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SFMOMA showcases viewer-friendly pop and minimalist art

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Donald Judd’s 1964 sculpture “To Susan Buckwalter” (of galvanized iron, aluminum and lacquer) is on view in “Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Courtesy Judd Foundation/Vaga/Doris And Donald Fisher Collection/SFMOMA)

“Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art,” an exhibition at the reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, showcases the cool, detached, wry and conceptual paintings and sculptures that distinguished 1960s American art, contrasting with emotionally charged abstract canvases of the decade prior.

Works ranging from silkscreen Marilyns to light-bulb installations to a 7 1/2-foot-tall steel apple core are on display in the show, an ongoing presentation of selections from SFMOMA’s Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

The pop artists combined fine art with popular culture — advertising, comic strips, news, celebrities, mass production. Unlike the painterly, inwardly focused work of the 1950s abstract expressionists, their art was dispassionate, not subjective and, with its everyday subjects, viewer-friendly.

Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol receive prime consideration.

Lichtenstein’s comic-strip works imitate the manufactured appearance of cheap four-color printing, even when hand-painted by the artist, as in “Live Ammo (Tzing!)” from 1962.

“Tire” (1962), also definitively pop, is one of Lichtenstein’s early black-and-white paintings of a mundane product.

Celebrity portraits by Warhol demonstrate the artist’s impersonal style and fascination with fame, identity, and image (“I am deeply superficial,” the quotable Andy said). Silkscreen works such as “Triple Elvis,” “Nine Marilyns” and “Jackie Triptych,” all from the 1960s, represent his early period. Nearby, “camouflage” and “fright wig” self-portraits illustrate Warhol’s evolution into darker, mature terrain.

Claes Oldenburg, known for his supersized renditions of common goods, is another pop giant. His above-mentioned “Geometric Apple Core” (1991), created with Coosje van Bruggen, has surely prompted smiles among visitors.

Minimalism involves the reduction of subject matter to its essentials. “The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is,” is how painter Ad Reinhardt described the philosophy.

“To Susan Buckwalter” (1964), a sculpture by notable minimalist Donald Judd, contains four galvanized-iron cubes installed about six inches apart, connected with a blue aluminum strip. Clean and spare, it exemplifies Judd’s devotion to the simplicity of form.

Also in this arena are installations by Dan Flavin — fluorescent-light-bulb sculptures that involve repetition, industrial production, and, again, simplicity.

Geometric paintings by the ever-evolving Frank Stella — an early black piece and, from later years, colored works — also figure in, as do wall drawings conceived by influential conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, who believed that drawings could be two-dimensional only if drawn directly on the wall.

The exhibit’s third major component is devoted to artists exploring the human form.

Highlights include photo-based portraits by Chuck Close, created with a grid system of tiny squares that correspond to cells in his photos. A 1998 canvas of painter Agnes Martin is a standout.

Additional featured artists include Wayne Thiebaud, Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Jim Dine and George Segal.

IF YOU GO

Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art
Where: Fifth floor, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (until 9 p.m. Thursdays), through Labor Day
Admission: $19 to $25; free for ages 18 and younger
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

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