The Right Thing to Do

The Right Thing To Do at the National Gallery San Francisco

A short review of the The Right Thing to Do, the inaugural exhibition of the National Gallery of San Francisco, from the 22nd of October to the 4th of December.

Arriving to the National Gallery of San Francisco one is first confronted by the smell, as if the building itself had burned to its bones and been reconstructed in the same day. Upon entering the exhibition, the source of the odor is revealed: oil that has been reduced to a kaleidoscopic puddle of color, and ash rendered from wood, ready to inscribe soft black marks upon anything it touches. Seeing such important paintings together in one exhibition it becomes clear why they’ve received so much coverage in the international media. Despite being installed much too close together, in the very smallest space of the National Gallery (where the heat is turned so high as to require the immediate removal of coats and sweaters) the exhibition is unforgettable. One never imagined the lines of intersection between protagonists in the grand narrative of painting such as Claude Monet, who died in 1926, and Lucian Freud, who was born in 1922. They shared only a few years of waking life together, yet here their work looks strikingly similar.

The Rotterdam Kunsthall had been rather reluctant to loan the works, perhaps fearing that the new associations highlighted by the National Gallery will be remembered long after any of the individual paintings are resuscitated—the newer forensic narratives overpowering the softer whispers of art history’s preoccupation with line, shape and color. Unfortunately I missed the event for which Olga Dogaru, the exhibition’s curator, who had been given special dispensation to appear via Skype for a conversation with Gerard Jan van Bladeren, famous for his association with Barnett Newman’s iconic painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III. Meanwhile, rumors of Dogaru’s exclusive biography, currently being written by none other than the infamous Clifford Irving, have eclipsed the notoriety of the exhibition and discussion of Dogaru’s problematic curatorial formulation. No doubt her story and others like it will continue to be discussed in the art world for years to come.

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