Bischoff retrospective goes on display

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MarinMOCA turns its attention to Elmer Bischoff—seen here in his Berkeley Studio, May 1982—for its latest exhibit. Credit: M. Lee Fatherree

Few artists had as much impact on the development of artistic movements in the 20th century Bay Area as Elmer Bischoff, from his contributions to abstract expressionism in the 1940s and ’50s, to his pioneering work in the figurative movement through the 1970s.

Now, for the first time, Marin Museum of Contemporary Arts has gathered a collection of nearly 40 of Bischoff’s most expressive and impressive works for its latest exhibit, “Elmer Bischoff: A Survey of Paintings and Drawings, 1937–1972,” which opens on Saturday, Feb. 29, in Novato.

“Each year we like to highlight a visual artist that we think has had an impact on the Bay Area art scene,” says MarinMOCA Executive Director Nancy Rehkopf. “Even though we are a contemporary art museum, we like to honor those who have come before us. Elmer Bischoff is one of those legends.”

For this exhibit, the museum worked with the Bischoff Family Art Trust, Bischoff family members, private collectors and Napa’s di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. All together, the survey includes 38 works that have never all appeared together at once, and which chronicle Bischoff’s journey through abstract and figurative movements.

“For most people, they’ve only seen these works in books,” Rehkopf says.

Featured paintings include the 1959 oil painting Figure Seated In Backyard, which Rehkopf describes as evocative, romantic and contemplative.

“It’s emblematic of the way he used his experience as an abstract painter to create a brand-new style for figure painting,” she says. “Some curators have called it the Bay Area Figurative School, but I know that Elmer Bischoff really resisted having any label applied to him.”

The exhibit also features seven large oil paintings that are more than 4 feet by 5 feet in size, as well as works that depict local sights like the Marin Headlands.

“It’s going to be a feast for the eyes,” Rehkopf says.

Open to the public through April 19, the exhibit will also be viewed by several hundred Novato fourth-grade students as part of MarinMOCA’s education programming.

“We are really thrilled to be able to share professional exhibitions with local school kids for absolutely free,” Rehkopf says.

For the Feb. 29 opening, the museum welcomes art-scholar Meghan O’Callaghan for a talk about several of the pieces on display, followed by a reception.

At the same time, the museum’s Second Floor Gallery is hosting the opening of a new solo exhibit by MarinMOCA member artist Marie Krajan, “Deep Secrets,” which captures the wonder and vulnerability of the ocean’s coral reefs in paintings that emphasize the need for ocean conservation.

“We’ve all read about the destruction of the coral reefs and what an ecological disaster that is for all of us, if we don’t make changes in the way we’re polluting the ocean,” Rehkopf says. “Marie’s beautiful acrylic paintings of coral reefs and other undersea creations just remind us what a treasure we’ve got there, just beneath the waves.”

“Elmer Bischoff: A Survey of Paintings and Drawings, 1937 – 1972” opens Saturday, Feb. 29, at MarinMOCA, 500 Palm Dr., Novato. Art talk, 4pm; Reception, 5pm. $8–$10; Free for members. marinmoca.org.

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