Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Magnificent Joan Mitchell Painting Show Currently at SFMOMA

I spent three hours viewing this dramatic and superbly presented exhibit recently. The great American artist, Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) is honored with a show of 80 distinguished paintings from her large body of work.

I was moved by the bravura scale of her works, and engaged by the beauty and exquisite color sense of these large-scale canvases. I’ve been thinking about them ever since—their vibrant expression, the artistry, the mystery and her physical involvement with paint and pastel and color. My wish upon departing: that I could return with a small tent and supplies and live in the galleries among her paintings for a few days! 

It is thrilling. Highly recommended.

Joan Mitchell in her studio at 77 rue Daguerre, Paris, 1956; photo: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Joan Mitchell, City Landscape, 1955; Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Society of Contemporary American Art; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Aimee Marshall

Joan Mitchell, La Ligne de la rupture, 1970–71; private collection; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Clint Jenkins

Joan Mitchell. A sense of place imbues Mitchell’s paintings, from remembered vistas of Chicago, New York, Paris and the Mediterranean coast, to the pastoral hills of Vétheuil, the village outside of Paris where the artist eventually made her home.

With its world premiere at SFMOMA and presentation through January 17, 2022, Joan Mitchell is a comprehensive retrospective.

In addition to rarely seen early paintings that established the artist’s career, the exhibition includes colorful large-scale multi-panel masterpieces from her later years.

SFMOMA’s presentation includes 10 paintings not traveling to other venues, several from the museum’s own holdings. These works demonstrate Mitchell’s ability to create powerful paintings in widely different scales and her propensity for using bold experimentation to find her way from one major body of work to the next. 

Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989; The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Katherine Du Tiel

Joan Mitchell, No Rain, 1976; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the Estate of Joan Mitchell; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1973; Private collection, New York; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Brian Buckley

Joan Mitchel lived and worked in Chicago, New York, Paris, and the South of France. The transnational nature of Mitchell’s existence is yet another way she defies easy categorization. Over the years, both New York and Paris claimed her, and each city incited vividly different perceptions of her work in the U.S. and France. Joan Mitchell examines these diverging views and reconciles them into a cohesive portrait of a complex individual and the outstanding art she produced. 

Joan Mitchell, To the Harbormaster, 1957; AKSArt LP; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Tony Prikryl

Joan Mitchell, Ode to Joy (A Poem by Frank O’Hara), 1970–71; University at Buffalo Art Galleries, gift of Rebecca Anderson; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Biff Henrich, ING_INK, Buffalo, New York

Joan Mitchell, Petit Matin, 1982; Private collection, Toronto; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Ian Lefebvre

With suites of major paintings, sketchbooks and drawings as well as an illuminating selection of the artist’s letters and photographs, Joan Mitchell opens a new window into the richness and range of the artist’s practice and reveals the significance of her artistic achievement.

I recommend that art lovers and visitors spend time viewing the white vitrines in each gallery. Some have home movies, while others display her paints and brushes, and others show diaries and letters and photography that all illuminate this exceptional artist.

Joan Mitchell, Rock Bottom, 1960–61; Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, gift of Mari and James A. Michener; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, The Bridge, 1956; Fredriksen Family Art Collection; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Kris Graves

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1992; Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg Collection; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, Vétheuil, 1967–68; Private collection, New York; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Brian Buckley

Co-organized by SFMOMA and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), the exhibition is grounded in more than two years of archival research and extensive firsthand review of Mitchell’s works conducted by co-curators Sarah Roberts, Andrew W. Mellon Curator and Head of Painting and Sculpture at

SFMOMA, and Katy Siegel, BMA Senior Programming & Research Curator and Thaw Chair of Modern Art at Stony Brook University. After its presentation in San Francisco, Joan Mitchell will be on view at the BMA from March 6 through August 14, 2022.

A version of the exhibition will open at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in Fall 2022. 

Joan Mitchell, No Birds, 1987–88; private collection; © Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo: Kris Graves

“Joan Mitchell’s glorious paintings radiate with the vitality, feeling and sweeping color we usually experience only in the natural world. On a grand scale, she contended with and remade the possibilities of abstraction, personal expression and landscape,” said SFMOMA curator Sarah Roberts. “After so many months of restriction due to the pandemic and the limitations of art online, Mitchell’s subtle surfacesand moving color will visitors a transporting visual experience and remind us of the irreplaceable and overwhelming power of seeing art in person.” 

About Joan Mitchell 

Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) was an American artist whose career spanned more than four decades in the U.S. and France. Best known for her large, abstract oils on canvas, Mitchell also created smaller paintings, as well as an extensive body of works on paper and prints. Born in Chicago and educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mitchell moved to New York in 1949. In 1955, she began splitting her time between Paris and New York, before moving permanently to France in 1959.

In 1968, Mitchell moved from Paris to Vétheuil, a small village northwest of the city, while continuing to exhibit her work in Paris, New York and around the world. In Vétheuil, not far from Monet’s Giverny, Mitchell began regularly hosting artists at various stages of their careers, providing space and support to develop their art. When Mitchell passed away in 1992, her will specified that a portion of her estate should be used to establish a foundation to directly support visual artists. 

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue published by SFMOMA in association with Yale University Press that offers an inspiring scholarly account of Mitchell’s career and the transatlantic contexts that shaped her work as an artist based in the U.S. and France.

Chapter essays authored by co-curators Roberts and Siegel, and in-depth essays by scholars Éric de Chassey, Jenni Quilter and Richard Shiff present new historical models for understanding Mitchell’s work in relation to mid-20th-century painting in Paris, poetry and 19th-century French Romanticism. Presenting groundbreaking research and a variety of perspectives on her art, life and connections to poetry and music, this volume also includes artistic and literary responses to Mitchell’s work by writer Paul Auster, composer Gisèle Barreau, poet and essayist Eileen Myles, artist Joyce Pensato and painter David Reed in dialogue with conservator Jennifer Hickey.

The first major scholarly publication on Mitchell in decades, this book is an essential reference for Mitchell’s admirers and for discovering her work. The publication comprises 384 pages with 350 color and black-and-white illustrations and four gatefolds of her art. 

The new SFMOMA, view from Yerba Buena Gardens; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States and a thriving cultural center for the Bay Area. The in-depth collection of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts is housed in an LEED Gold-certified building designed by the global architects Snøhetta and Mario Botta. In addition to seven gallery floors, SFMOMA offers 45,000squarefeet of free, art-filled public space open to all. 

The new SFMOMA, view from Yerba Buena Gardens; photo: Jon McNeal, © Snøhetta

Snøhetta expansion of the new SFMOMA, 2016; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

Snøhetta expansion of the new SFMOMA, 2016; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

Julie Mehretu, HOWL, eon (I, II), 2017 (installation view, SFMOMA); commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Helen and Charles Schwab; © Julie Mehretu; photo: Matthew Millman Photography

Approaching American Abstraction exhibition at SFMOMA; photo: © Iwan Baan, courtesy SFMOMA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 
151 Third Street 
San Francisco, CA 94103 

Visit or call 415.357.4000 for more information.

All images courtesy SFMOMA used here with express permission.  

Joan Mitchell, My Landscape II, 1967; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

No comments: