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Sam Francis' Blue Balls V is first oil to enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection
Sam Francis in his Santa Monica Studio in 1965 with Blue Balls V.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Sam Francis Foundation announced that it has donated Blue Balls V, a 1962 oil on canvas, to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting is the first Sam Francis oil to join the Met’s collection. The painting joins two other works by Francis -- 1957 watercolor, Structure II, and an untitled monotype from 1977 -- already in the Metropolitan’s collection.

The 72 x 52 inch painting is from a series that Francis executed between 1960 and 1963 while convalescing after a bout of renal tuberculosis. During his extended hospitalization Francis endured kidney problems and swelling in one of his testicles, to which the title “Blue Balls” makes a sardonic reference. Painted on a pure white ground in sweeping strokes of blue – a favored color of the artist – Blue Balls V is both a biomorphic abstraction that suggests cellular presences, and a confident demonstration of the artist’s bravura brushwork.

Blue Balls V is one of 16 known oil on canvas works from the “Blue Balls” series. “Blue Balls VIII” is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.

In 1991, when New York’s Gagosian Gallery held a show of Francis’ “Blue Balls” paintings, Roberta Smith of the New York Times characterized the works in the exhibition as “elegantly explosive.” Commenting on the Blue Balls series as a whole, Smith had strong praise to offer: “They show a young artist at the height of his powers, mark a turning point in American painting with unusual complexity, and in both ways may unsettle prevailing opinion about their creator's achievement. “

Art historian William Agee, in his essay for the Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946 – 1994, notes that "...these paintings (the “Blue Balls” series) participate in the heightened openness and clarity of the art of the 1960s; a development, it should be remembered, that Francis himself had helped to define and effect."

Marla Prather, the Met’s Curator for Modern and Contemporary Art, feels that Blue Balls V fills a void in the Museum’s collection: “Given the Metropolitan’s great strength in American Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting it is surprising that it was not until 2011 that the Museum acquired its first painting by Sam Francis. We are pleased to represent the artist with a strikingly vibrant work from the Blue Ball series. The restrained composition of Blue Balls V has a remarkably contemporary presence and makes an ideal transition from the Museum’s collection of gestural painting from the 1950s to hard-edge painting of 1960s.“

Debra Burchett-Lere, Acting President and Director of the Sam Francis Foundation is pleased to be working on behalf of the board of directors in realizing a gifting program, as outlined by Francis Foundation Board members, Nancy Mozur and Donna Stein. “Working with Marla Prather and the staff at the Metropolitan on this donation has been such a positive experience,” states Burchett-Lere. “We are honored with the Metropolitan’s enthusiastic acquisition of the Sam Francis as it joins a good home with the other prominent postwar holdings in the museum’s collection.”






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