This is the one, must see, most stunning exhibit in SF right now. These are the artists that broke with the prevailing canon of 1950's art that abstract art was the be all and end off of art. They developed their own unique style which combined the bravura stroke of abstract art with a focus on shapes, people and things. One of the artists, Richard Diebenkorn, will probably go down in the pantheon of 20th century art as one of the greats but he wasn't alone. The show at Berggruen includes seminal work by Elmer Bischoff, Theophilus Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, David Park, Wayne Thiebaud, James Weeks, and Paul Wonner. Many of the works included in Abstract and Figurative are on loan from museums and private collections and have rarely been exhibited to the public
The "movement" (if you can call it that) began 1949, when a young painter by the name of David Park “gathered up all his abstract-expressionist canvases and, in an act that has gone down in local legend, drove to the Berkeley city dump and destroyed them. When Diebenkorn, who was in New Mexico at the time, saw Park's first painting in the new style (Kids on Bikes, 1950), his initial impression was that he was retrogressing, that he had chickened out.
But little by little, the twelve who could be considered to constitute a movement started using the free brushwork of Abstract Expressionism with new ways of engaging with the object in the world and putting their vision on canvas. Furthermore, the new focus would also take into account the Bay Area's (and California's) sense of place. For Park, the acceptance of external subject matter brought a new freedom.."With subjects, I feel a natural development of the painting, rather than a formal one." He pioneered the way for the Figurative painters to "exploit the metaphorical possibilities inherent in the human form and in representational imagery generally." They stood aside from the egotistical posturing that abstract expressionism can fall into and celebrated the ethos of struggle and self-discovery in engaging with the visual world in a new way.
Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1943 to 1980
at the Berggruen Gallery: January 8 – February 28, 2009