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California Art Research

My liberal arts minor in college has been one reason for my continued happiness in my life, as it provided me with a very strong interest in the arts and art history.  My wife is my other reason.  My first stop after grad school in 1961  was to visit the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. While roaming thru the museum, I came across a small but beautiful impressionist painting by Henri Fanton Latour.  It was at that moment that I decided to become an art collector.  Due to my lack of riches, I realized I needed to make a fortune.  I accepted a position with IBM, and within six months, I understood how to organize a business. My next step was to go into sales, as I had read in a Business Week article that this was the quickest way to the top. Six months later, I moved to San Francisco and entered the real estate business.  During the next 30 months, I purchased six income properties with no money down as there were few buyers and many sellers. Real estate prices were incredibly low as sellers were still psychologically damaged from the Great Depression.   You could purchase a spacious two-unit building with views in Pacific Heights at that time for $35,000.

Joseph Strong (1852-1900)

Second Artillery, National Guard Company
Del Monte Hotel, Monterey, July 4th, 1880

In 1965 the real estate market crashed due to S&L's barely making loans. So I went to work in sales for an engineering management consulting firm in San Francisco for two years. I eventually acquired and continued acquiring similar companies in Silicon Valley until I sold our company in 1982, and my wife Jeanne and I became full-time art collectors. We started collecting in 1974.  There was so much art available at low prices we comfortably collected through every period, finally deciding in the late 1980s to focus on post-war art.

My following notes provide a quick read of early art history in California. Squeezing fifty years of art history into several pages means I left 99.9 percent of the history out. Still, it highlights enough important information to make an impact on the importance of what was happening in San Francisco and California. The Bay Area was a hotbed of art exhibitions beginning in 1910 and, for the next sixty years providing important exhibitions like New York. In 1946 San Francisco was noted as the second most important art center in the United States, surpassing even Paris. Many of our California painters were as talented as the  New York School, but the price differential is staggering as the real money and intellectual understanding of art was in New York. The New York School painters could afford massive studios with support staff as the critics, dealers, and auction houses fanned the market. And the San Francisco dealers starved. On the west coast, collectors were as rare as the dodo bird. Prices finally began accelerating, and a new collector base entered the art arena in the early 1980s.

I made it a point to meet with almost every artist in the movement and view their entire inventories. Jeanne kept an eye on our small retail space to sell our ever-growing inventory, and I ventured daily into the estates of artists from the 1870s through the post-war period.  I followed every lead. One day in 1977, I saw a small ad by an antique gallery at Fishermans Wharf. When I walked in, the owner was in a cold sweat, and I felt he was being foreclosed on a note by his banker.  I said I wanted to buy something very good. He said I have a surprise for you in the back room that I have been saving for a rainy day. I walked out with four museum boxes containing 250 large original ink on vellum mint condition drawings by Paul Filhon, Napoleon's Chief  Naval architect of the working drawings of Napoleon's fleet. We arranged the donation of these works to the Palace of the Legion of honor five years later.

I'm now in my 80s, but art has kept me active. We are selling most of our collection now but are continuing to acquire the next masterpieces from subsequent movements, whatever they may be.  We only look at the quality of the art. Several of the most important paintings we have purchased over the past fifty years have been unsigned artworks that we had no idea who the artist was.


1910:  Wassily Kandinsky was generally credited for creating the first purely abstract artwork in watercolor and Indian ink Wassily Kandinsky is generally regarded as the pioneer of abstract art. However, a Swedish woman artist and mystic, Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), might also have a claim to that title.

1910:  Picasso exhibits Cubist work titled Girl with Mandolin

1911:  Albert  Barnes, an American Industrialist, reconnected with his high school classmate and artist William Glackens. In January 1912, just after turning 40 years old, Barnes sent him to Paris with $20,000 to buy paintings. Glackens returned with 33 works of art. This collection eventually became the Barnes Foundation that spread a positive influence on many California artists and museums almost thirty years later. The Barnes Foundation (museum) has 69 Cezannes in its collection. More than every museum in France combined.

