Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Napa Valley Collects”— the Napa Valley Museum offers a rare peek at art from Napa Valley’s exclusive collectors

Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase Winery with painting "Pegasus" by Odilon Redon.  Photo: courtesy Napa Valley Museum

Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase Winery with painting “Pegasus” by Odilon Redon. Photo: courtesy Napa Valley Museum

In addition to its treasured vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Napa Valley is also home to some exclusive private art collections.   Exquisite artworks that have been quietly hanging in Napa County homes for years, including pieces from Marc Chagall, Alexander Rodchenko, Helen Frankenthaler, Wayne Thiebaud, and Joan Brown, will be the focus of “Napa Valley Collects,” at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, from April 4th through May 26th 2013.

The exhibition features 65 artworks from 30 Napa Valley collectors and represents 53 artists.  Fifty-six of these artworks are installed in private homes, so this is the public’s only chance to view them.  Many of the donors are celebrated  patrons of the arts in general—Margrit Mondavi, Jan Shrem, Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Norman and Norah Stone, Ronald and Anita Wornick, Peter and Kirsten Bedford, and more.  Some are lesser-known, like photographer Jana Waldinger, who has an important trove of Rodchenko estate prints.  Several years in gestation, the exhibition is guest curated by Ann Trinca, of Napa, and is presented in partnership with Arts Council Napa Valley and Visit Napa Valley.  A special preview party, with many of the collectors in attendance, will kick off Napa Valley Collects this Thursday, April 4, from 6-8 p.m., and will feature select Napa Valley wines, live music from the Johnny Smith Group, and culinary treats from Rutherford’s celebrated Auberge du Soleil.

I had the pleasure of meeting curator Ann Trinca, while researching a magazine article on Napa Valley collectors and can attest to the difficulty and delicacy of forging fruitful relations with these high profile residents who are very busy and protective of their privacy. Having built or inherited empires earlier in their lives, their concerns are now turned towards legacy and many of them want to be taken seriously as collectors and benefactors who are building a cultural foundation for future generations.  Trinca was allowed into some of the most exquisite homes in the Napa Valley, which she described as a “delirious thrill,” and was largely given free rein to choose artworks from the lenders’ outstanding collections.  She chose pieces that were “reflective of their taste and collecting journey.”

Enrique Chagoya, "What Appropriation Has Given Me (Fritas yDieguitos)" Collection of Austin and Sara Hills

Enrique Chagoya, “What Appropriation Has Given Me (Fritas y
Dieguitos)” Collection of Austin and Sara Hills

Mondavi, Shrem, and Coppola are household names in the Wine Country–you may have visited their wineries and seen portions of their collections but their private collecting habits have not been fully explored.  The exhibition will share some “love at first sight” stories about these lenders and their artworks and the special relationships that they formed with the artists in their collections.  It will also introduce some less visible but important collectors to the public such as Ron and Anita Wonick, of St. Helena and San Francisco and Peter and Kirsten Bedford.

The Wornicks are not household names but, over the past 30 years, they have amassed one of the most important conceptual craft collections in the country, earning the respect of prominent museums worldwide for their efforts to elevate these finely executed works to the level of fine art.  For Napa Valley Collects, the couple lent two works by Northern Irish glass artist Clifford Rainey.

The Wornicks have a longstanding appreciation for Rainey’s work.  His “Shy Boy” (2005) was one of 250 artworks from their conceptual craft collection— wood, ceramics, glass, fiber, and metal artworks—that they bequeathed to the Boston Fine Arts Museum.    Ron Wornick, who founded the The Wornick Company, amassed part of his fortune through creating and mass-producing MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) a next-generation of individual combat meals or C-rations for soldiers which revolutionized the way soldiers ate in the field.  The rest came when he sold his company.  Wornick, a woodworker himself, has a special passion for wood.  He and his wife are enthusiastically nurturing and supporting wood artists through purchases, endowments, and fellowships and pushing to get wood its long due recognition in the country’s leading museums.   The Wornicks own Seven Stones winery in St. Helena, named after Richard Deutch’s mammoth sculpture, “Seven Stones”  which marks the entrance to the property.

