Mo'MA for your money

Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection runs through January 15, 2001 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street, San Francisco. Free with museum admission. Call (415) 357-4000 for more information.

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Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection is the largest

exhibition ever at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Presenting an

imposing tour-de-force in private collecting and public exhibiting, it

includes around 330 art works never before shown together in one

comprehensive exhibition.

As Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson themselves stated early in

their careers as collectors of fine art, "Let's think big." This exhibition

takes up three floors of the museum, taking the viewer through five more or

less autonomous sections - New York School, California Art, Works on Paper,

Modern Sculpture and Contemporary Art.

The Andersons started collecting fine art in the 1960s with the

intention of "aiming for the best." The title of this exhibition shows the

assumption that it has some of the best modern material available. It is a

celebration of the modern masters, admittedly a very inclusive one, but due

to its status as more a "collection of collections," it appears that the

only justification for showing many of these works together is their common


An exhibition of modern art always has to battle the assumption

that its intellectual quality makes it inaccessible to a lot of people.

While attracting a large and diverse crowd, this exhibition first and

foremost seems to raise the question of whether it really takes us a few

steps closer to an understanding of modern art. Does it really recognize

its audience as competent and knowledgeable, and is that why obvious

comparisons have been avoided? Are spectators expected to come up with new

ones, or does the exhibition simply fail to engage the viewer and instead

occupy itself with a mere manifestation of mastery?

Perhaps contemporary artist Matthew Ritchie has a different

solution to the problem of exhibiting modern art, when he argues that "Art

is one of the things in the world that you're not particularly supposed to

make sense of.... You escape, you look for exactly what you want to see in


Not only are Ritchie's own works in the contemporary section, but so

are the meditational works by Mark Rothko that cater very well to any

viewer in search of personal transcendental experiences. Thanks to the

thoughtful museum floor-layout planners, there is always a seat available

in front of the Rothkos. The artist himself encourages this, saying that "I

paint large pictures because I want to create a state of intimacy. A large

picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you into it."

Despite Rothko's wish to engage the viewer's inner perception,

the word "intimate" doesn't seem applicable to this exhibition.

Awe-inspiring and perhaps even intimidating are more accurate descriptions

of the display. Many viewers seem to rush through this extensive exhibition

aiming to track down the raisins in the cake, so to say, which is a big

shame, since the more obscure and experimental works - in particular those

in the Works on Paper section - have a lot to give even the uninitiated


The largest crowds gather in The New York School section, where

apart from the monumental but soothing masterpiece "Pink and White on Red"

by Rothko, one is confronted with some of the most famous Abstract

Expressionists, including Pollock, de Kooning and their fellow experimental

artists. This is also where a whole room, not undeservedly, is dedicated to

the most monumental works of Frank Stella. Here, viewers can enjoy being

overwhelmed by his captivating two-dimensional works together with those

flirting with a 3-D format.

"Abstract art has the possibility of being incredibly generous,

really out there for is the spiritual art of our time," says

contemporary artist Sean Scully. Whether a dose of abstract art does it for

you or not, or perhaps if you just feel like rock 'n' rolling in front of

some groovy pop art or getting in touch with what's contemporary, go to

SFMOMA and try to get a grip of this exhibition despite its enormity. It is

more than worth some of your solid attention. As with all modern art, love

it or hate it, but don't let it go unnoticed.


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