Must See Exhibit: Matisse/Diebenkorn at the SFMOMA

Wednesday April 12, 2017

I haven’t experienced a Spring art exhibit season quite like this since moving to San Francisco. Huge names, huge exhibits, in every corner of the city. THERE IS SO MUCH TO SEE. Monet at the Legion of Honor. Diane Arbus at the SFMOMA photography gallery. The never-before-seen Rodin exhibit that just finished up at the Legion of Honor.

And, yet, if you can only see one exhibit this season, Matisse/Diebenkorn at the SFMOMA is the absolutely must-see event. It is the first exhibit of its kind to connect these two intertwined masters.

Richard Diebenkorn, a San Francisco native (he grew up in Ingleside Terrace), first encountered Matisse’s work at the home of Sarah Stein, Gertrude Stein’s sister-in-law. He was an art student at the time at Stanford. Over lunch, he took in their collection of over 100 Matisse paintings and became instantly enraptured by Matisse’s use of color and form.

For the rest of his life, he’d seek out Matisse exhibits throughout the US and even the Soviet Union.

If you are familiar with Diebenkorn’s work, this exhibit will be downright revelatory.

Paired next to the Matisse works that inspired him, your depth of understanding of his work will explode.It is a dialogue built through artistic expression that spanned nearly a half century. His work becomes a beautiful and stunning, even if one-sided, collaborative love affair.

Of course, this is to say nothing of being able to take in nearly 40 works by Matisse as well, which would have been worthy of its own exhibit.

The exhibit runs through May 29th. I’d recommend going as soon as you can, as the gallery was quite full even during a weekday last week. Or, at least buy your timed entry tickets far in advance before you go.

[Finally, sidenote for families: If you’ve been trying to get your young children into art appreciation and critique, I can’t recommend this exhibit enough. The connection between “Henry” and “Richard” is so obvious that even small kids will understand the interplay. Bean also appreciated that Richard grew up in San Francisco, just like her!

Usually, she enjoys pointing out doggies and airplanes and horses and babies in paintings. This time, though, we could scoot down on the ground or hang out on a bench while she methodically matched the colors between Richard and Henry’s paintings. She even noticed minute traces of matched colors and forms that I missed. Halfway through the exhibit, she could identify who painted what without me telling her. This exhibit is also a wonderful introduction to abstract modern art, where she could see how a more realistic painting could be transformed into an abstract painting. It was a brilliant outing.]


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