1911-1913:  While studying art in Paris, Americans Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Morgan Russell developed Synchronism. In 1915 his brother Willard Huntington Wright published one of the first and most comprehensive surveys of advanced art to appear in the United States. Secretly co-authored by Stanton, Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning reviews the major art movements of the previous century from Manet to Cubism, praises the work of Cezanne (still largely unknown in the United States), and predicts a time soon to come when an abstract art of pure color supplants Realism. Synchronism itself, the subject of a lengthy, adulatory chapter, is presented as that desired end-point, the culmination of the Modernist struggle, surpassing the work of "lesser moderns" like Kandinsky and the Futurists; at no time does the author acknowledge his own brother as one of the two originators of that school of art. Acknowledging that he would never be able to secure a living in New York, Macdonald-Wright returned to California in 1918. In 1920, with Stieglitzʼs support, he organized the first exhibition of Modern art in Los Angeles, "The Exhibition of American Modernists," at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and art, showing his own large-scale Abstract Synchronies.

1913:  The New York Armory Show, which includes Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" is purchased by Frederick C. Torrey, a San Francisco art dealer living in the Oakland hills.

1915:  Panama Pacific International exposition is held in San Francisco exhibiting the largest display in America of modernist paintings of the Impressionists. Post-Impressionists, Cubists, and Futurists were viewed by the public and every living artist in the Bay Area in 1915 and again in 1916 at the Post Exposition exhibition. This was a catalyst for the beginning of Modernism on the West coast.

1916:  The Oakland Art Gallery opens in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium under the auspices of the Oakland Public Museum. Later evolved into the Oakland Art Museum during the mid-1960s.

1917:  The SOCIETY OF SIX, a group of artists who painted outdoors, socialized, and exhibited together. They included Seldon Gile, William Clapp, Bernard Von Eichman, August Gay, Maurice Logan, and Louis Siegriest. They were somewhat isolated from the artistic mainstream of the San Francisco Bay Area at the time and painted in a more avant-garde style than most of their peers, especially after being inspired by modern trends represented in the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

1918:  William Clapp, who had fallen under the influence of Monet and other modernist painters in Paris in 1904, is appointed as the Director of the Oakland Art Gallery Museum.

1919:  Willard Huntington Wright, music critic and art editor for the San Francisco Bulletin and brother of Stanton MacDonald Wright, addresses the San Francisco artist colony and discusses Synchronism and the aesthetic and scientific background of his brotherʼs art.

1923:  Groundbreaking begins for the construction of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Stanton MacDonald Wright heads up the Art Students League in Los Angeles.

The first exhibition of the Group of Independent (modern) artists is held in Los Angeles.

1926:  European Representative to the Oakland Art Gallery, Galka Sheyer arranges the Blue Four exhibitions, which include Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, and Klee, opens at the Oakland Art Gallery (Museum) and travels to Stanford University.

Worth Ryder is appointed to the faculty at the University of California, challenging conservative Art Department head Eugen Neuhaus.

Albert Barnes introduces Annita Delano, artist and art professor at the University of California  (now UCLA), to Henri Matisse, and she travels to France.  Delano working closely with her friend Galka Sheyer brings several exhibitions of the Blue Four to the southern branch of the University of California. Matisse brings Delano to his artist supplies store and provides her with knowledge of the paint he uses for his artwork which she brings back to her art studio for her future artwork.

1927:  Galerie Beaux Arts (Beatrice Judd Ryan) in San Francisco exhibits original designs by Diego Rivera of his frescoes on the walls of the Ministry of Education in Mexico City.

The Argus (an art journal on modern art) publishes its first Journal of American and California Art criticism.

Stanton MacDonald Wright and Morgan Russell exhibit at the Oakland Art Gallery (Museum).

