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Diebenkorn: Engaging Tradition

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An essay on the achievements of Richard Diebenkorn, republished by Mario Naves on the occasion of the exhibition the exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. through September 23, 2012.

Naves writes: "Matisse is the crucial source for the Ocean Park pictures. Not a few observers, after visiting the Matisse in Morocco exhibition at MOMA in 1990, remarked upon the similarity of the backdrop for Zorah on the Terrace (1912) to Diebenkorn's paintings. It is a not adventitious historical rhyme, as Diebenkorn would have been the first to admit. Yet to claim that he did little more than finesse (and fret over) Matisse for almost thirty years is to mistake a profound engagement with tradition for accomplished hackwork. With their pensive harmonies and stoic elegance, the Ocean Park paintings divulge their antecedents without reiterating them… Diebenkorn knew that the hurdle of tradition is not to recapitulate history, but to make tradition speak in a form that is as individual as it is contemporary. He also knew when it needed prodding. By transmuting his forebears into something personal and fresh, Diebenkorn claimed his status as an unapologetic modernist."

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