The Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have revealed plans for a major Joan Mitchell retrospective. Currently slated to open in April 2020 at the BMA, the exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in September of that year and then make a stop at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in early 2021.
“The time is right for a thoughtful reconsideration of Mitchell’s work and her impact on postwar painting on both sides of the Atlantic,” Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA, said of the artist, who was based in New York and, later, France, where she died in 1992. Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s director, said that Mitchell is “a riveting subject for the present moment.”
Mitchell was well-known during her lifetime as a painter of abstractions, many of them featuring intense bursts of vibrant hues that recall the landscapes upon which they were loosely based. “I am not a member of the make-it-ugly school,” Mitchell told the late critic Irving Sandler of her taste for bright colors in the article “Mitchell Paints a Picture,” first published in the October 1957 issue of ARTnews. A key member of the New York School, Mitchell was one of the few female Abstract Expressionists to be immediately written into art history.
The Mitchell retrospective will include some of her most famous works, including 1956’s East Ninth Street, a painting in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that draws on half-remembered visions of a Manhattan cityscape, with swirls of burnt umber, mustard yellow, and deep blue evoking the commotion she may have once witnessed outside her studio window. But the show—being curated by the BMA’s Katy Siegel and SFMOMA’s Sarah Roberts—will also feature rarely seen works and materials related to Mitchell’s career, among them sketchbooks and archival photographs. The Whitney Museum in New York previously held a 60-work Mitchell retrospective in 2002, though this show will be two times as big.
The news of the traveling show comes following the announcement last month that the Joan Mitchell Foundation is now represented by David Zwirner gallery. (Mitchell’s foundation had long worked with New York’s Cheim & Read gallery, which had helped cement the artist’s reputation through a series of exhibitions and catalogues over the years.) A sudden interest in Mitchell’s market has followed. Last week, Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina called Mitchell the “belle of [Art] Basel,” noting that her work had begun commanding higher prices than ever before. Earlier this week, a Mitchell painting was sold from the Art Basel booth of Hauser & Wirth for $14 million by a European collector; another work, from the 1950s, was bought for $7.5 million at David Zwirner’s booth.