The East-West Gallery opens in San Francisco, showing works by Andrew Dasburg, Nordfelt, Bakos, Raymond Jonson, and other modernist Santa Fe artists.

The Modern Gallery opens in San Francisco with an exhibition of works by modernist San Francisco artists.

1928:  Modern Masters from the Carnegie 26th International Exhibition shown at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

1929:  Glenn Wessels of the University of California Berkeley Art Department studies with Hans Hoffman in Munich. Other Berkeley art professors soon follow his lead.

Wassily Kandinsky exhibits at the Oakland Art Gallery and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Rockwell Kent exhibits at the Oakland Art gallery.

1930:  Hans Hofmann is recruited to teach at the University of California Berkeley marking the beginning of the "Berkeley School artists."

Henri Matisse visits Lucien Labaudt (gallery) in San Francisco.

Dadaist compositions by Kurt Schwitters and Lazlo Molholy Nagy were exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery in Oakland, CA.

1931:  Blue Four Exhibition includes Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, and Klee opens at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco later traveling to the Oakland Art Gallery.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi exhibits in the 53rd Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, "Child Frightened by Water," which caused mixed controversy among the Conservatives.

Hans Hofmann exhibits at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

1933:  Alexander Archipenko joins the Faculty at Mills College in Oakland.

"ABSTRACTIONS," an exhibition of European and American artists of the Ultra Modern movement, opens at the Oakland Art Gallery.

1934: The POST SURREALISM movement, including Lorser Feitelson, Harold Lehman, Helen Lundeberg, and Knud Merrild, begins in Southern California.

1935: Wassily Kandinsky exhibits at the Oakland Art Gallery.

1935 - 1945:  Dr. Grace MCann Morley, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, mounts monumental and important exhibitions over the next ten years. Morley, along with the importation of other important art figures in America, brings the instantaneous potential of knowledge and culture to San Francisco and its surrounding communities. Some of the exhibitions are the following:

The Gauguin Restrospective

The Cezanne, Kandinsky and Braque Retrospectives

PICASSO - 40 Years of His Life

The Roault Retrospective

Paul Klee Memorial Exhibition

Leger, Miro: "Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States," Annual Exhibition organized at the Art Institute of Chicago. 53rd annual exhibition 

The first West Coast showing of Jackson Pollock

1936:  Yves Tanguay and Henry Matisse exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Lyonel Feinger was brought to America to teach at Mills College in Oakland.

1937:  The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany. While Adolph Hitler was suppressing this art, his generals were busy stealing and storing it in their private collections.

1938:  A chapter of the conservative "Society for Sanity in Art" is formed in San Francisco. Unable to accept the Modern Movement, they evolve into the "Society of Western Painters."

American abstract artists exhibit at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

1940:  The Bauhaus exhibition travels to Mills College in Oakland.

Fernando Leger teaches and exhibits at Mills College.

1941:  Douglas MacAgy is hired as an assistant curator (later becomes a full-time curator) by Grace McCann Morley at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He married Jermayne Nobel, PhD. in 1941, a Harvard and Western Reserve University educated and brilliant art museum specialist and professor he worked with at the Cleveland Museum. Jermayne Nobel MacAgy worked at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco for 14 years. Throughout that time, she held positions ranging from curator to acting Director. Throughout her career at the Legion of Honor she established a reputation for her exhibitions that were presented in a new and dramatic style, as well as her focus on the museum's educational outreach.

Arshile Gorky exhibits in San Francisco.

1941:  James McCray who had received a Barnes Foundation grant in 1937 until midyear 1939 spends considerable time in Paris studying with the French modernist masters is now appointed to the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts to introduce a new spirit of Modernism into its conservative program.

James McCray arranges the appointment of Douglas MacAgy, a colleague at the Barnes Foundation and currently curator at the San Francisco Museum, to the Board of Directors of CSFA and became Director of CSFA in 1946.

