On view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from May 18 to August 12, 2012, Contemporary Painting, 1960 to the Present: Selections from the SFMOMA Collection highlights the continuing vitality of painting over the last fifty years. In the context of the proliferation of photography, film, and new media in contemporary culture, the exhibition showcases the variety of styles and strategies artists have engaged to breathe new life into painting and to explore the medium’s expansive possibilities.
Organized into galleries that explore various time periods, styles, and themes, Contemporary Painting surfaces debates surrounding abstract and figurative painting, the effects of photography on painting, and investigations of the materiality of painting. Curated by Gary Garrels, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, these ongoing questions are reflected in more than 90 key works from SFMOMA’s collection by such artists as Francis Bacon, John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Grotjahn, Philip Guston, Mary Heilmann, Ellsworth Kelly, Kerry James Marshall, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Amy Sillman, Frank Stella, Wayne Thiebaud, and Andy Warhol, among many others.
The exhibition begins with questions about the relationship between photography and painting: how does painting evolve with and respond to the popularization of photography? How do photographic images influence the way painters see the world? Gerhard Richter, Vija Celmins, and John Baldessari imitated the look of photography in their paintings, while Andy Warhol utilized silkscreening and Sigmar Polke painted canvases that resembled commercial printing techniques.
The interplay between abstract and figurative painting is probed in Contemporary Painting. Bay Area figurative artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and Wayne Thiebaud adopted the vibrancy of the abstract style paired with representational imagery. Explorations of pure abstraction abound in the exhibition, including monumental masterworks by Brice Marden, Sigmar Polke, and Cy Twombly that find their roots in Abstract Expressionism. Reductive fields of color focusing on surface and light set off paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski. Paintings dealing with scale, shape, structure, and surface tension, aligned with minimal art of the 1960s, are exemplified in works by Jo Baer, Robert Irwin, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, John McLaughlin, Robert Ryman, and Frank Stella.
Several groupings of paintings also attest to artists’ interest in tackling charged subject matter in painting. Kerry James Marshall creates a memorial painting to important black American writers of the 20th century. Leon Golub evokes mercenary soldiers in third world wars. David Cannon Dashiell and Jerome Caja explore issues of gay identity and the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.
A wide array of contemporary artists are also included, a testament to the museum’s ongoing commitment to cutting-edge paintings being made today. Julie Mehretu, Chris Ofili, Elizabeth Peyton, Lari Pittman, and Luc Tuymans, for example, offer vivid examples of complex, figurative subjects. Tomma Abts, Richard Aldrich, Mary Heilmann, Sergei Jensen, Katy Moran, and Charline von Heyl, on the other hand, exemplify the ongoing vitality of abstract painting.
Complete List of Artists
Tomma Abts, Richard Aldrich, Francis Bacon, Jo Baer, John Baldessari, Sandow Birk, Elmer Bischoff, Michael Borremans, Joan Brown, Jerome Caja, Vija Celmins, David Cannon Dashiell, Gene Davis, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Leon Golub, Mark Grotjahn, Philip Guston, Wade Guyton, Peter Halley, Mary Heilmann, Robert Irwin, Sergej Jensen, Jess, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, Sherrie Levine, Brice Marden, Kerry James Marshall, John McLaughlin, Julie Mehretu, Katy Moran, Kenneth Noland, Chris Ofili, Jules Olitski, Joyce Pensato, Elizabeth Peyton, Lari Pittman, Sigmar Polke, R.H. Quaytman, Neo Rauch, Brett Reichman, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, David Salle, Raymond Saunders, Amy Sillman, John Sonsini, Frank Stella, Philip Taaffe, Wayne Thiebaud, Luc Tuymans, Cy Twombly, Nicola Tyson, Charline von Heyl, Andy Warhol, Andro Wekua, Martin Wong, Christopher Wool