Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz
Richard Diebenkorn, West Coast born and bred, moved in 1966 from Berkeley to Santa Monica, to teach at UCLA. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, cultivating an anti-bohemian image in his corduroy slacks and button-down shirts, Diebenkorn was an artist out of step with the prevailing trends. Quietly but firmly abjuring the New York art scene, he had switched in the mid-1950s from the fashionable abstract expressionism to figuration. Now, just as pop art was making figuration tout la rage, Diebenkorn returned to abstraction. The abstract paintings, prints, drawings, and collages that he would create from 1967 to 1988—the so-called Ocean Park Series (named for the Santa Monica neighborhood where his studio was located)—made up one of the most riveting and seminal bodies of work in 20th-century art. Marked by a fine balance and precise execution, these hundreds of lyrical abstract landscapes evoke the stable, buoyant light of Santa Monica and that city’s views of a benign and shimmering Pacific. This handsome book is the catalog of the current traveling exhibition of the Ocean Park Series. The show, which has brought together works in the series from museums and private collections—many of them rarely seen by the public—is the most comprehensive to date, and this catalog, which boasts 143 color reproductions and three essays, including a particularly penetrating one by the art historian Susan Landauer, will almost certainly be the most significant study of the series available for a long time.