The Berggruen Gallery Review - `The Human Form' is a Sweeping Exploration of The Human Figure

The Berggruen Gallery reopens at 10 Hawthorne Street, in San Francisco, presenting an exhibition of `The Human Form,’ exploring the human figure from the early 20th century to today.  John Berggruen opened the Gallery in 1970, and today owns and operates the gallery with his wife Gretchen Berggruen, at its new location across from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


`Laura' by Elizabeth Peyton - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


When I spoke to Gretchen Berggruen she was enthusiastic in affirming the galleries commitment to offering viewers, collectors, and the community, visual and educational opportunities to learn about art, along with the pure pleasure of engaging with the art and the artists.


The Human Form, running from January 13 through March 4, 2017, brings together over 60 works, in paintings and sculpture, and seeks to juxtapose the historical with the modern era.  I asked Gretchen Berggruen if they were only interested in “modern” and “abstract” works, and she assured me the gallery had a great interest in historical work as well.  


`Woman with a Newspapr' by Richard Diebenkorn - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery

`Cobalt Dancer' by Nathan Oliveira - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


A gallery of 10,000 square feet, with high walls, on three floors, it feels at once spacious and intimate. I was particularly taken with the interiors deft attention to detail and the beautiful balance of natural and artificial light. The space feels as much museum as gallery, owing much to the skilled hands of architect Jennifer Weiss, whom noted the challenges of creating a modern gallery space inside a building designated an `Historical’ structure. Most importantly, noted Ms. Weiss, was that the architecture remain “deferential” to the art.  


Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


The Human Form exhibition presents 20th century masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Lucian Freud, and many other well known names, such as Richard Diebenkorn, Gerald Richter, William de Kooning, Edward Hopper and Wayne Theibaud. Some of the leading contemporary artists represented include Kehinde Wiley, Kiki Smith, Antony Gormley, Joel Shapiro, Cecily Brown, and George Condo.


`The Oyster Shucker' by David Bates - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


Of my favorites was a painting titled `Ebb and Flow,’ by artist Jenny Saville, noted as “Oil stain, pastel, and charcoal on canvas.’ It was intriguing in its simple yet complex mix of line creating shape.  I enjoy the Picasso’s in part because I’m enabled to look at people in ways I ordinarily would not.  I also enjoyed Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn, along with the work by Lucien Freud, whose work I saw in person for the first time.  I was also quite intrigued with other works I saw for the first time, including a painting titled `Edulis,’ by Francis Picabia, and another `Loge II’ by Max Beckmann. Both harkened back to the American Scene movement, which I always find significant.


`Sailor Steps' by Christopher Brown - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


In today’s world of `Big Art’ and monumental prices paid for works of art, galleries are often intimidating. For those who are interested in simply looking at the art, and those who also may have a desire to learn, and are considering collecting themselves, the Berggruen Gallery offers a place that is friendly, open, and inviting. It’s a place where you can ask question and learn.  My suggestion for beginners is to look at lots and lots of art. Buy only original art and only after you’ve had time to develop an eye for quality. Do not be intimidated and always ask lots of questions.   


`Absyrated Figures' by George Condo - Courtesy of Berggruen Gallery


What I liked most about this show, and the gallery, was the importance placed on the historical significance of looking at and learning from the art.  I did ask Gretchen Berggruen if she was familiar with a San Francisco landmark, Bimbo’s 365 Club. She was, and I asked her if she had seen the paintings in the club. She had, but was not familiar with the artist. I told Gretchen the artist’s name is Julian Ritter, and that he has a significant history, starting in San Francisco. She told me she would look into Julian, so perhaps we will see an Exhibition of Julian Ritter’s paintings, at the Berggruen Gallery, in the near future.


Bimbo's 365 Club, San Francisco


Owned and operated by John and Gretchen Berggruen, the Berggruen Gallery has a wonderful staff. Sarah Wendell is President, Tatem Read is Director of Private Sales, Becky Roberts-Ascher is the Gallery Director, and Morgann Trumbell is Director of Archives and Registration. 



Paintings and sculpture for the exhibition are courtesy of artists, collectors, galleries and museums, and represent some of the finest works of all genres.  Curator and scholar Steven A. Nash provides the introductory essay, as a part of the illustrated catalog, which I must say would be the envy of any major museum.


For those traveling to San Francisco, the Berggruen Gallery is a must see. Located adjacent to SFMOMA, great hotels and restaurants are within easy walking distance, and the bourgeoning neighborhood for the arts includes the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Crown Point Press, Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of African Diaspora.



The Human Form, January 13 – March 4, 2017. On view at 10 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105. Gallery hours are typically Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.  Contact the gallery first, to confirm hours and show details.


Please feel free to share and comment. I look forward to hearing from you and to presenting more Articles about Art that I love.

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