Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Crocker Art Museum: Pride of Sacramento

Northern Californians can feel proud that their state capital has a worthy art museum. At least, my bosom swelled with pride as I scurried breathlessly around the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, trying to take a snapshot of every painting and sculpture that I admired.

The New Crocker Museum
Architect: Gwathmey and Associates
The last time we toured the Crocker, it was almost a joke. It sounds cruel, but it would not be far off to say that the museum had a decidedly amateurish collection in a pretentious old mansion that was totally unsuited for the display of art. Now they have a very interesting collection, well-displayed in a handsome contemporary building, and the stately, old museum continues intact, like a beloved elder.

The Old Crocker Museum
The museum was founded in 1873 by Judge Edwin B. Crocker and his wife Margaret as a gallery for their new art collection.

Crocker was a successful lawyer and judge in Sacramento in 1864 when he agreed to serve as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad Company, a company organized by Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Edwin's brother, Charles Crocker—the "Big Four" railroad barons. From the fortunes they built, Stanford, Huntington, and Judge Crocker all invested in substantial collections of art, including works by California artists. The family of Mark Hopkins later donated their mansion to serve as a home for the California School of Design.

In June of 1869, Judge Crocker suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. He retired from the railroad business and pursued other interests. These interests included renovation of the family's newly-purchased home, commissioning an art gallery building, and embarking on a Grand Tour to Europe with his family from 1869 to 1871. The art they collected during that tour shaped the museum's European collection, which focuses on Central European painting of the 19th century, Dutch and Flemish 16th and 17th-century painting, and Italian Baroque painting (which I didn't see). Only a small percentage of these could be classed as "masterpieces," but the paintings by lesser-known artists have a generally high quality.

Central European painting of the 19th century

Gustav Adolph Friedrich, 1824-1889
Saxon Farm Yard, 1870

Dutch and Flemish 16th and 17th-century painting

Pieter Brueghel II, 1564-1638
Peasant Wedding Dance, 1624
Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656
Allegory of Painting, 1648
Willem Claesz. Heda, 1594-1680
Still Life, n.d.

19th century Dutch Paintings
The museum has since built upon and expanded these core areas, most significantly through a collection of 19th century Dutch paintings.

Hendrik Willem Mesdag, 1831-1915
Marine Scene with Fishing Boats on a Calm Sea, n.d.

19th Century American Art
They have acquired a mixed but high quality group of works by American artists.

Birger Sandzén, 1871-1954
Pines and Aspen, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 1929

Agnes Pelton, 1881-1961
Winter, 1933

Moses Soyer, 1899-1974
Ballerina, n.d.

20th Century Art

Paul Jenkins, b. 1923
Phenomena Intervening Mantle, 2006

Jim Dine, b. 1935
The Blossom, 1985

Luis Jimenez, 1940-2006
Progress II, 1976

Luis Jimenez, 1940-2006
Detail of Progress II, 1976

Charles Krafft, b. 1947
AK-47 and Grenade, 1999

The Art of California

Wayne Thiebaud, b. 1920
River Intersection, 2010
The Crockers also patronized early California artists, helping to create a market where they could thrive. Succeeding generations of directors have filled out the original collection. The Crocker now has enough California art to make a representative historical survey; admittedly the collection has more Northern California artists than those from the southern end of the state. I have used my photos of that collection to write a brief outline of the history of art in California. Here is a link to that history: Art in California

Thanks to later benefactors, the museum also has one of the largest international ceramics collections, as well as collections of Asian, African, and Oceanic art; we skipped all that.

The museum was transformed into an important art destination in 2010 when they opened a large new building designed by Gwathmey and Associates, in a style much influenced by Richard Meier. The additional space gave them a chance to show their collection to good advantage.

In addition, the museum now has space for special exhibitions. When we were there, they had two shows of art that has influenced the culture of California.

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art
This show came from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It considers the contributions of Latino artists to American art and culture from the mid-20th century to the present.

Carlos Almaraz, 1941-1989
Night Magic (Blue Jester), 1988

Arte Mexicano: Legacy of the Masters
This was a smaller exhibit of Mexican artists active in the U.S. and Mexico throughout the 20th century; apparently the Crocker drew this show together.

I was particularly happy to see these two works by women surrealists.

Leonora Carrington, 1917-2011
Dos Personajes, 1965
Remedios Varo, 1908-1963
Vampiros Vegetarianos, 1962

These two works break any stereotypes about Mexican art.

Gunther Gerzso 1915-2000
Illusionary Landscape, 2000

Ricardo Marines de Hoyos, 1918-2009
The Smokers, 1956

Leaving Sunnyvale around 9:30, we got to Sacramento just in time for lunch in the museum's cafeteria. The food service is limited, but the seating area is spacious and lovely. The afternoon sped by as we hurried about trying to recognize and record the good stuff. When they closed the doors, we spent some time enjoying the pretty park out front. Sacramento has some class. It's a worthy tourist destination for any Californian, and a must for art-lovers.