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Elmer Bischoff, David Park and Hassel Smith at the San Francisco Museum of Art


1. Elmer Bischoff standing in his driveway with his Untitled painting from March, 1948, held sideways.


2. Elmer Bischoff, Untitled #3 (March 1948), 1948, Oil on canvas, 59 1/2 x 53 1/8 inches.


In the summer of 1949, Elmer Bischoff, David Park and Hassel Smith presented their recent paintings in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Now widely considered one of the first abstract expressionist exhibitions on the west coast, it set the tone for a new wave of painting in San Francisco, their work in many ways equally influential as that of the recently arrived Clyfford Still. The public however, was divided on the exhibition and reviews ranged from dismissive to inspired. In “Art News” Erle Loran noted that “it was the most complete release from restraints of all kinds… [Still] seemed composed and orderly by comparison… Associative textural similarities were brought to mind and while they had rich and pungent qualities they were of the sort usually judged unpleasant.” In the New York Times, critic Aline Louchheim noted, “I cannot help feel that this work is potential rather than fulfilled, too diffuse and undisciplined to have sustaining power” though ended with, “When discipline tempers the vitality, a fruitful direction may emerge for San Francisco art.”


Among the reactions of those who saw the exhibition, many, as Susan Landauer notes, recalled the paintings as immense: “city blocks of canvas” or “the size of the whole wall it seemed.” In fact, this painting by Bischoff was the largest on display, measuring just 5 feet tall.


Read more on Bischoff's early abstractions here.