Berggruen Gallery is honored to present Wayne Thiebaud, an exhibition of paintings, works on paper, and prints from 1961 to present by the eponymous and esteemed American artist. This show marks the gallery’s seventh solo exhibition of Thiebaud’s work since John Berggruen Gallery first showed his work in 1973. The gallery is especially proud to hold this exhibition in honor of two very special occasions: Wayne Thiebaud’s 100th birthday and Berggruen Gallery’s 50th anniversary.
Wayne Thiebaud is a broad-reaching survey featuring over fifty paintings, works on paper, and limited-edition prints—many of which are rarely-exhibited works from private collections and museums. Spanning six decades, Wayne Thiebaud highlights the artist’s most quintessential, significant, and compelling work from the near entirety of his career.
We dedicate this exhibition to the beloved Gretchen Berggruen (1945 - 2020), without whose guidance, warmth, and vision it would not have been possible.
"I’d been working in food, washing dishes. That was my environment. I remember seeing pies laid out, processed food that I’d worked on, so I started painting these triangles and turning them into pies. I thought, 'My God! I’m done in! Nobody will ever take me seriously!' Then I found I couldn’t leave it alone, it was so real to me."
— Wayne Thiebaud, on the moment he found his signature subject as an artist around age 40 (excerpted from "Geometry, pastries and paint: an interview with Wayne Thiebaud," by Martin Gayford for Apollo, September 16, 2017)
A certain duality exists in Thiebaud’s work: his paintings are tenaciously organized, controlled, and representational while simultaneously playing with abstraction, wit, and whimsy. This push-and-pull has made it wonderfully difficult for critics and art historians to place the artist into one specific movement. Thiebaud was initially associated with Pop art for his paintings of popular consumer goods, yet today his work can be understood as a critique of that very movement. Instead of focusing on the mass-production of cultural objects, Thiebaud renders his subjects out of an intimate nostalgia for what he considered the best of America.
Reluctant to labels, Thiebaud dismisses designation to any one art movement, instead describing himself as “just an old-fashioned painter.” Still creating work at 99 years old, Thiebaud could also be considered the hardest-working painter in America. Perhaps it’s his unique amalgamation of rigor, skill, and imagination that has equipped the artist to paint the everyday sights of American life with utter transcendence.
"When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us — glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation — a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on."
— Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud was born Mesa, Arizona in 1920, and his family soon moved to Los Angeles in 1921. In high school he became interested in stage design and lighting, and worked part-time at a movie theater where he made posters for lobby displays, 1935-1938. During this time he also worked as a summer apprentice program in the animation department of Walt Disney Studios, 1936. From 1942 to 1945, Thiebaud served in the Air Force, assigned to the Special Services Department as an artist and cartoonist, and eventually transferred to the First Air Force Motion Picture Unit, commanded by Ronald Reagan. It is not difficult to detect the influence that this commercial experience had on his later paintings attributed to Pop Art; Thiebaud's characteristic work displays consumer objects such as pies and cakes as they are seen in drug store windows. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included. Objects are simplified into basic units but appear varied using seemingly minimal means. From 1949 to 1950, Thiebaud studied at the San Jose State University and from 1950 to 1953 at the California State University in Sacramento. He had his first solo exhibition at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento, and between the years of 1954 and 1957, he produced eleven educational films for which he was awarded the Scholastic Art Prize in 1961. Thiebaud lectured at the Art Department of the Sacramento City College until 1959, when he became a professor at the University of California in Davis. Today, Wayne Thiebaud lives and works in California.
Wayne Thiebaud is open to the public by appointment from October 16 — November 28, 2020. To schedule an appointment, please utilize our online scheduling system. To visit the exhibition page on our website, please click here. To view prints and multiples included in the exhibition and available for sale, please visit our viewing room for Wayne Thiebaud Prints.