Douglas MacAgy replaces most of the faculty with artists Clyfford Still, Hassel Smith, Clay Spohn, Edward Corbett, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and lecturers Man Ray and Salvador Dali, who not only experimented with radical ideas but encouraged their students to do the same.

1942:  Salvador Dali exhibits at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

1943: Clyfford Still exhibits at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

1944:  Abstract and surrealist art in America is shown at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and a 36-page catalog is published. Artists include William (Willem) de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Ray Eames, Jackson Pollock, Walter Quirt, Ad Reinhardt, along with a selection of works by "American Artists in Exile."

Jackson Pollock exhibits at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Marcel Duchamp and Jaques Villon exhibit at the California School of Fine Arts.

Grace McCann Morley shows California artist Daniel Harris's surrealist artwork in an exhibition of approximately 50 of his artworks at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

The Lucien Labaudt Gallery is founded in San Francisco.

1945:  James McCray wins the Anne Bremer award for an abstract painting on panel, entitled "Reticulation." (Now in the prestigious Gerald Buck Collection). At that time, Alfred Frankenstein, the noted critic, wrote of his work, "McCray has produced the most original and interesting new development in painting that has manifested itself on this coast in my time."

1947:  Abstract & Surrealist American Art, 58th Annual Exhibition of Painting & Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Includes; California artists John Baxter, Elmer Bischoff, Edward Corbett, Claire Falkenstein, Elwood Graham, Lea Rinne Hamilton, George Harris, Robert Howard, Adeline Kent, Robert McChesney, James McCray, Knud Merrild, Felix Ruvolo, Clyfford Still and Howard Warshaw.

Mark Rothko teaches summer school at the California School of Fine Arts.

San Francisco is recognized as an important art center, second only to New York, surpassing even Paris.

1948:  Felix Landau opens Fraymart Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles. Re-opens on La Cieniga in 1951.

Vesuvio Cafe was established on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco by Henri Lenoir, an art lover who opened his establishment to poets, writers, and artists to exhibit their work. There were many other cafes and establishments in North Beach, each devoted to allowing artists to show their artwork. The Black Cat Cafe, Co-Existence  Bagel Shop, The Place, and the Coffee Gallery, to mention a few.

1949:  Metart Gallery is organized with Clyfford Stillʼs advice on Bush Street near Grant Ave in San Francisco by Jeremy Anderson, Ernest Briggs, W. Cohanz, Edward Dugmore, Jorge Goya, William Huberich, Jack Jefferson, Kio Kiozumi, Zoe Longfield, Frann Spencer Reynolds, and Horst Trave. Each of the twelve artists was given a one-month solo exhibition.

1950:  Metartʼs final exhibition June 14 to July 17, 1950. A Clyfford Still exhibition.

Ad Reinhart teaches Summer School at the California School of Fine Arts.

Max Beckman teaches at Mills College.

David Park abandons abstract expressionism and begins his figurative paintings. The collage and assemblage movement also starts in California.

Dynaton (The Possible) exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art includes Gordon Onslow Ford, Wolfgang Paalen, Lee Mullican (and Jacqueline Johnson) per Gordon Onslow Ford. I spent one full day a month for two years working closely with Gordon and his biographer at his compound in Inverness, California, on a yet-to-be-unpublished biography of his life. Gordon provided me with my understanding of surrealism per Gordon as he was one of the original Breton-appointed surrealists when he lived in France during the 1930s.

The Felix Landau Gallery opens in Los Angeles, showing work by Egon Schiele and Gustave Klimt. The gallery also presented Francis Baconʼs first show in Los Angeles.

King Ubu Gallery was founded and opened by poet Robert Duncan and artists Harry Jacobus and Jess.

1953:  Paul Mills is appointed Director of the Oakland Museum. His vision made it possible for the museum to acquire significant California art, artist's estates, and the construction of a new Oakland Museum facility to provide Oakland with a major showcase of great early California artwork. I met Paul and his wife in 1960 when I dated a young woman at San Jose State University who asked me to drive her to San Francisco to have dinner with her parents. We stopped first at Brett Harte Boardwalk, a development that her relative Paul Mills and his wife were developing for the Dowds near Jack London Square.

