The rediscovery of Summary Expressionist Bernice Bing

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Bernice Bing, a Chinese language American artist who was a part of the energetic Bay Space artwork scene of the late Nineteen Fifties and 60s however by no means discovered widespread recognition, is lastly getting her due in a present on the Asian Artwork Museum in San Francisco. Into View: Bernice Bing (till 26 June 2023) will seemingly be as essential a revelation for many guests because it was when curator Abby Chen first got here throughout the artist’s work a few decade in the past. She was working on the metropolis’s Chinese language Tradition Middle on the time and had heard of Bing however grew to become particularly intrigued after seeing Madeleine Lim’s documentary, The Worlds of Bernice Bing (2013).

Lately, the Bing property supplied some works to the museum and Chen jumped on the probability to accumulate 24 of them, which have been partly gifted and partly bought. The exhibition, with its 20 work, traces an interrupted however persistent try to comply with artwork’s calling—from the daring Summary Expressionist works of her youth to her explorations of the feminine type, landscapes in ink on paper and her eventual return to pure abstraction.

Bernice Bing, A Woman and a Highway Map, 1962. Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco, museum buy © Property of the Artist. {Photograph} © Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco.

Born in San Francisco in 1936, Bing grew to become orphaned at age 5, rising up in an orphanage and a sequence of foster houses. In 1955 she gained a scholarship to the California School of Arts and Crafts (now California School of the Arts), the place she studied with Richard Diebenkorn and Saburo Hasegawa. Hasegawa launched her to Asian artwork and Zen philosophy, topics Bing would incorporate into each her artwork and religious apply.

“At the moment I knew virtually nothing about Jap artwork or thought,” she wrote in an artist assertion in 1990. “I used to be completely naïve about my very own cultural heritage. I used to be dwelling in and reacting to parallel worlds—one, the rational, acutely aware world of the West; the opposite, the intuitive, unconscious world of the East. This duality precipitated me to discover the variations and samenesses in artwork kinds.” Two years later she transferred to the San Francisco Artwork Institute, the place she studied with Elmer Bischoff and Frank Lobdell, and earned her MFA in 1961.

Bernice Bing, Lotus Circle/Lotus Goddess, 1986-88. Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco, present of the Property of Bernice Bing. © Property of the Artist. {Photograph} © Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco.

That yr she additionally had a North Seashore studio, the place she posed for a photograph taken at floor degree. The artist is stretched out, head propped up on her proper arm and searching confidently into the digicam. Her giant canvases fill the background, together with her abstracted model of Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656). She was a part of the Beat artwork scene, mingling with Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo and Carlos Villa. On the finish of the yr she had her first solo present, on the avant-garde Batman Gallery, however she was barely eking by financially, working odd jobs to assist herself.

In 1962, Bing left town and took a job as caretaker at a winery within the Mayacamas, a mountain vary in northwestern California. It was the primary time she had lived in a rural atmosphere. “I used to be profoundly touched by this new world—nature and the modifications of the seasons that I had immediately found. So I did a sequence of landscapes which have been very natural,” she stated in a 1991 interview. One of many works she did whereas there’s on show, Mayacamas IV (1963), an oil portray of a darkish mound of a mountain on the fitting and undulating swatches of land throughout its base. Though Bing typically sought the quiet of rural areas, she was additionally engaged with the occasions. “I had develop into very excited by Jung’s work,” she stated within the 1991 interview. “I used to be impressed together with his autobiography, Goals, Reminiscences and Reflections, and together with his concepts in regards to the collective unconscious, and his use of symbols. It was a time of change—the Nineteen Sixties, the flower little one motion.”

Bernice Bing, Untitled, 1959-63. Asian Artwork Museum, museum buy {Photograph} © Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco

When she finally returned to San Francisco, she grew to become concerned in group arts teams, and beginning in 1980 she ran the South of Market Cultural Middle (SOMArts) for a number of years. On the finish of 1984 she had an opportunity to go to Korea, Japan and China on a Fulbright scholarship. She studied Chinese language calligraphy on the Zhejiang Artwork Academy in Hangzhou, an expertise which impressed additional fusion of Jap and Western parts in her summary work.

After that journey she knew she needed to focus on her personal artwork once more, and moved to the rural city of Philo, California. Bing labored till her remaining years. She died in 1998 at age 62, following a battle with lupus and hemochromatosis. Her daring triptych Epilogue (1990-95), six toes tall and 24ft broad—is from that late interval. It’s comprised of a sequence of vertical sections, with bundles of expressive, quite light-hearted portray all through, then a quite mysterious patch of blue-black that spans the second and third panels. “She named it Epilogue as a result of she was utilizing this as a approach to say goodbye,” Chen says. “It was type of a abstract of the place she was at the moment.”

Bernice Bing, Epilogue, 1990-95. Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco, museum buy © Property of the Artist. {Photograph} © Asian Artwork Museum of San Francisco

The curator thinks Bing was excluded from post-war artwork historical past for a number of causes, together with being Chinese language American and primarily based on the West Coast. It could even be as a result of Bing, like Carlos Villa—one other Bay Space artist the museum not too long ago featured—and Ruth Asawa, maintained artwork practices that have been “intertwined with group work”, Chen says. The exhibition is a part of the museum’s efforts to characteristic under-recognised Asian artists and proudly identifies Bing as Chinese language American, a lady and a lesbian—although she was fairly closeted in her time, and solely these near her knew her sexual id.

Bing’s legacy wouldn’t be identified as we speak had it not been for a handful of decided buddies who stored it alive and helped put her work in museums. Lenore Chinn is one; she began making a listing of Bing’s works over the many years, partly from the artist’s stock of slides. The late Mills School artwork historical past professor Moira Roth included Bing in her programs, and the Asian American Girls Artists Affiliation, a bunch Bing helped discovered, co-produced the documentary The Worlds of Bernice Bing.

To get to this juncture, says Chinn, “It has taken 24 years of unrelenting dedication amongst these of us who knew Bernice Bing and felt she deserved to be recognised for her contributions.”

Into View: Bernice Bing, till 26 June 2023, Asian Artwork Museum, San Francisco

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