Amazing modern masterpieces visit San Diego.

Visitors near beautiful entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Visitors near entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Yesterday morning was super special. I was able to experience dozens of amazing fine art masterpieces firsthand!

My friend Catherine Jones, a docent at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, very graciously provided me and a friend with a special tour. We were given an in-depth look at the landmark Gauguin to Warhol exhibit, being shown for a limited time in San Diego.

Follow me into the world-class San Diego Museum of Art, and we’ll check out a few of these stunning paintings together!

Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more...
Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more…
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!

Gauguin to Warhol: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is an exhibit containing dozens of true masterpieces from many of the world’s most famous modern painters. Artists with important pieces on display include Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein .

The exhibit is a whirlwind journey through time, progressing from Impressionism in the late 18th Century to Post-impressionism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and finally Pop Art in the 1960s. One can follow the emergence and evolution of major art movements over eight decades–and observe how visual abstraction, experimentation and provocative simplicity took a greater and greater hold on the imaginations of many great artists.

These fantastic paintings all come from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. San Diego is the exclusive West Coast stop for this traveling exhibition.

(The following descriptions and reactions were formed in my own muddled human brain, and notes were taken only sporadically. I’m not even close to being an art expert, so take everything I say with a very large grain of salt!)

Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A few steps after we admire a fine example of classic Impressionism, the 1890 Peasants in the Fields by Camille Pissarro, we are stopped in our tracks by a stunning masterpiece by Paul Gauguin. It’s the instantly recognizable Spirit of the Dead Watching, painted in 1892.

Spirit of the Dead Watching was created during Gauguin’s residence in Tahiti. It depicts his young wife Tehura, awakened by a frightening dream. A nightmarish figure with a mask-like face sits at the foot of her bed, seemingly a dark omen.

The bright, gauzy, fine daubs of paint of the earlier Impressionist movement seem to have given way to broad, unabashed swaths of rich color. The elements in this Post-Impressionist image appear two-dimensional; objects depicted seem to have become bold, emotionally colored symbols, rather than more-realistic objects given depth using traditional perspective.

The Spirit of the Dead Watching is both uniquely beautiful and disturbing, not unlike a few of the canvases to come on our tour.

Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Another few steps and we are looking at Pablo Picasso’s La Toilette, painted in 1906 just before his well-known innovations with Cubism.

The two women depicted are different views by Picasso of the same model. The painting seems to be mostly about lustrous, subtle color and soft, slightly angular shapes. It struck me that fusing the two figures, with their simple faces and forms, would result in a sort of Cubist composite creation. Perhaps we see the gears slowly turning in Picasso’s creative mind.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The masterpiece that I enjoyed most–because it’s just so indescribably magical–is Van Gogh’s The Old Mill, from 1888, another fine example of Post-Impressionism. Thick smears of paint and bold brush strokes of light give the painting strange depth and glowing solidity, in spite of its greatly simplified, almost crude representation of a country scene. I felt like I had entered a magical landscape, located somewhere between a gleaming dream and a warm, everyday experience. To me, it’s a piece of art that would never grow old.

Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here we see the emergence of Surrealism. And this masterpiece is by the ever popular Salvador Dalí!

The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, is one of Dalí’s most iconic works. It’s mysterious, strange and stimulates thought. What do the various elements in the design represent? Is that a bowl of mashed potatoes with gravy on a table with a napkin, or is that a lake nestled between mountains? The onlooker isn’t quite sure if the painting is primarily fun or symbolic, or a depiction of the unconscious, or sublime reality. Abstraction has surely taken hold of the artist’s vision, as the scene is a complete departure from ordinary experience.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s impressive Self-Portrait With Monkey, painted in 1938, is said to be Surrealist. To me it appears more like a beautifully colorful Post-Impressionist Gauguin. According to Wikipedia: “Frida rejected the “surrealist” label; she believed that her work reflected more of her reality than her dream.”

Gazing at this one portrait, I understand her assertion. Apart from one canvas in the exhibit, a depiction of fleshy, bloody butchered meat, this painting seems more solidly lifelike and ripe with organic truth than any other work that I recall seeing.

Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

I also love this one! La Musique, by Henri Matisse in 1939, is the sort of joyful, broadening, invigorating style of art that I personally like. Catherine pointed out that the lady on the left is very prim and composed, but the wild lady on the right is the type you’d want to date! Exactly right! The hands and feet are wonderfully twisted and elongated as if they’re swimming within splashes of swirling color and music!

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Jackson Pollock today is recognized as a master of Abstract Expressionism. His unique drip paintings are unmistakeable. And his Convergence from 1952 nearly covers an entire museum wall!