Robert Arneson, "Six Beers," 1991, glazed ceramic, 16 x 11 x 7 inches, loaned from a private collection.  Arneson was born in Benecia, CA, in 1930 and is responsible for transforming ceramics into a recognized medium of contemporary art and for creating highly confrontational artworks.  Starting in the 1960’s, he was a pivotal in the Funk Art movement and was dubbed the father of the ceramic funk movement. Photo: courtesy Napa Valley Museum

Robert Arneson, “Six Beers,” 1991, glazed ceramic, 16 x 11 x 7 inches, loaned from a private collection. Arneson was born in Benecia, CA, in 1930 and is responsible for transforming ceramics into a recognized medium of contemporary art and for creating highly confrontational artworks. Starting in the 1960’s, he was a pivotal in the Funk Art movement and was dubbed the father of the ceramic funk movement. Photo: courtesy Napa Valley Museum

Peter and Kirsten Bedford, of Walnut Creek and Napa Valley,  have lent three works by Roy DeForest.   The Bedfords both have business backgrounds.  He was a leading property developer in California and spread out to cable television, radio and restaurants and she was the publisher of Bedford Arts from 1986 to 1991 and is very active on museum boards. They both attended Stanford and supported its Cantor Arts Center with the “Bedford Sentinels,” a trio of bronze works by artist Beverly Pepper situated at the corner of Serra and Galvev Streets on campus.  The Bedfords also endowed Walnut Creek’s Bedford Gallery, the largest community-based visual arts facility between the Bay Area and Sacramento.  This contemporary art space is housed in the City of Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

In the contemporary art world, collectors and philanthropists Norman and Norah Stone, of San Francisco and Napa Valley, are fabled for Stonescape, their fabulously engineered art cave nestled near Calistoga, where they host art happenings for a select and highly international crowd.  Norman Stone is the son of Clement Stone, the billionaire insurance magnate and self-help author.  The Stones are Trustees of SFMOMA and collaborate with New York art advisor and collector Thea Westreich.  They have lent an early Matthew Barney piece to the exhibition, piece they purchased well before Barney captured he attention of the art world.

Their last happening “Politics is Personal,” in 2012, addressed the notion of political viewpoint.  Artworks by Joseph Beuys, Jeff Koons, Catherine Opie, Richard Prince, Taryn Simon, Piotr Uklanski, and others explored topics that are inherently political—gender, alienation, freedom of thought, war and violence.  “Our art addresses upsetting issues and I don’t feel good about them, but they exist and should not be shirked,” said Norman Stone (quote extracted from 3.2.2012 article  Politics is Personal by Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services.)  Rubbing elbows with the Stones is always delightful.

Several of the exhibition participants preferred to remain anonymous.  One of these generously lent two Picasso lithographs that will be prominently displayed.

“Exploring these amazing Napa Valley Collections, it was encouraging to learn that many patrons collect locally,” said Trinca.  “Out of the fifty-four artists included in the exhibition, forty of them are California artists.  As the self-proclaimed “artaholic” Rene di Rosa believed, the art of our region defines our local culture.  In part, this exhibition helps describe the Napa Valley through the passions of its residents.”

“We are thrilled to host an exhibition of this caliber,” said Kristie Sheppard, the museum’s executive director since 2011.  “We’ve pulled together something unique and substantial that will delight our patrons and visitors.”   Sheppard noted that 300 people had already purchased tickets to Thursday’s special opening party.

