Beyond Belief
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Presence: Sitting with the human instinct to stand still in front of something larger than us.
Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still
Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], 1945. Oil on canvas, 70 7/8 in. x 42 in. Collection SFMOMA, gift of Peggy Guggenheim. Courtesy of Clyfford Still Museum. © Clyfford Still Estate.
Be Here Now
Clyfford Still was one of the key painters to introduce abstraction to American audiences beginning in the 1940s. For Still and other artists of his generation, an artwork was increasingly judged by what it evoked, not by how accurately it represented something. The “presence” of a painting or sculpture, its ability to connect with a viewer emotionally, became a key test of its value.
Neal Benezra, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, reflects on first viewing Still’s untitled painting.
fpo art
Alberto Giacometti
Tête (Trois quarts et profil) (Buste de Diego) (Head [Three-Quarters Profile] [Bust of Diego]), 1957. Bronze. 24 1/2 in. x 10 in. x 6 1/2 in. Collection SFMOMA, fractional purchase and bequest of Phyllis Wattis. Art © Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York.
Here I Am
Alberto Giacometti’s slender sculptures are appreciated as symbols of both existential loneliness and the individual’s fierce determination to be present in the world.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor offers a traditional Jewish interpretation of the experience of being present with a work of art, based on the Biblical Hebrew phrase hineni—“here I am.”
Adaline Kent
Adaline Kent
Presence, 1947. Magnesite. 42 3/4 in. x 17 3/4 in. x 7 1/4 in. Collection SFMOMA, gift of the Women’s Board and the Membership Activities Board. © Estate of Adaline Kent.
Here We Go
Adaline Kent wrote eloquently of the inner state that was required to both create and appreciate lasting art.

The following excerpts from Kent’s Autobiography (1958) reveal three different approaches to being present for artistic inspiration.

“Don’t try to arrive at your destination quickly—arrive wholly.—In imitation there is only partial arrival,—some miss the road,—some lag,—some may never catch up.—It is the WAY that has meaning, color, inference as it points toward final mystery. The end is apparently simple pure statement,—sublime,—with a ridiculous dependence on the means of arrival.”

“Both sculpture and pictures are images emerging from subconscious experience—physical, emotional, imaginary.—They are fears, premonitions, felt individually,—perhaps shared,—without words. They are autobiography.”

“We recognize true forms and relationships when we come upon them only by the way they suddenly make their impact, with sometimes a physical reaction,—a jolt,—a shock of electricity. Then you know you are hot,—it is their heat you react to.”