Okay, perhaps I’m an ignoramus and a dullard. To me this style of painting seems a bit random, cynical, and a thumb in the eye of earlier, more skillful artistic styles. Several of the canvases in this portion of gallery struck me in a similar way.  The absurdly huge creations of these famous Abstract Expressionists seem more than experimental–they seem despondent, angry, nihilistic and disillusioned–perhaps a reaction to the massive chaos and inhumanity of two world wars in the early 20th Century. But I do appreciate Pollock’s artful balance, his dynamic strands of color, and the peculiar, imposing beauty that has resulted!

Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here’s one painting that is absolutely disturbing. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a short horror story by Poe, or above the mantle in a cobwebby haunted house! As if penetrating the dark recesses of the human subconscious, Francis Bacon’s unsettling Man With Dog, 1954, seems to portray the bottom of a shadowy figure being resisted by a featureless, spectral hound attracted to a sewer grate. This painting definitely succeeds in bringing out a strong feeling of unfocused loathing. If the aim of art is to stir the emotions, this piece is triumphant!

Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A manic jumble of impulsive, uncertain emotions in two dimensions seems to compose Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist Gotham News, completed in 1955. Flesh tones and slightly organic shapes are intermixed with the angled, heavy lines of a large city’s architecture, looking to my eye like stained glass put into a blender. Energy and spasmodic randomness seem to convey no clear artistic notion, nor rouse any one particular emotion. It’s just a big mixture of complex energy!  Perhaps that was the artist’s intent!

Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

An Andy Warhol response to modernism, his iconic 100 Cans was painted in 1962. Since then, the Pop Art image of multiple Campbell’s Soup cans has spread and mutated throughout the popular culture.

Is this painting a celebration of unrepentant commercialism, or a resigned condemnation? Is he asking the fundamental question: What is art? Or is it just his affirmation that an increasingly technological and global culture has changed life forever, and that art has become something of a commodity? I’ve heard arguments on every side.

The original painting is hanging on a wall at the San Diego Museum of Art! See it for yourself and decide!

The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.
The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.

This truly special, eye-opening exhibit, Gauguin to Warhol, can be enjoyed at the San Diego Museum of Art through January 27, 2015.

It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really appreciate these many great masterpieces. If you can, go see it!

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Trees removed from Jungle Trail Canyon.

Canyon in Balboa Park to be site of San Diego Zoo employee parking structure.
Canyon in Balboa Park to be site of San Diego Zoo employee parking structure.

When I recently went on a special tour at the San Diego Museum of Art, my new docent friend expressed concern about an upcoming construction project. We were standing at a window that overlooks Old Globe Way, a short, winding access road that follows the edge of Jungle Trail Canyon directly behind the museum. The road starts behind the San Diego Junior Theatre, passes the rear of the Botanical Building, and finally leads to the back of the Old Globe Theatre. We gazed out the window at many colorful hummingbird feeders dangling from a nearby tree, at trees by the road that were marked with green paint, then beyond the narrow canyon to the back of the famous San Diego Zoo. The small canyon, I learned, was to be converted to parking!

After doing a bit of research for news on the internet, I learned the canyon would be the location of a six level parking garage for zoo employees. The idea is to free up a large amount of space from the zoo’s main parking lot on Park Boulevard. Employees arriving by car usually start their shifts in the early morning, and depart at different times, so traffic problems in the park would be kept to a minimum.  The new structure has been in the planning stage for a long time.

Yesterday my journey through Balboa Park included a stroll down Old Globe Way. I saw that the work had already been started. Fortunately, those green markings on larger trees indicated they were to be saved.

A tree at canyon's edge is mercifully saved.
A tree at canyon’s edge is mercifully saved.
Canyon between Old Globe, art museum and zoo has been mostly unused.
Canyon between Old Globe, art museum and zoo has been mostly unused.
San Diego Zoo amphitheater where squawking birds and other animals perform.
San Diego Zoo amphitheater where exotic birds and other animals perform.
Trees cut down, making way for new road to a long-planned parking area.
Trees cut down, making way for new road to a long-planned parking area.
Hummingbird feeders in a tree directly behind the San Diego Museum of Art.
Hummingbird feeders in a tree directly behind the San Diego Museum of Art.

Here’s one of several identical signs that appeared nearby in November…

Sign posted in Balboa Park explains the Old Globe Way Renovation.
Sign posted in Balboa Park explains the Old Globe Way Renovation.

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A look at the El Cid statue in Balboa Park.

