Orange County Modern Art curator Sarah Bancroft, who organized the show, lets it sprawl when the work needs space and then tightens the focus as the exhibition shifts between paintings and works on paper. In several rooms there are only six works on display, but given their size — about 71
2 feet by 6 feet — and given the philosophical hush that pervades their gentle, geometrical forms, one is happy for the spare arrangement and ample breathing room. But it is the light that makes the strongest case, not just for the work, but for the museum itself. The rooms are flooded with neutral light filtering in from above which, combined with the lack of windows, makes Diebenkorn’s work the sole focus of attention. Bancroft calls one of the rooms “the chapel,” and it’s a good description: Diebenkorn’s work puts you in a quiet, contemplative state, attentive to its details, its pentimenti and washes of color that seem, somehow, like the traces of water on sand, or wind on rock.
The Ocean Park series was a long and productive act of anachronism. Diebenkorn, born in 1922, had already produced abstract paintings in the 1950s, and figurative work in the 1950s and ’60s, before he moved to the Los Angeles area in 1966. In 1967, he surprised himself and his admirers by turning to abstraction again even as the rest of the art world was pursuing pop and conceptualism. While other artists were leaving the studio for more engaged and confrontational work, Diebenkorn turned inward, back to painting, back to work that built on what must have seemed like the tail end of a decades-long project to purify and elucidate the fundamentals of visual art.
Named for the neighborhood where Diebenkorn established his studio, the Ocean Park series continued for two decades, eventually reaching “Ocean Park No. 140” in 1985, a painting of two large triangle forms, one sky blue, the other green, with the suggestion of some kind of architectural interaction at the top of the canvas where their two points meet. Diebenkorn did other work, in the Bay Area, in Albuquerque and most notably for this exhibition, in a series called Lower Colorado, in which he responded to large-scale efforts to control the water and landscape of Arizona, paintings which often seem to represent the landscape as if seen from above: flat parcels of blue, green and brown that dissolve the supposed line between abstraction and representation.