Richard Diebenkorn Exhibitions

The American Artist and Water Reclamation

The American Artist and Water Reclamation

  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 25 March 1972 - 28 May 1972
  • Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, Kans., 5 May 1973 - 3 June 1973
  • Tennessee Fine Arts Center, Nashville, 11 August 1973 - 9 September 1973
  • Chattanooga Art Association, Tenn., 6 October 1973 - 28 October 1973
  • Yellowstone Art Center, Billings, Mont., 17 November 1973 - 16 December 1973
  • Caterpillar Tractor Co., Peoria, Ill., 5 January 1974 - 3 February 1974
  • South Dakota Memorial Art Center, Brookings, S. Dak., 23 February 1974 - 24 March 1974
  • Palm Springs Desert Museum, Calif., 13 April 1974 - 12 May 1974
  • Southeast Arkansas Arts and Sciences Center, Pine Bluff, Ark., 1 June 1974 - 30 June 1974
  • Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Tex., 20 July 1974 - 18 August 1974
  • Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum, Seattle, 26 October 1974 - 24 November 1974
Organized by the Bureau of Water Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, D.C.

Curated by John DeWitt

The traveling exhibition and accompanying catalogue presented five works on paper by Richard Diebenkorn and commissioned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation and Department of the Interior.

"FEBRUARY 1970: Participates in the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of the Interior’s project to document the water-reclamation sites
in the Salt River Canyon in Arizona and in Colorado; John DeWitt organizes the program. Diebenkorn accepts the offer to survey the area and the commission to create artworks from what he observes, a rare acceptance as he dislikes commissions, considering the trip an opportunity to see the desert landscape aerially. He is flown over the area in a helicopter and takes numerous photographs during the flights. The Lower Colorado works, the first completed series of Ocean Park works on paper, are a result of this trip.

"'The project I was assigned to was the Salt River Canyon, in Arizona,' [recalled Diebenkorn,] we spent five days in a helicopter surveying it. In one place, we landed on the top of a towering pinnacle overlooking the river; the pinnacle actually had a surface of an acre and a half. I did some drawings—or, rather, paintings on paper—there; we were supposed to do documentary drawings, but mine came out as abstract impressions. I think the many paths, or pathlike bands, in my paintings may have something to do with this experience, especially in that wherever there was agriculture going on you could see process—ghosts of former tilled fields, patches of land being eroded. I also saw large areas where the fields were all planted in the same way for the same crop [but] showed unlimited visual variety. It boggled me! There was also circular farming: you could see clusters of concentric circles, made, I guess, by the combines, but they were cut in so many different ways that each was unique, surprising. Each was nuttier than the one before.'" —Chronology from Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1 (Yale University Press, 2016)
Learn more about collections