El Cid sculpture in Balboa Park, by artist Anna Hyatt Huntington.
El Cid sculpture in Balboa Park, by artist Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Near the center of Balboa Park, between the San Diego Museum of Art and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, you’ll find a 23-foot high bronze statue of El Cid. The legendary hero of Spain is mounted on his horse and proudly holding a spear and shield.

The striking sculpture is formally called El Cid Campeador and was created in 1927 by Anna Hyatt Huntington, a famous American sculptor who during her life won numerous awards and commissions. Most known for her lifelike animal sculptures, she is remembered for being the first woman to create a public monument in New York City. Her Joan of Arc was also New York City’s first monument dedicated to a female historical figure.

Anna Hyatt Huntington was married to Archer Milton Huntington, a wealthy philanthropist and art enthusiast, who founded The Hispanic Society of America. He made the very first contribution to the nearby San Diego Museum of Art, in the form of the painting María at La Granja, by famed Spanish post-impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida.

The El Cid in Balboa Park is one of several identical statues. The original stands in front of the Hispanic Society in New York City. Other copies stand in Seville, San Francisco, and Buenos Aires.

It seems that when the statue was installed in Balboa Park in 1930, there was a good deal of public comment about the horse’s unsightly posterior, and a debate over the direction it should face! To the relief of many, the horse’s rear end faces away from the central square and nearby buildings!

A much smaller horse sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington can be enjoyed a short distance to the north of El Cid, right next to the San Diego Museum of Art. It’s called Youth Taming the Wild.

El Cid Campeador, presented by the Hispanic Society of America in 1930.
El Cid Campeador, presented by the Hispanic Society of America in 1930.
El Cid, with Balboa Park's House of Hospitality in the background.
El Cid, with Balboa Park’s House of Hospitality in the background.
East side of El Cid. Mingei Museum in background.
East side of El Cid. The Mingei Museum is in background.
Balboa Park's free shuttle passes the El Cid statue on a sunny day.
Balboa Park’s free shuttle passes the El Cid statue on a sunny day.

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Truth rendered with small touches of light.

Sorolla and America special exhibit at San Diego Museum of Art.
Sorolla and America special exhibit at San Diego Museum of Art.

Light is the physical means by which my eyes see. But I often don’t see true light.

Light is a mixture of myriad colors. But I often don’t see those many colors.

Yesterday I was struck by a few small touches of rare light. My eyes widened with astonishment during a few joyful, delicious moments of revelation.

I was very fortunate and privileged to be a given a special tour of the amazing Sorolla exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Catherine Jones, a docent at the museum, provided an excellent introduction to the light-dabbed paintings of a very important artist that the world has often overlooked.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was a Spanish post-Impressionist painter who won several major art awards and popular fame while he lived, but who soon became forgotten with the advent of the modern abstract movement in the early twentieth century. His stylistically varied and often unusually angled images contain applications of light like I’ve never before seen. Bits of reflection and exquisite luster, and sheens of revealed color, pulled me into a world where the true essence of a subject seems to shine out like magic, but in a very natural way.

I could have gazed at his emotionally stirring, always fascinating paintings for the entire day!

María at La Granja, courtesy San Diego Museum of Art.
María at La Granja, courtesy San Diego Museum of Art.

The above painting, María at La Granja, was painted by Sorolla in 1907. In it you can see Sorolla’s famous application of light. The piece was donated to the San Diego Museum of Art in 1925 by Archer Huntington, philanthropist and founder of The Hispanic Society of America. The very first work of art to enter the collection, today María at La Granja is probably the most recognized image in the entire museum.

Joaquin Sorolla Portrait of President Taft, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Joaquin Sorolla’s Portrait of President Taft, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joaquin Sorolla’s Portrait of President Taft was commissioned by the president in 1909. It is one of many canvases in a special exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art assembled from museums throughout the world. Most of Sorolla’s important works are present, including Another Marguerite (1892), which was awarded a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid and first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, and Sad Inheritance (1899), which was awarded the Grand Prix and a medal of honor at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, and the medal of honor at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.

The two paintings that I’ve posted here hardly do justice to the full range of Sorolla’s splendor. His sun-splashed scenes of beach life in Valencia, his diverse and stunning portraits, his detailed scenes of life in Spain, all the essence and astonishing light that he captured, must be experienced firsthand to be most fully appreciated.

These works by Sorolla are on display for a limited time at the San Diego Museum of Art. If you can, you really should go see them! The special exhibition ends August 26, 2014.

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Big indoor mural at San Diego Museum of Art.

