Spencer Finch

Spencer Finch, Back to Kansas, 2013; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; James Cohan Gallery, New York; and Lisson Gallery, London and New York; © Spencer Finch

Spencer Finch

Born in New Haven, CT, 1962; lives and works in New York

When was the last time you watched the light change as the sun set? How often are your memories tied to certain colors that you've encountered or seen in photographs or films? Spencer Finch's work considers the uncertain nature of perception and memory through careful translations of color, light, and natural phenomena. With a romantic focus on feeling over fact, he often attempts to capture the conditions of personal, historic, or culturally significant moments — for instance, recording the colors in his studio at dusk, turning the chemical composition of moon dust from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission into a light source, or trying to replicate the color of the pillbox hat First Lady Jackie Kennedy wore when her husband was assassinated. In Back to Kansas Finch explores the subjective perception of color through vivid imagery from the film The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Set up to mimic a cinematic screen, an abstract grid of painted colors is illuminated by natural light entering through the large storefront window that opens onto State Street. The painting — scaled proportionally using the original aspect ratio in which the movie was projected — requires slow, focused looking. The various squares translate details from the film's vibrant Technicolor scenes: the red refers to Dorothy's ruby slippers, the green to the Emerald City, the orange to the poppies in the field. In daylight, changes in light conditions subtly alter the painting's appearance. The main action, however, occurs in the minutes after sunset: as night approaches, the colors slowly evaporate. White lines divide the tonal blocks, and distinctive shades of gray are interspersed throughout the grid as reference points for perceiving the loss of color in the squares. Viewers can record the order in which they observe the hues disappear on a card provided within the installation.

Jenny Gheith
Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture


Was "AC - testplayer copy"

Spencer Finch on Back to Kansas

Visit Information


242 State Street
Los Altos, CA 94022


Wednesday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.




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Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the City of Los Altos. The lead sponsor of this exhibition is Passerelle Investment Company.

Major support is provided by SFMOMA's Collectors Forum. Generous support is provided by the Bay Area Contemporary Arts Exhibition Fund, founded by Agnes Cowles Bourne; and Brit and Dave Morin. Jim Breyer, Randi and Bob Fisher, Patricia W. Fitzpatrick, Adriane Iann and Christian Stolz, Nion T. McEvoy, and Thomas W. Weisel and Janet Barnes are sponsors of the exhibition. Additional support is provided by the Graue Family Foundation, Alka and Ravin Agrawal, The Black Dog Private Foundation, Phyllis and Bill Draper, Concepción and Irwin Federman, Marissa Mayer and Zachary Bogue, Christopher and Michele Meany, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and the Los Altos Community Foundation.

City of Los Altos