San Diego, CA
San Diego History Center, through January 3, 2016
This story was featured in the April 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
In 2015, the San Diego History Center mounts a yearlong exhibition to commemorate the centennial of the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. A re-creation of the 1915 Exposition’s landmark art exhibition, the show includes many of the same paintings that hung 100 years ago. The original collection broke new ground, as it juxtaposed resplendent scenes of the untainted California landscape with realistic, modern views of East Coast city life.
Masterworks of the Exposition Era opened in January and continues through January 3, 2016. Drawn primarily from the original California landscapes, the exhibition consists of 70 paintings on a six-month alternation: 40 are currently on display; another 30 will enter the rotation in July. A catalog accompanies the show and features an essay by exhibition curator Bram Dijkstra. History Center Executive Director Charlotte Cagan describes the show as “a historic documentary” and says the assorted works evoke an “unexpected coherence. Everyone has the same visceral response, that the work belongs together in the same space.… The paintings are like a family.”
The exhibit contains 10 prize-winning paintings from 1915, including Grand Prize winner MOUNTAIN INFINITY by William Wendt, Gold Medal recipient CALIFORNIA HILLS by Maurice Braun, and Silver Medal winner COLDWATER CANYON by Alfred Mitchell. Other rarely seen works on display include paintings by E. Charlton Fortune, Guy Rose, Anna Hills, Detlef Sammann, and John Gamble, among others. Masterworks also premieres paintings by Alice Klauber, the driving force behind the 1915 ex-hibition and a student of noted realist Robert Henri.
Henri curated the Balboa Park show at Klauber’s behest, assembling for the first time a collection of East Coast works to be shown in San Diego. Henri’s show featured fellow Ashcan School painters George Bellows, John Sloan, William Glackens, and George Luks, among others. Their work typified the interest in starkly realist content and modernist aesthetics that dominated the zeitgeist of 1920s America.
Revealing the broad range of subjects and styles between the two coasts, Klauber mounted a concurrent show of paintings by prominent California artists. Vastly different from their East Coast contemporaries, the California painters offered halcyon landscapes that captured the raw beauty of the terrain and the spirituality of a place untouched by humankind. Such scenes, often painted with impressionistic brush strokes to create heady textures and tactility of place, according to Dijkstra, “put nature at your fingertips.” Neither romanticized nor hyperpigmented, the compositions express their own brand of realism. Dijkstra remarks, “the Californians’ masterful, and also deeply respectful, celebration of a nature not yet ravaged by industrial excess can stand toe to toe with the art of their far more celebrated East Coast counterparts.”
San Diego’s 1915 Exposition brought nearly two million visitors to the port town of 39,000. As a result of its trailblazing art exhibition, San Diego began blossoming into a thriving artistic community. —Elizabeth L. Delaney
Featured in the April 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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