In Search of Earthly Delights mural at San Diego Museum of Art.
In Search of Earthly Delights mural at San Diego Museum of Art.

If you’re walking around Balboa Park and feeling adventurous, you can sneak into a portion of the San Diego Museum of Art and enjoy a stunning indoor mural. Just enter the unlocked door near the Sculpture Garden’s outdoor cafe! Like the sculpture garden, this area of the museum is free to the public!

The 70 foot mural is named En Busca de las Delicias de la Tierra/In Search of Earthly Delights. Created by Writerz Blok, an innovative graffiti mural organization, it was painted by young artists Sake, Daze, Izze and Krown. Pieces from the museum’s collection of Mexican modern art were used for reference and inspiration.

San Diego Museum of Art visitor walks past large indoor mural.
San Diego Museum of Art visitor walks past large indoor mural.
San Diego organization Writerz Blok helped to create this mural.
San Diego organization Writerz Blok helped to create this amazing mural.

San Diego Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden.

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An opening in a fence near Balboa Park’s theatre complex leads back south into the San Diego Museum of Art’s grassy Sculpture Garden. Step through with me!

After slowly crossing the outdoor space, gazing at interesting, often organic abstract artwork, we pause in the shade of the Sculpture Court and turn back for a photo. Here it is!

In the background, you can see the Museum of Man’s colorful dome and the California Tower. Behind us is an open air cafe.

UPDATE! Here are more photos that I took during various future visits!

California Tower high in the blue sky behind colorful, unique artwork.
California Tower high in the blue sky behind unusual, thought-provoking art.
Aim I, Alexander Liberman, 1980. Biased sliced aluminum tubes.
Aim I, Alexander Liberman, 1980. Biased sliced aluminum tubes.
Cubi XV, David Smith, 1964-64. Stainless steel.
Cubi XV, David Smith, 1964-64. Stainless steel.
Two Lines Oblique: San Diego, George Rickey, 1993. Stainless steel.
Two Lines Oblique: San Diego, George Rickey, 1993. Stainless steel.
Modern abstract sculptures are free to view in Balboa Park.
These interesting abstract sculptures are free to view in Balboa Park.
Figure for Landscape, Barbara Hepworth, 1960. Bronze.
Figure for Landscape, Barbara Hepworth, 1960. Bronze.
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, Henry Moore, 1969. Bronze.
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, Henry Moore, 1969. Bronze.
Peeking through one sculpture back across the lawn.
Peeking through one sculpture back across the lawn.
Another view of sculpture garden with lots of people about.
Another view of the Sculpture Garden on a day with lots of people about.
Turning to the north, we see more art to explore.
Turning to the north, we see more artwork in the Sculpture Court.
Sonata Primitive, Saul L. Baizerman, 1940-48. Copper.
Sonata Primitive, Saul L. Baizerman, 1940-48. Copper.
May S. Marcy Sculpture Court was dedicated in 1968.
The May S. Marcy Sculpture Court was dedicated in 1968.
Man cleans pool of water in San Diego Museum of Art's Sculpture Court.
Man cleans small pool containing fascinating art.
This sculpture is titled Night Presence II, 1976, by artist Louise Nevelson.
This sculpture is titled Night Presence II, 1976, by artist Louise Nevelson.
Cafe in building by San Diego Museum of Art's sculpture garden.
The cafe in San Diego Museum of Art’s unique Sculpture Court.

Here come two bonus pics taken in early 2015! A cool new eatery, Panama 66, has been operating now for many months in the Sculpture Court…

Sign directs people to Panama 66 in Balboa Park.
Sign directs people to Panama 66 in Balboa Park.
Diners enjoy Panama 66 food and refreshment in the cool Sculpture Court of the San Diego Museum of Art.
Diners enjoy Panama 66 food and refreshment in the Sculpture Court of the San Diego Museum of Art.

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Taming a wild horse: Sculpture in Balboa Park.

taming a wild horse sculpture in balboa park

I love this small bronze sculpture just in front of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Because it stands inconspicuously in the seldom-visited northwest corner of the Plaza de Panama, few people ever wander over to look at it. Which is a shame.

This piece of art is titled Youth Taming the Wild (Horse Trainer) and was created by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1927. She is also responsible for the huge, iconic El Cid statue near the center of the plaza, between the fountain and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

I love the expressed energy in this work of art and the careful natural detail. One can see why this fine artist is considered one of the top equestrian sculptors.

Horse sculpture in northwest corner of Balboa Park central plaza.
Horse sculpture in northwest corner of Balboa Park central plaza.