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First ever group exhibition of the Bay Area School artists to be staged outside the U.S. opens in London
John Grillo, Untitled, 1949, Poster paint and mixed media on paper, 12 x 24 in. (30.5 x 61 cm), Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, CA, courtesy Thomas Williams Fine Art.
LONDON.- Thomas Williams Fine Art presents an important exhibition of paintings from the Bay Area School, featuring work by a distinct and powerful group of artists working in San Francisco during the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s. It is the first ever group exhibition of the Bay Area School artists to be staged outside the United States, coinciding with the publication of a major scholarly book on the subject published by Lund Humphries.

At the end of World War II San Francisco witnessed an artistic and cultural revolution, as large numbers of the GIs who were discharged in the area found their way to the doors of the California School of Fine Arts, under the progressive leadership of avant-garde museum curator Douglas MacAgy. They were joined by other radical artists from around the US. Among their number were Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, David Park, Ansel Adams, John Grillo and Elmer Bischoff. They included artists who had been drafted into service and were now seeking an outlet for the violent emotions and events to which they had been exposed and who were ready to find new, extreme forms of expression.

How could these artists give meaning to their creative urges once they had exchanged guns for paint brushes? Their response was to create a radical school of painting without rules or boundaries; a revolution in San Francisco that was accompanied by advances in other arts media – in music with the growing popularity of jazz and funk, and in literature with the arrival of beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the role that Californian artists played in the narrative of post-war American art has been dramatically diminished. In review after review, history after history, even in great dictionaries of art, the Bay Area School has relentlessly been written out, with a far greater emphasis being placed on the importance of the New York School and the influence of celebrated east coast artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Together, this ground-breaking new exhibition and book aim to restate the vital role that the pioneering artists of San Francisco played in America’s art history. In particular, they strongly challenge the widely-held assumption that Abstract Expressionism was purely a New York phenomenon; a viewpoint constructed and perpetuated by contemporary east coast critics such as Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, as well as sponsors of the movement keen to control its historical place in New York, and in New York alone. So successfully did these influential individuals pursue their case that nearly seventy years later the ghost of their refusal to accept the Bay Area School’s place in the birth of Abstract Expressionism persists in haunting the literature, the public perception and even the market for the artists’ work.

By tracing the roots of the movement back to California, and through a comprehensive survey of works by artists from the Bay Area School, this new book and exhibition from Thomas Williams Fine Art demonstrate the critically important role that San Francisco played in the birth and development of Abstract Expressionism, and ultimately, as artists began to turn away from abstraction towards figuration, its demise - making way for the explosion of Pop art and the other figurative art forms that followed in its wake.



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May 19, 2013

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