Celebrating 125 Years of Publishing
Celebrating 125 Years of Publishing
While the last few years have marked an exciting period of renewed commitment to the arts at Stanford University, the study and celebration of artistic pursuits have been key to the university's history and culture since its start. At the time of the university's foundation in 1891, the Cantor Arts Center (originally called the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum) was conceived as a vital part of university life, standing as a concrete declaration of the Stanfords' belief that interaction with art and artists comprises crucial components of a rich, well-rounded education. Looking back at the history of the arts at Stanford, the significance of the California-based artist Richard Diebenkorn—who studied art here (BA in 1949) and later returned as an artist-in-residence to train and inspire young art students—is immediately apparent. While many important artists have emerged from the university's arts program, none has matched Diebenkorn's weighty status in the history of twentieth-century art. His crucial place in the global canon of modern painters sweetens and renders even more poignant the arrival of the Diebenkorn sketchbooks to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford.
Throughout his long career, Diebenkorn habitually kept a sketchbook—a "portable studio," as he called it—at hand to capture his ideas. After the artist's death in 1993, his wife, Phyllis Diebenkorn (Stanford 1942), kept twenty-nine of these volumes stored in a cardboard box, uncertain about whether she should share such private artistic meditations with the public. When we began to talk with Phyllis and the Diebenkorns' daughter, Gretchen Diebenkorn Grant (Stanford BA 1967, MFA 1969), just a few years ago, we could only hope they might someday consider the Cantor as a home for these treasures. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement when in 2014 we learned that Phyllis had decided, in an extraordinary gesture of generosity and trust, to give the entire collection, along with the bits of ephemera tucked inside several of the books, to the museum. We knew what this gift would mean for generations of Stanford students and scholars. The books contain 1,045 drawings that span the artist's career and represent the range of styles and subjects he explored—from gestural renderings of mundane objects and scenery to powerful vignettes that capture intimate family moments. Their pages reveal visual ruminations on vistas encountered while traveling, offer up carefully composed studies for Diebenkorn's landmark large-scale Ocean Park paintings, and bear witness to his fascination with the human figure by way of a multitude of portraits. Diebenkorn added to these sketchbooks throughout his life, routinely putting one down only to pick it up again years later, so they are essentially undatable. Their improvised nature ensures that each turn of the page offers a surprise.
The Cantor Arts Center is committed to being an open, publicly engaged institution, offering easy access to the art objects in its collections and organizing exhibitions to inspire innovative scholarship and spur new art historical research. This publication appears in conjunction with the exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed, which puts all twenty-nine sketchbooks on public display for the first time. We are profoundly grateful to the historians, artists, and Diebenkorn family member—Gretchen Diebenkorn Grant, Steven A. Nash, Enrique Chagoya, Alexander Nemerov, and Peggy Phelan—who have been our partners in this catalogue. Their insights into the artist's career and the importance of the sketchbooks shed new light on Diebenkorn's working process and the visual dialogues he forged with fellow artists past and present. United in their connections to Stanford as either professors or alumni, these authors' words and ideas affirm the depth and ingenuity of intellectual life at the university, as well as its investment in new art historical research.
The sketchbooks will continue to be utilized and appreciated on-site by museum visitors after the exhibition's close, but their preservation necessitates that they be handled with extreme care. To protect these gems of Diebenkorn's career, the Cantor has recently digitized all twenty-nine books, which allows them to live in perpetuity on the museum's website. Audiences near and far can now leaf through high-quality digital copies of the sketchbooks and see every sketch in the order in which the artist originally laid it down, thus gaining insights into Diebenkorn's thoughtful experimentation with line, shape, and perspective as he tackled challenging subjects creatively. This experience not only allows the books to be searched and scrutinized without the risk of damage, it also expands the reach of this remarkable resource: anyone, anywhere, can delve into the volumes' pages and spend time with the drawings.
Filled with stunning gestural sketches and glimpses of the artist's lived experiences, the sketchbooks unveil the private artistic life of a publicly revered artist. This exhibition and the acquisition it commemorates mark only the beginning of what will surely be a rich and dynamic life for the sketchbooks as part of the museum's permanent collection. Our deepest thanks go to the entire Diebenkorn family, and especially Gretchen, for this gold mine of new material, which artists, students, and scholars of art history alike will explore for years to come. This publication is dedicated to Phyllis—long Diebenkorn's muse and now one of the Cantor Arts Center's most cherished benefactors.
John and Jill Freidenrich Director
Associate Director for Exhibitions,
Collections, and Curatorial Affairs