Much More Than a Decent Docent!

March 12, 2015


My cousin Heidi, my aunt Joy and I were treated to a wonderful few hours at the Oakland Museum of California today by our cousin Jane, who has been a docent there for five years. Jane, an artist herself, was knowledgable and passionate about the exhibits. It was perfect.

We looked at some amazing art (yep, Diego Rivera’s The Flower Carrier)…


…had a clever little arty lunch–as one does in museum cafes (this was just my lunch!) …


…and caught up on each other’s lives and those of countless family members. We did not gossip. Not one bit.

We also laughed a lot…


Here’s a slightly more serious shot… Heidi, Aunt Joy, and the wonderful Cousin Jane, 81, the way-more-than-decent docent!


Here’s a great shot of my beautiful cousin (I had to edit myself out of this selfie, because jeez, who wants to be photographed next to her?! I looked a little like Barney Rubble in this picture, so you can understand my editing myself out.)


Spending the day with the three of them was the main attraction, but it was a SUPER bonus to happen upon OMCA’s special temporary exhibition, a collaboration with SFMOMA called Fertile Ground.

Fertile Ground was an exhibit in four parts, each identifying a significant moment in California art history, characterized by four very unique communities of artists that “changed the face of modern and contemporary art.”

This was a very neat exhibit (will close in April, after a seven month run). I loved it because not only did it feature artists I actually knew and/or loved, one of the sections was completely dedicated to the art that came out of UC Davis. UC Davis! Hell, I even once dated one of a featured artist’s sons.

So, the first section in this great exhibit was about muralists and public artists in the 1930s, mostly Diego Rivera. Mostly this section had to do with Rivera’s mural The Allegory of California which is presently painted all over a wall and ceiling in the Pacific Stock Exchange. They had a much smaller replica on display..


I found most fascinating Rivera’s pencil drawings, which were all studies of the figures used in the mural. I am always stunned by an artist’s raw talent.. always love to see their more informal sketches.

I really loved this one (and bought a refrigerator magnet of it, of course). Jane said it was of the great 1920s tennis player Helen Wills (Moody), who may or may not have been romantically involved with Rivera (though he was married to Frieda Kahlo). This study ultimately became part of the ceiling portion of this mural; you can see the ends of her legs in the photo above.

soaring figure

There was another whole section about the influence of the SF Art Institute in the 40s and 50s (then called the California School of Fine Arts) with photographers like Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston, and abstract painters like Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn. And Diebenkorn… I’ve always really loved his work (this one not particularly abstract):


But the third section of the show…

This was all about UC Davis in the 60s and 70s. In the opinions of the curators of this exhibit, the then newly-named art department chair Richard L. Nelson showed brilliant leadership in recruiting an eclectic and iconoclastic founding faculty including Robert Arneson, William T. Wiley, Wayne Thiebaud, Manuel Neri and Roy De Forest to whom he gave total artistic freedom to experiment with new forms and ideas.


“The result, through the mid-70s, was a flourishing of wildly imaginative art that used humor, irony, and absurdity to outrage and provoke.” (Think the very controversial 1981 Moscone bust he was commissioned to do for the City of San Francisco.)

And to wit, Arneson’s self-sculpture, including marijuana, lipstick-stained cigarette butts, and a cracked foundation. (Yes, it was his son.)


The promotional billboard for the show featured a Thiebaud piece (I bought a print of this one to add to other Thiebaud prints.)


And I really liked this Arneson bust of Jackson Pollack:


The final section of influential California art movements was about the Mission scene. Not mission in the usual California sense, but Mission as in San Francisco’s bustling, bohemian district. In the 90s, art thrived in the Mission when “global events seemed to threaten the fabric of community, such as the first dot-com boom and subsequent gentrification, the war in Iraq, a rampant AIDS epidemic, the Rodney King trial, and the collapse of the federal government’s support for artists.” There was street art, graphic art and lots of talented, younger artists.

This is a piece by Barry McGee:


We also spent about an hour wandering through the section of the museum dedicated to California’s history, which has to be one of the best around. This deserves weeks; it was fascinating to see the history all in one place and so cleverly displayed. So want to come back and take lots and lots of time to absorb it all.


Bade adieu and drove out of downtown Oakland along Lake Merritt, which, believe it or not, I’d never seen. It’s quite pretty:


Left wanting more time, both in the museum and with Heidi, Joy and Jane!

2 Responses to “Much More Than a Decent Docent!”

  1. you’d make a great docent yourself! Thanks for the tour. I want to go now too. Great photos.

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