American Icons – Réunion des Musées Nationaux - Grand Palais

Stephanie van den Hende
May 11, 2015 10:25AM

An exhibition organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais and the Communauté du Pays d’Aix/ le musée Granet.

This exhibition presents 49 emblematic works taken from one of the world’s largest collections of art from the second half of the twentieth century. It is historic on two counts: it is the first presentation of works from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and the collection of Donald and Doris Fisher brought together by an exceptional partnership developed over many years, and it prefigures the major expansion project at the SFMOMA.

Indeed the SFMOMA houses the works accumulated by the Fisher family, one of the biggest private collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. Now numbering over 1,100 works by 185 artists, the Doris and Donald Fisher collection began in the family’s home town of San Francisco in the 1970s and expanded rapidly in the late 1980s and the 1990s.

The SFMOMA has established an historic partnership with the Fisher family to share this extraordinary collection with the San Francisco public. The Fishers’ works will be exhibited alongside works from the SFMOMA collection in the museum’s new expansion. Although the two collections are not exhaustive, they are both remarkable in their decision to concentrate on certain artists of whom they own a considerable number of works. Both collections include American and European artists who began their careers in the 1960s and 1970s; many of them are still active today. Bringing the two collections together had a complementary effect for many of these artists and some now consider that their work is better represented in this ensemble than in any other museum or public collection in the world.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), founded in 1935, is the oldest museum of modern art still in activity, after the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is also the first museum on the West Coast dedicated solely to modern and contemporary art. Built up largely through donations from the great collectors of the West Coast, the SFMOMA’s collection offers a panorama of American art from the post-war period to the present day. Housing the extraordinary Fisher collection permits the SFMOMA to rival with the world’s greatest modern and contemporary art galleries.

Since 2013, the museum has been closed for expansion and has decided to send its exceptional collection of artworks on tour; in France they will be shown in the south-east gallery of the Grand Palais.

The Grand Palais will host the greatest 20th-century American artists especially from the post-war period: Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Richard Diebenkorn, Chuck Close and many more. The names are impressive, but the quality of the works on display is no less outstanding: Warhol’s Red Liz, Lichtenstein’s Tire, portraits by Chuck Close…

The richness and density of the collection make American Icons: Masterworks from the SFMOMA and the Fisher Collection a very complete exhibition. It presents an outstanding collection, but is above all an opportunity to set up a dialogue between works that have never been brought together before and the French public.

The selection focuses on the paintings and sculptures of fourteen American artists, some of whom, better promoted in the United States than in France, are particularly well represented. Most belong to the generation of painters who followed Abstract Expressionism and navigated between abstraction and representation to reach a new understanding of the use of colour, formalism and figurative painting. Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly illustrate the early developments of abstract art. Some of the best known examples of Pop Art and Minimalism, two movements which appeared simultaneously in New York in the early 1960s, are also on show. Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol of course incarnate Pop Art while Minimalism and the beginnings of Conceptual Art are represented by Carl André, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt. Pictorial abstraction takes shape in works by Richard Diebenkorn, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly. Lastly, the paintings of Chuck Close and Philip Guston synthesize the influences of Pop Art, Minimalism and Abstraction in their figurative works.

By presenting 3-7 works for each artist, the exhibition gives France and Europe a foretaste of the spirit and quality of the new SFMOMA, scheduled to reopen in Spring 2016. 


Curators: Gary Garrels, senior curator of painting and sculpture at the SFMOMA in collaboration with Laurent Salomé, scientific director of Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais (Paris) and Bruno Ely, director of the musée Granet (Aix-en-Provence).
Exhibition design: Bill Katz and Nicolas Adam.

Stephanie van den Hende