group of iconic works that will inspire and educate generations of visitors in the years to come."

Frank Stella, The Chase, Third Day, 1989

I think that Grace McCann Morely. the museum's first director would be well pleased. 

SFMOMA: From Calder to Warhol. On display through September 19.(all images except Oldenberg's "Apple," courtesy of SFMOMA)

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