1946 to Present
It was not until after World War II that Californian artists focused solely on formal dialogues about painting and sculpture, creating works that addressed the process and basis of art. Working concurrently with the Abstract Expressionists in New York, San Francisco’s artists offered an important western counterpart, a group broadly represented in a recent gift from George Y. and LaVona J. Blair, which includes paintings by Bernice Bing, Ernest Briggs, Sonya Rapoport, John Saccaro, and Sam Tchakalian.
Showcasing a wide variety of Expressionist techniques from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, this gift joins other significant recent acquisitions of paintings by Sam Francis, Gordon Onslow-Ford, and others.
San Francisco assumed a new role as an artistic center with Douglas MacAgy’s appointment to the directorship of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in 1945. MacAgy brought together artists Hassel Smith, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Clyfford Still, and former CSFA student Richard Diebenkorn, a group well represented in the Crocker’s collection. Works by other artists of the period, including Joan Brown, William Theophilus Brown, Jess, Paul Wonner, Nathan Oliveira, and Manuel Neri—coming to the Crocker as purchases, gifts, and promised gifts—have enriched and diversified these holdings. These Bay Area Figurative artists brought the self-referential approach of Abstract Expressionism to representational subjects, offering a succinct summation of California’s color and sense of self.
The interest in representation in Northern California was fundamental to the early appreciation and realization of American art movements such as Pop, Photorealism, and Funk. More than ever before, work produced in California kept pace with national trends, and regional styles achieved universal significance. Among these is California’s contribution to Pop art and painterly realism, exemplified at the Crocker by a large collection of works by Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud’s paintings are included alongside those of other artists of the era, such as Mel Ramos, William T. Wiley, and Robert Arneson, all artists from the Sacramento region who achieved international reputations. These will one day be enhanced by promised gifts of paintings by Gregory Kondos, Roland Petersen, and Raimonds Staprans, and sculpture by Viola Frey.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, Californian art has increasingly become borderless as practitioners have participated in and led international discourse. Identity and conversations about identity are of ever-increasing consideration to audiences. In recent years, the Crocker has striven to add the voices of artists who speak to these issues, thus enriching the collection and bringing the American art program into the present. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Toshiko Takaezu, Raymond Saunders, Robert Cremean, Enrique Chagoya, Hung Liu, and Fritz Scholder are all represented. The recently acquired monumental 1974 sculpture by Luis Jimenez entitled Progress II provides a new take on an old subject, which, appropriately for the Crocker, reexamines the story of the settlement of the American West. Other artists, including Irving Norman, Daniel Douke, Gottfried Helnwein, and Alan Rath address the more recent history of technology and California’s importance internationally in terms of its economy, politics, and art.