1954:  The Syndell Gallery opens in Los Angeles founded by Walter Hopps, Ben Bartosh, Michael Scoles and Craig Kauffman. The gallery was maintained by James Newman, who lived in the back of the building. Jim eventually relocated to San Francisco and founded the Dilexi Gallery.

The Six Gallery, co-founded by artist Wally Hedrick opens in San Francisco. Alan Ginsberg reads "Howl" in the gallery on October 7, 1955. The gallery closes in 1957.

1955:  "Action" (full title: "Concert Hall Workshop presents "Action," Painting on the West Coast), an exhibition that opened May 18, 1955, in the merry-go-round building at the Santa Monica Pier, is organized by Walter Hopps and Ben Bartosh with works by Richard Brodney, William Theo Brown, Relf Case, Edward Corbett, Jay DeFeo, Roy DeForest, Madeline Dimond, James Budd Dixon Sonia Getchoff, James Kelly, Fred Martin, Deborah Remington, Hassel Smith, and Paul Wonner from Northern California. Gilbert Henderson and Craig Kauffman from Southern California (Currently referred to as Action 1).

1956:  "Action II," the Merry-Go-Round Exhibition, is held in the Now Gallery in Santa Monica. It is a scaled-down version of "Action," the original exhibition in 1955, and includes the original and additional artists.

1957:  Ferus Gallery, founded by Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz opens on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, exhibiting many Northern California and Southern California artists. It reopens with Hopps and Irving Blum as its director and prospers.

Paul Mills organizes the Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting exhibition at the Oakland Museum, later traveling to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art.

1958:  A Rockefeller Foundation Grant funds traveling exhibitions of The Art Bank of the San Francisco Art Association. The purpose of The Art Bank was to make available the creative work of west coast artists to the widest possible audience.  By 1960 over 90 percent of the artists exhibiting in the San Francisco Art Association painted in a modernist style.

Dilexi Gallery co-founded by James Newman, and Bob Alexander, opens in San Francisco on Broadway above a Jazz Workshop. Alexander leaves the gallery eight months later. The gallery closes in 1970.

I was fortunate to have visited this gallery during the 1960s as I had moved to San Francisco a year after college graduation in 1961 to invest in real estate. I could purchase property virtually no money down. In the early 1960s, homeowners were still scarred by the 1929 depression and the World Wars that followed and many just wanted out of their property. A real estate crash followed in 1965, with S&L financing near impossible. I saw the handwriting on the wall just prior to the crash and went to work for an engineering management consulting firm that I eventually acquired and also began the acquisition of similar companies for the next dozen years.

Spatsa Gallery founded by artist Dimitri Grachis opens in San Francisco in a garage off Union and Fillmore Street in Cow Hollow. The gallery closes in 1961.

1960:  Garbanzo Works Foundry, the first artist-run foundry in the country, is founded in Berkeley by the trio of Peter Voulkos, Harold Paris, and Don Haskin.  In the second year, they are joined by Julius Schmidt and thirty to forty others.

1961:  California School of Fine Arts is renamed the San Francisco Art Institute.

1962-1963: An art world with collectors as rare as the dodo bird and still suffering withdrawal pains from abstract expressionism is being replaced by Andy Warhol and a Pop Art movement that began in Great Britain in the 1950s, accelerating into the early 1960s. Warhol exhibits 32 paintings of Campbell Soup cans at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Irving Blum, Director and stockholder of Ferus, buys the entire collection for $1,000 to keep the collection together. Twenty years later, he made a fifteen million dollar plus profit by selling them to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.  The value today is two hundred million dollars plus. I consider him the smartest man in the room.

1963:  The Art bank publishes its last catalog.

Additional Articles Written by David J. Carlson
The Art Bank

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