S.F. Fine Arts Museums: Thiebaud to Sugimoto

Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also the modus operandi of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Current special exhibits, for example, include the Legion of Honor’s “Rembrandt to Thiebaud: A Decade of Collecting Works on Paper,” through Oct. 7, and the upcoming Hiroshi Sugimoto show in the de Young Museum, opening Saturday and running through Sept. 23.

Rembrandt (1606–1669) and 86-year-old Wayne Thiebaud, California’s most famous pop artist, the leader of the Figurative Movement from Sacramento State College, don’t seem to have much to do with each other, but the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts show at the Legion uses the two to delimit this 250-object exhibit, drawn from the foundation’s thousands of works on paper.

Drawings in the exhibit include some big names from varied places in history: Michelangelo, Edward Hopper, Hans Arp, Andy Warhol, along with prints by Paul Gauguin, Giorgio Morandi, Pablo Picasso and Gerhard Richter. Photography is also part of the show, with important works by Carleton Watkins, Lewis Carroll, Imogen Cunningham and Diane Arbus.

You don’t need to like paintings of soup cans (I never got the point) to appreciate Thiebaud’s funny, folksy, warm portrayal of ice cream cones, hot dogs and pastry. There is a radiance about these works, something strangely appealing. Don’t let Thibaud’s simplicity fool you; he is an artist who has spent much time in the rarified air of where Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns have dwelt — and, just for fun, went on to design California’s funky Arts License Plate.

Something yet different from that is the work of 59-year-old Sugimoto, who has reigned for three decades as Japan’s foremost large-format photographer. The de Young is showing 120 of his photos, part of a tour that’s the first major survey of Sugimoto’s work in the United States. Some of these works are well-known, even if the artist’s name hasn’t been in this country. Chances are you will recognize his 1997 photo of the Chrysler Building, and the 1993 “Ligurian Sea.”

Sugimoto is unpredictable, with works ranging from severe black-and-white photographs to rich, painterly reproductions of great classical paintings, such as Vermeer’s 1664 “The Music Lesson” (or “The Virginal with a Gentleman”), the original believed to have been created with a camera obscura — setting up a four-century-long loop with the contemporary photo.

There will be a members-only lecture by Sugimoto at 7 p.m. Friday in the Koret Auditorium. Tickets are $5. Call (866) 912-6326 or visit www.museumtix.org.

Rembrandt to Thiebaud

Where: Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; closes Oct. 7

Contact: (415) 750-3600

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Where: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, except until 8:45 p.m. Fridays; this Saturday through Sept. 23

Contact: (415) 863-3330

Tickets: $6 to $10; free for children 12 and under; www.thinker.org

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