The Cool Revival: Sonia Gechtoff in San Francisco
Art In America
By Faye Hirsch
January 20, 2011
Tough, straight-talking abstract painter Sonia Gechtoff is currently being rescued from ill-deserved obscurity, swept up in a wave of fervor for Abstract Expressionism sparked by MoMA’s more narrowly selected show (up through Apr. 25). Gechtoff, though, got her start on the West Coast. She had the first solo show at Ferus Gallery in L.A. in 1957, was photographed by Hans Namuth, married the brilliant, under-known artist James Kelly and was once so angry she threw her inebriated lover, the Bay Area abstractionist Ernest Briggs, down a flight of stairs.
Gechtoff is one of just two surviving members of the 18 Bay Area artists, angelheaded hipsters all, featured in the splendid exhibition “Bella Pacifica: Bay Area Abstraction 1946–1963, A Symphony in Four Acts,” mounted at four venues around the city: Leslie Feely Fine Art, Nyehaus, Franklin Parrasch Gallery (all through Mar. 5) and David Nolan Gallery (through Feb. 5).
Born in 1926 in Philadelphia, Gechtoff arrived in San Francisco in 1951 and found a heady mix of artists, poets and jazz musicians feeding off each others’ energy in a scene as lively as anything back East.
Her large oil Angel (1960) is featured on flyers and in ads for “Bella Pacifica,” and it has pride of place at David Nolan Gallery, which focuses on the 6 Gallery. An artists’ cooperative that flourished between 1954 and ’57 at 3119 Fillmore Street, the gallery is best known as the place where Allen Ginsberg first read “Howl,” on Oct. 7, 1955, initiating a national controversy.
Paintings, collages and assemblages by Gechtoff’s contemporaries Hassel Smith, Deborah Remington, Jess, Bruce Conner, Wally Hedrick and Kelly, all of whom showed at 6 Gallery, are on also view at Nolan.
Gechtoff, a terrific raconteur, talked to me about the Bay Area scene, which she remembers in sharp detail.