Collectors:  Thomas Bartlett, Kirsten & Peter Bedford, T. Beller, Joanne & Ronald Birtcher, Dale & Marla Bleecher, Lee & Moira Block, Stacey & Bob Bressler, Chandra Cerrito & Lewis de Soto, Liz Christensen & Richard Meese, Eleanor & Francis Ford Coppola, di Rosa, Hess Collection, Austin & Sarah Hills, Angela Hoxsey, Dick and Ann Grace, Margrit Mondavi, Val and Bob Montgomery, Louise Newquist, John Nyquist, Marden Plant, Michael Polenske, Felicia and Chuck Shinnamon, Norman and Norah Stone, Janna Waldinger and Anita & Ron Wornick

Artists Represented:  Robert Arneson, Thomas Bartlett, Peter Beard, Robert Bechtel,  Joan Brown, Squeak Carnwath, Marc Chagall, Enrique Chagoya, Jennifer Clark (Skonovd), Ronald Davis, Wiilard Dixon, Roy DeForest, Stephen DeStaebler, Veronica di Rosa, Helen Frankenthaler, Robilee Frederick, Susan Freedman, Viola Frey, Gade, David Gilhooly, Charles Ginnever, Ransome Holdridge, Tom Holland, David Ireland, William Keith, Alphonse-Maria Mucha, Arne Nyback, Nathan Oliveira, Deborah Oropallo, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Rodchenko, Lordy Rodriguez, Tsherin Sherpa, Dale Snyder, Wayne Thiebaud, Earl Thollander, Cy Twombly, Peter VandenBerge, Peter Voulkos, William T Wiley, Ken Jan Woo

Arts in April™:    Napa Valley Collects is a participant of Arts in April™, the valley’s third annual, month-long tasty blend of wine and local culture that offers winery art installations, pop-up exhibitions and tastings—sponsored by Arts Council Napa Valley and Visit Napa Valley.

Details: The preview party for Napa Valley Collects is April 4, from 6-8 p.m.  Tickets are $100 and are available online ( or by phone (707.944.0500).  In addition to the exhibition, public programming will include gallery tours (free with the price of museum admission), on April 20th and May 18th, as well as a screening of film Art of the Steal on April 25th at 7p.m. Reservations are required.

Situated mid-valley in the historic town of Yountville, between St. Helena and Napa, Napa Valley Museum is located at 55 Presidents Circle in Yountville next to the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater and is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-4pm. For more information visit

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA acquires Robert Arneson’s controversial George Moscone Bust, on view now at SFMOMA

Robert Arneson, Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, glazed ceramic, 94 x 31.5 x 31.5 inches. SFMOMA purchase through Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, acquisition made in memory of Jay Cooper. © Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: courtesy Estate of Robert Arneson

A vital and once-controversial piece of San Francisco history has finally come home. On Friday, SFMOMA announced that it had acquired artist Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, a large-scale commemorative bust of former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that incited great controversy when first commissioned and unveiled by the city more than 30 years ago. The famous bust was originally commissioned by The San Francisco Arts Commission as a public artwork for the Moscone Center in 1981. Portrait of George was to be the centerpiece of the Moscone Center, however, it was rejected due to controversial references to the 1978 assassinations of the Mayor and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George not only marks an important moment in San Francisco’s history, but it also marks a turning point in Robert Arneson’s artistic trajectory.  After the rejection of Portrait of George, Arneson took a more critical, political direction in his work and he went on to create some of the most powerful expression of his career.  The bust went on view at SFMOMA on Friday, June 1, as part of an entire gallery devoted to Arneson’s work.

“Since becoming director at the museum in 2002, I have sought to acquire this important sculpture for San Francisco,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who organized the exhibition Robert Arneson: A Retrospective in 1986 during his tenure as curator at the Des Moines Art Center and who has a longstanding commitment to supporting the artist’s work. “I could not be more pleased to finally share this cultural icon with the public and ensure its safekeeping in SFMOMA’s collection.”

Portrait of George (Moscone) was purchased for an undisclosed price through SFMOMA’s Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions; it comes from a private collection, in coordination with the artist’s estate, which is represented by George Adams Gallery in New York and Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco.

