Exhibition Press Release



Opening September 20, 2014 at OMCA

Exhibition dates: September 20, 2014 - April 12, 2015

Release date: May 8, 2014
Last updated: July 1, 2014


Frida (Frieda) Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931; oil on canvas; 39 3/8 x 31 in. (100.01 x 78.74 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Albert M. Bender Collection, gift of Albert M. Bender; © Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) combine their collections for the first time in Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California, an unprecedented exhibition that illuminates local histories and social forces that changed the face of art in—and beyond—the state of California.

Weaving together the museums’ unsurpassed holdings of California art and ephemera, the exhibition tells the stories of four creative communities active in the northern part of the state between the 1930s and the early 2000s. In each case, the exhibition shines a spotlight on artists who had their finger on the pulse of their time, and the grassroots conditions that allowed their ideas to flourish. The exhibition runs September 20, 2014 through April 12, 2015 in OMCA’s Great Hall and features an astounding mix of artworks and historical documents, from monumental paintings to handwritten letters, relating to four key moments in the history of California art:

  • Murals, Public Art, and Diego Rivera’s Allegory of California (1930s)
  • Postwar at the California School of Fine Arts (1940s–50s)
  • UC Davis Founding Art Faculty and Students (1960s–70s)
  • The Mission Scene (1990s–2000s)

Curated jointly by Drew Johnson, OMCA Curator of Photography and Visual Culture, René de Guzman, Senior Curator of Art, and a team from SFMOMA including Janet Bishop, Caitlin Haskell, and Peter Samis, Fertile Ground interweaves the histories and friendships of artists, collectors, curators, and other individual and institutional collaborators against a backdrop of transformative social change. Viewed together, the materials assembled present a rare opportunity to consider what catalyzed these four remarkable outpourings of creativity, social awareness, and arts patronage.

The exhibition will include works by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko, Edward Weston, Peter Stackpole, Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, David Park, Clyfford Still, Jay DeFeo, Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, James Weeks, Robert Arneson, William T. Wiley, Roy De Forest, Wayne Thiebaud, Bruce Nauman, Manuel Neri, Deborah Butterfield, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Rigo 23, and many others. The texture of time and place will be evoked through historical film footage, media stations containing interviews with artists, and “community lounges” where visitors can browse books, ephemera, and other resources. Artifacts, media, and interactive experiences will be placed in dialogue with artworks to situate these objects within larger historical and cultural moments and trends such as the Great Depression, World War II, and the sixties counterculture.  A visitor-activated “Family Tree” will convey the interconnected relationships among artists, patrons, museums, teachers, curators, and other personalities during each era.

Murals, Public Art, and Diego Rivera’s Allegory of California
During the heart of the Great Depression, the muralist Diego Rivera and his young wife, painter Frida Kahlo, moved from Mexico to San Francisco. Although they came to the city for Rivera to paint the monumental fresco Allegory of California (1930-31) at the Pacific Stock Exchange, the couple arrived to find a community of like-minded, socially-aware artists that included Dorothea Lange, Sargent Johnson, and the Coit Tower muralists—artists who insisted on the primacy of workers and the rights of the unemployed even as they executed commissions for the Federal government.

Postwar at the California School of Fine Arts
In the years immediately following World War II, artists and administrators active at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA; now San Francisco Art Institute), played a decisive role in shaping national conversations about advanced painting. CSFA became a critical site where, even after the tenures of the great Abstract Expressionists Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, debates about the continued relevance of the human figure spurred surprising innovation in the work of David Park and Richard Diebenkorn.

UC Davis Founding Art Faculty and Students
In the late 1950s, the agrarian town of Davis was shaken up by a brand new University of California campus, which included a studio art faculty with painters and sculptors such as Robert Arneson, Wayne Thiebaud, and William T. Wiley, and students including Bruce Nauman. During the remarkable tenure of the founding art faculty, the formerly sleepy town of Davis became a haven for new freedoms of expression, often sourced in the pop objects and imagery of a brand new consumer society.

The Mission Scene
The most recent moment highlighted in the exhibition takes us to San Francisco’s Mission District during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, when a renegade band of artists including Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee formulated an aesthetic of resistance born of handmade traditions, the better to reject the tech-based, capital-intensive society that they feared would steamroll not only their neighborhood, but the human spirit at large.

Fertile Ground is just as interested in how the art came to be as it is in the art itself,” says OMCA Curator of Photography & Visual Culture Drew Johnson. “These four moments arose from unique combinations of time, place, and personality. They were creative ‘hothouses’ which flourished, sometimes briefly, changing art in important ways. We hope visitors will recognize times when their own lives were energized by fertile ground.”

“It is exciting to be able to share stories in Fertile Ground that can be told in richer, more nuanced ways through our two collections than either museum could tell on its own,” says SFMOMA Curator of Painting and Sculpture Janet Bishop. “SFMOMA has learned a tremendous amount from OMCA’s multidisciplinary approach.”    

Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California is made possible in part by generous support from the Oakland Museum Women’s Board.

About the OMCA/SFMOMA Collaboration
Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California is part of SFMOMA’s On the Go program of collaborative museum exhibitions and other off-site presentations taking place while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction through early 2016. While OMCA and SFMOMA have partnered on projects in the past, Fertile Ground represents the deepest collaboration in the shared history of the two institutions.

About the Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people. OMCA's groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California's cultural heritage. Visitors are invited to actively participate in the Museum as they learn about the natural, artistic, and social forces that affect the state and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California's dynamic cultural and environmental heritage. For more on OMCA’s upcoming exhibitions and programs, visit museumca.org.

OMCA Visitor Information
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland. Museum admission is $15 general; $10 seniors and students with valid ID, $6 youth ages 9 to 17, and free for Members and children 8 and under. During Friday Nights @ OMCA, from 5 to 9 pm, admission is half-price for adults, free for ages 18 and under. OMCA offers onsite underground parking and is conveniently located one block from the Lake Merritt BART station, on the corner of 10th Street and Oak Street. The accessibility ramp is located at the 1000 Oak Street main entrance to the Museum. museumca.org

Media Contacts

  • Miriam Newcomer, 415.357.4170,
  • Robyn Wise, 415.357.4172,

Scott Horton, 510-735-9200, shorton@museumca.org
Claudia Leung, 510-318-8459, cleung@museumca.org


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, SFMOMA is currently undergoing a major expansion project to open in 2016 that will significantly enhance gallery, education, and public spaces, enabling the museum to better showcase more of its expanded permanent collection. While the museum is temporarily closed for construction, from June 3, 2013 to early 2016, SFMOMA will be “on the go” with an extensive array of off-site programming across the Bay Area, including collaborative and traveling museum exhibitions, major outdoor projects and commissioned installations, and new education initiatives.

Visit our Web site at www.sfmoma.org or call 415.357.4000 for more information.