Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Calder to Warhol: Introducing The Fisher Collection" at SF MOMA

photo by Ferran Traite Soler

"Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection" at SF MOMA opens to the public on June 25, 2010 and will be on display until September 19, 2010.

Doris and the late Donald Fisher, founders of the Gap, spent 40 years assembling a major collection of modern art, consisting of more than 1,100 artworks by the most renowned artists of the 20th century. 

Artists represented include Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra and many others. 

SF MOMA will expand in order to provide a permanent home and more viewing space for this collection.

I attended the members' preview, before the exhibit opens to the general public. 

While "Calder to Warhol" is just a small selection of the overall collection, this exhibit is quite impressive and takes up the top 2 floors of SF MOMA. 

"Calder to Warhol" can give visitors an introductory education into art of the 20th century and many of the most important modern art movements, including Abstract Expressionism, minimalism, Pop Art, abstract art and conceptual art.

While the major art stars like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are well represented here, I found myself drawn to the less flashy pieces. 

In no particular order, here are some of the artists of the collection whose work I found to be compelling and worthy of a closer look: 


Artist of the Abstract Expressionism movement, Cy Twombly's art is all about process: the process of making marks on a surface, and the process of time.

Inspired by a visit to Italy with his friend Robert Rauschenberg, Twombly's scribbled marks and surface scratches suggest mysterious ancient writing whose meaning has been lost. 


Marden's work is all about the line

Marden was inspired by his travels to Asia, the art of calligraphy and Chinese gravestones. 

Marden's meandering and curving lines are beautifully drawn. 


Since I first saw Agnes Martin's paintings at Dia Art Center in New York, her work has had a quiet pull on me. 

Simple, understated and tranquil, these are among Doris Fisher's favorite pieces in the collection. 

Underlying every painting is a grid drawn in graphite. 

Within this grid are carefully applied horizontal stripes or rectangles in the palest colors, no more than two or three colors in each painting. 

Subtle tonal variations, repetition, and minimal contrast create a sense of spaciousness and airiness that extends beyond the edges of the paintings. 


While I'm not so enamored of Stella's garish color palette and liberal use of glitter, I appreciate the fact that he broke out of the grid that so many modern artists were so devoted to. 

Stella was definitely "thinking outside the box" when he created his sculptural paintings that extend into three dimensional space with swirling, snaking shapes and cutout pieces constructed from corrugated aluminum and etched magnesium. 


This artist's animated film projects onto a specially constructed set piece that looks like a stage for a puppet theatre. 

Accompanied by Mozart's Magic Flute, Kentridge's animated black and white drawings take us on a whimsical and far-flung journey. 

We travel from a fanciful circus with performing animals to magical symbols to cosmic scenes of space. 

Dotted lines in motion connect everything and suggest travel, paths, maps, stars, water drops and the orbits of planets. 


This German artist has created the most political and sobering work of the exhibit, showing the effects of war on his native country. 

Every painting feels haunted, covered in soot blacks, gloomy grays and sullen browns. 

Charred and burned straw applied to the canvases shows the devastation of warfare upon the land. 


I love Chuck Close's extremely large-scale, close-up portrait paintings based on his own photographs. 

Close also relies on a grid. Each square of the grid is manipulated and distorted so it is its own abstract cell. 

Seen from afar, the cells create a cohesive portrait. 


Calder is one of my favorite artists, and apparently, one of the Fishers' favorites too, since they collected more of his work than any other artist. 

Calder is well represented on the top floor of SF MOMA with sculptures and his famous mobiles. 

In a museum, it's lovely to see art that occupies not just three dimensions, but five (including movement and time). 

Each mobile is a play of tension, balance and motion that rides the air as effortlessly as a bird in flight. 

Calder's work expresses playfulness, joy and lightness, which was reflected in the faces of museum visitors who saw the mobiles. 

Looking up to see them, everyone smiled. 

"Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection" is on view at SF MOMA from June 25 through September 19, 2010.