Complex History and Provocative Pedestal:  Robert Arneson took an unusual approach to the commemorative public sculpture by creating a portrait bust of Mayor Moscone that was not a straightforward likeness but the blend of caricature and portraiture consistent with Arneson’s signature style.  Early sketches of the proposed work were well received.  When the finished sculpture was unveiled at the Moscone Center inauguration on December 2, 1981, it struck a nerve with the public and its bold 58 inch tall pedestal, with its graffiti-like scrawls and 5 bullet holes, became a huge subject of controversy.

Arneson conceived the pedestal as part of the sculpture.  As the piece developed, he decided that rather than leaving it a neutral supporting element, it should come alive with words and images chronicling Moscone’s life.  Biographical references (“Hastings Law School” and “State Senate”) and some of Moscone’s favorite expressions (“Trust me on this one.” and “Are you having any fun?”) were unobjectionable.  Other inscriptions specific to events surrounding his assassination provoked controversy, such as references to Dan White’s murder weapon (“Smith and Wesson”), the dual slaying of the city’s first openly gay official (“Harvey Milk, too!” and “gay”), and White’s famous defense plea based on his penchant for binging on junk food (“Twinkies”), as well as “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG” and depictions of blood-stained bullets.

By incorporating these elements Arneson had enriched the work to become more than just a personal memorial but a distillation of an unprecedented and intense moment in the city’s history.  The killings of two popular civic officials stunned a community that was still reeling from the Jonestown tragedy only two weeks earlier, when 900 members of the San Francisco–founded cult Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana.  Even for a city accustomed to political upheaval and violence, the deaths of Moscone and Milk were unrivaled civic blows. (Click here to read full SFMOMA press release which includes a description of  SFMOMA’s public advocacy for the artwork as then Mayor Dianne Feinstein called on the Arts Commission to reject the artwork.)

SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels tells the story of Robert Arneson’s infamous portrait of former San Francisco mayor George Moscone

Portrait of George (Moscone) joins 18 other sculptures and drawings by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection.  Other major sculptures by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection include Smorgi-Bob, the Cook (1971), California Artist (1982), Forge (1984), No Pain (1991), Chemo 1 (1992), and Chemo 2 (1992).  The collection contains several major drawings, including an eight-foot-high drawing Vertical George (1981), which is directly related to Portrait of George (Moscone). SFMOMA also organized and presented Robert Arneson: Self-Reflections (1997), a major survey exhibition of Arneson’s self-portraits.

Click here for a SFMOMA interactive feature created in 2007 about Arneson’s life and work—with audio and video clips, archival photographs, and documentation of the original Moscone bust controversy. (Part of SFMOMA’s Voices and Images of California Art, a series of interactive in-depth profiles of 11 of California’s most celebrated artists.)

Rene di Rosa connection:  The late Rene di Rosa, the Napa Valley grape grower and ebullient art collector whose di Rosa museum and sculpture preserve is world-renowned, was a friend of Robert Arneson. He met Arneson at UC Davis while he studying viticulture and Arneson was teaching art classes.  At the time of Arneson’s death in 1992 at age 62 from liver cancer, di Rosa owned 39 of Arneson’s artworks and had spoken frequently about his appreciation of Arneson’s humor and incisiveness as an artist.  He had watched Arneson’s career develop over a number of years from an artist who was initially reviewed in craft magazines because he was working in ceramics to a highly respected artist whose work garnered international attention.  Arneson’s San Francisco Chronicle obituary (11.4.1992) quoted di Rosa as recalling that “Mr. Arneson felt that the controversy around the Moscone bust ‘was politicized.  In that piece, Bob was setting out to state the facts of politics in a work of art.’   The di Rosa currently has a large Arneson ceramic bust, a self-portrait, on display in its main gallery.

Details:  SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  Summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day): open daily (except Wednesdays): 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; open late Thursdays, until 8:45 p.m.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment