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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004

Collectors edition Collectors edition (May 21, 2004)

"Picasso to Thiebaud" exhibition showcases works owned by Stanford alumni and friends

by Robyn Israel

J ill Freidenrich has been on a hunt for works by Richard Diebenkorn for most of her life.

The crazy love affair for all things Diebenkorn began in 1964, when she and her husband, John, purchased a lithograph from a Los Angeles art dealer. The search continued over the years, resulting in the acquisition of etchings, aquatints and other lithographs.

But it wasn't until 1996, on a trip to New York City, that the Freidenrichs came across the piece de resistance of their collection. They hit gold at the Acquavella Gallery, which had just acquired "Untitled (Seated Woman With Hand to Mouth)" from the Diebenkorn estate (he passed away in 1993). The couple knew they had to act quickly -- they had missed out on buying a Diebenkorn piece the year before, because they had hesitated.

"To find a piece of this quality and to have it be available -- that's rare," Freidenrich said.

This time, the couple did not hesitate. The purchase came a year before a Diebenkorn retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art that elevated his stature in the art world and sent the prices of his works into the stratosphere.

Their beloved artwork occupies a place of honor in their Atherton home. These days, however, it is missing from the family room, as is it temporarily ensconced in the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. Also on loan is the couple's bronze Henry Moore sculpture, Working Model for "Reclining Woman: Elbow."

Their "girls" are part of the museum's current exhibition, "Picasso to Thiebaud: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collections of Stanford University Alumni and Friends," comprised of 65 paintings and sculptures from more than 40 collections throughout the United States.

The pieces, selected by Hilarie Faberman, the center's curator for modern and contemporary art, represent major European and American art movements of the last century, such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism and Color Field. The earliest piece is a 1901 Picasso painting, "Courtesan With Hat." The newest are a 2002 Sean Scully oil, "Pink Wall of Light," and a 2002 porcelain piece by Toshiko Takaezu.

In between are works by such heavyweights as Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Robert Delaunay, Roy Lichstenstein, Nathan Oliviera and Wayne Thiebaud. Among the sculptors represented in the show are Alexander Calder, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Jacques Lipchitz, Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson. A quarter of the works were created prior to 1950, while the remainder hail from the latter part of the 20th century and beyond.

"It doesn't pretend to be a survey," Faberman said. "What it does do is reflect what Stanford collectors have -- a preponderance of contemporary art."

(At Stanford, contemporary tends to refer to works created post-1980, while modern means anything from the 20th century, according to Faberman, adding that the definitions are highly subjective).

"Still, even though it is contemporary, there's no artist younger than 50," Faberman said. "It's not at all cutting-edge. The focus of the modern and contemporary collection is not on younger artists, as much as it is on established American artists, who have an exhibition history under their belts."

Nevertheless, it is impressive, offering viewers the chance to see some works they would rarely see on the West Coast. Case in point: a 1916 oil on canvas by Robert Delaunay, "Portuguese Still Life."

"You may see a Delaunay in New York, but otherwise only in France," Faberman said.

The painting, in which repeated circles explode in a feast of prismatic colors, was loaned to the museum by a family whose daughter attended Stanford. Their identity is anonymous.

"It comes from one of the best collections of early 20th century and impressionist art in the country," Faberman said.

Another rarity is "Marine 2" (1997), an oil on canvas by Alex Katz. Katz is an East Coast whose works are rarely exhibited on the West Coast, Faberman said. The 126 by 96-inch piece is on loan from Woodside residents Binnie and Ned Gates.

"It takes up the focus of their living room," Faberman said of the work. "If you were to take the boats and the landscape out, you'd have an incredibly abstract painting. Katz skirts the edge of how abstract something can be and still represent the real world. That's a very dangerous line to be on. You really have to know what you're doing. His pieces are big, in-your-face paintings."

The exhibition is highly weighted toward Bay Area artists.

"If this show were, say at Smith College, you'd probably have an Oliviera and a Diebenkorn. But you wouldn't have five Diebenkorns," Faberman said. "A lot of our collectors know Diebenkorn through the Stanford collection and love him."

That's the case for Freidenrich.

"Every time you look at her, you see different things," Freidenrich said of the 1964 work. "It's a very quiet painting, but it's tremendously alive."

Another Diebenkorn in the exhibition comes courtesy of the late artist's daughter, Gretchen Diebenkorn Grant and her husband, Richard. Entitled "Scissors," the 1959 piece is an oil on canvas painted during his figurative phase, between 1955 and 1966, when he lived in Berkeley. The scissors, in particular, are considered iconic by the Diebenkorn family, because they appear in so many works.

"What the family tends to hold on to are the meaningful works," Faberman said.

"Picasso to Thibeault" has been in the making since 1993, ever since Faberman became the center's curator of modern and contemporary art. For the last decade, she and museum director Thomas Seligman have visited Stanford collectors, seeking ultimately to have their prized possessions donated to the museum. A particular goal, Faberman said, is to acquire works that would complement the center's permanent collection.

"I'd do anything for a Hockney -- we don't have any in the permanent collection," Faberman said.

The exhibition's sole David Hockney painting -- a brilliantly colored, Matisse-like piece entitled "Interior With Sun and Dog" (1988) -- comes courtesy of Doris and Donald Fisher, who loaned five pieces to the Cantor show.

"Shows like this are really collection-development shows," Faberman said. You can't put it together in six months. It involves long-term courting and schmoozing with people who collect."

Faberman however, had help putting the show together, thanks to five graduate and three undergraduate Stanford students. To get them up to speed, Faberman and Patience Young, the center's curator of education, taught a seminar entitled "Anatomy of an Exhibition" in 2002 and 2003.

As a result, the students were able to assist in the installation of the exhibition, the writing of labels, and the publication of a color catalogue. They met with alumni, viewed their collections and spoke with them about their passion for art.

They also had input in arranging the show according to various academic themes, instead of chronologically.

"The students wanted to point out that art is relevant to disciplines other than art history, so there are sections that relate to other fields taught at Stanford, such as music, literature, feminist studies and science and technology," Faberman said.

For example, the feminist studies grouping includes Picasso's "Courtesan With Hat," David Park's "Woman Playing Solitaire," Diebenkorn's "Untitled (Seated Woman With Hand to Mouth)" and Moore's Working Model for "Reclining Woman: Elbow."

"It's kind of a win-win situation," Faberman said. "The lenders are happy, because their works will be on display, and the students are studying their art. And the students are happy, because they're meeting with collectors and working with real pieces. In the end, it makes for a more interesting exhibition. And you've got an interesting catalogue, because it's not just the curator's voice -- there are 12 authors. That's rare for a catalogue."

The catalogue features comments by the lenders concerning their collections and the role Stanford played in shaping their taste. There also essays by university president John Hennessy, art history professor Wanda Corn, center director Thomas Seligman, Faberman and Young.

A number of pieces in the exhibition have already been promised to the museum, such as the Picasso ( a gift of Dr. Marjorie Lewisohn) and Diebenkorn's "Buildings -- Hill Background," a gift of Nancy Gonzalez.

But most works will be returning to their owners once the show ends on June 20. That means Freidenrich will no longer have to visit her girls -- they'll be back home where they belong.

"It's a tremendous luxury -- and an enormous privilege -- to have these pieces in our house," Freidenrich said. "It's like having a friend. There was a huge dent the day they left."

Who: "Picasso to Thiebaud:Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collections of Stanford University Alumni and Friends"

Where: Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.

When: Through June 20. The center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday until 8 p.m. Docent-led tours take place on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Cost:Admission is free.

Info: Please call (650) 723-4177 or visit

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