‘Joan Mitchell’ is all at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Whether entering an art museum for the first time or a long-time connoisseur, visitors to the Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) historical exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will find what ‘they are looking for. Newcomers will be amazed by the enormous scale, its vivid and vibrant colors, the expressiveness of its brush. Aficionados will discover subtleties that are easy to ignore, a communion with painting, details about her life and work providing an even richer context for an artist already loved.

“Joan Mitchell,” on view until Jan. 17, 2022, is universally appealing for its rare combination of a total lack of subtlety and deep subtlety, according to the viewer. It’s a shattering slam dunk set up by a skillful drop-step.

There is no better example of the ability of Mitchell’s paintings to be everything for everyone than Without snow (1969). The 16-foot-wide triptych, whose title translates to English as “no snow,” showcases its full line of markings, “bright passages of wet-on-wet paint and dripping wash to thick impasto, or paint that adds a deep texture and emerges from a surface ”, as described by SFMOMA.

At first glance, the size and energy of the image makes the senses drop as if walking through a looping loop on a roller coaster. Once stabilized, the dazzling color acts like a tractor beam, drawing viewers closer to the canvas and into a carefully constructed universe of individual brushstrokes that match all descriptions. Hours – days – could be spent inspecting and considering singular artistic choices, large and small. It’s a thrill ride, a movie, a biography, a national park all in one.

“Joan Mitchell” offers the first opportunity to see Without snow outside of his permanent home at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburg for over 40 years.

What’s the best way to approach a painting like this, the scale of which can be overwhelming?

“Mitchell herself liked to watch from afar, partly because of her eyesight and partly to see how the painting held up as a whole. When you pull back like that, you feel the landscape effect: the sweeping of the river, the vertical support of the trees, ”Katy Seigel, exhibition co-curator and senior curator of programming and programming, told Forbes.com. research from the Baltimore Museum of Art. “Take one more step and you step into the landscape – the painting fills your peripheral vision, your ups and downs, and that immersion can be magical. One more step and the landscape dissolves in the color and the brushstroke. Now you feel the manipulation of Mitchell’s painting, its movement, its outstretched arm and its touch, alternately declarative and sensitive. Gorgeous color, wet and dry paint, thick and fine. It’s another way to get lost.

Becoming “lost” in a Joan Mitchell painting is an experience that everyone should have the chance to have.

This comprehensive retrospective presents around 80 distinguished works. In addition to the colorful, large-scale, multi-panel masterpieces of his later years, rarely seen early paintings that established the artist’s career are included. The SFMOMA presentation includes 10 paintings not traveling to other locations, many from the museum’s own funds.

Mitchell said “painting is done with feeling” and curators have worked hard to produce an exhibit that takes visitors through a wide range of emotional, psychological and physical experiences.

“The atmosphere and feeling of the exhibition changes dramatically from gallery to gallery,” said Sarah Roberts, exhibition co-curator and curator Andrew W. Mellon and responsible for painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, Sarah Roberts. “Some spaces are exuberant and full of energy, such as the gallery dedicated to major works from the late 1950s; others are calmer, even melancholy, like the works she creates, drawing inspiration from her experience of sailing around the Mediterranean in the early 1960s. Still others soar, with powerful and immense canvases. filled with symphonic colors.

Beyond the thrill of the theme park and cinematic scale, art lovers will meet his scholarly goals of positioning Mitchell as a transnational painter for the first time.

“For the American public, this means detaching her from the history of 9th Street after the 1950s and showing the very experimental and materialistic painting of Paris in the 1960s, as well as the work that followed that was engaged with nature. , with life and death – alternately hard, lyrical, lyrical and tender, ”said Siegel.

“The 9e Street story ”limits Mitchell to the mid-century New York abstract expressionist movement. However, she spent the last 30 years of her life in France, settling there permanently in 1959, painting all the time.

“Mitchell was determined to evade any attempt to name her and confine her to representing one thing or one place,” says Seigel. “For her this meant a wider range of emotions / expressions, going beyond anger and alienation (associated with abstract expressionism), including heartache, sensual pleasure, humor, joy and a kind of metaphysical flight in the face of death. It also meant an increasingly rich and explicit connection with nature and its representation in specific views, trees, flowers. “

Connection to nature. Views. Trees.

“Joan Mitchell” tells viewers that although the paintings are abstract, the artist viewed them as landscapes and she herself was a landscape painter from the lineage of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse.

A sense of belonging permeates Mitchell’s paintings, memorable panoramas of her hometown, Chicago, New York, Paris and the Mediterranean coast, the pastoral hills of Vétheuil, the village outside of Paris where she ultimately made her home.

“I paint from landscapes that I remember carrying with me – and remembering their feelings, which of course transform,” Mitchell said over the course of his life.

This inspired his exuberant color choices.

“Bright, rich colors were Mitchell’s connection to nature and the 19th and early 20th century painters she most admired. Her palette reflects her commitment to capturing the full spectrum of human experience and the richness of the natural world in painting, ”said Roberts. “Even in the watercolors she did in art school, she had an extraordinary intelligence and a bold approach to color, and she grew exponentially over the course of her life. She had an exceptional ability to create very complex color combinations over the entire surface by controlling the placement, proportion, weight and translucency of her colors. She took risky and weird color combinations that really should never work and somehow got there.

In this way, Mitchell was an energetic painter. A physical painter. A champion figure skater who grew up, Mitchell’s paintings demonstrate a unique medium athleticism.

“I just got on that fucking ladder and I was like, ‘This stroke has to work,'” she once said. An attitude that has resulted in paintings that seem daring, daring – do they dare to be described as “manly?” “

Joan Mitchell kicked the ass.

She did so during a long career on both sides of the Atlantic, thus producing some of the most astonishing paintings in the history of art. “Joan Mitchell” lives up to its subject.

After its presentation in San Francisco, “Joan Mitchell” will be presented at the Baltimore Museum of Art from March 6 to August 14, 2022. A version of the exhibition will open at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in the fall of 2022.


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