Archived: Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series at the Orange County Museum of Art


Driving over an hour to see some art may seem like a crazy idea, especially on Easter Sunday.  The way I had it figured, everyone feels a little bit reverent about something – my husband about going to Dodger Stadium, for instance – and the early work of Richard Diebenkorn had been likened to stain glassed windows. If the de Menils could build a Rothko Chapel, could I hope to find some peace surrounded by such soothing and beautiful paintings?

Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series is at the Orange County Museum of Art until the end of May (5/27 to be exact), at which point it will travel to the vaunted galleries of Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, where it’s sure to be a sensation. Diebenkorn is a respected and much-exhibited artist, but not until now has an exhibit focused solely on the abstract works known as the Ocean Park series.  The artist experienced success throughout his life, first as a leading West Coast Abstract Expressionist and was part of a group of well-known Bay Area figurative painters, but moved to Santa Monica when he was 45 and began the Ocean Park paintings. (Good news for late bloomers…)

When you immerse yourself in a painter’s body of work, canvases that might initially seem similar slowly separate themselves out. One green develops into a wholly different green, and the appearance of a new color become a dramatic event. By listening to prompts on my iPhone, I followed Curator Sarah C. Bancroft’s logic for how the work was arranged and her explanations of Diebenkorn’s process. It’s really nice to hear about the show from the person who spent the most time doing the research and creating the experience – Sarah made the show personal, and I’m hoping the days of an anonymous voice on an exhibition guide are gone. (The iPhone guide was great –  no lugging around an extra tape recorder required!)

You can click over to OCMA’s website for some enthusiastic print and media reviews, or you can head down to Newport Beach and decide for yourself if this is indeed ‘an epic show,’ as one critic gushed. I have always loved these paintings, but to see them en masse was very moving. My respect grew for the painter himself, as I learned about his dedication and process. The audio testimonials from Diebenkorn’s artist friends and his daughter were particularly insightful.

Get to the show before it’s gone – it’s a 1.5 hour drive from West LA, and if you must double-down on your logic for taking the trip, you can scoot into Fashion Island for lunch. As for bringing the kids, the museum knocks themselves out to accommodate and teach younger visitors. We saw the layout for an art bonanza that was part of a Target Free Second Sunday program, and watched docents tell stories to groups of kids in the galleries, as well. Check their website for details on family programming.

Target Free Second Sunday is May 13 from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM – this might be the best time to visit, on Mother’s Day, for performances and art projects galore.