"I have to look at every inch of the painting," explained Susana Macarron-Bice, registrar of the UC Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, as she pointed a small flashlight at and slowly pored over the painting that had just been uncrated in a museum gallery.
Given the image depicted in the life-size painting, "Bakery Counter," it looked more like she was discerning very carefully which yummy-looking pastry she would choose from the dessert case rather than participating in a careful inspection.
But the frostings and meringues — visibly chunky, which is an effect created by mixing a special medium and paint — was a mirage of sorts. It was ordinary paint made delicious-looking by artist Wayne Thiebaud, renowned painter and founding art faculty of UC Davis.
Museum Founding Director Rachel Teagle, Macarron-Bice and others were on hand Tuesday, Dec. 12, as preparators uncrated the first of more than 60 works that will eventually be part of Wayne Thiebaud: 1958-1968. The exhibition presents rarely exhibited works and new scholarship on this formative decade, a pivotal period of Thiebaud’s practice during which the artist worked his way from obscurity to national prominence. On display Jan. 16 through May 13, it is the first museum exhibition devoted to the emergence of Thiebaud’s mature works.
Macarron-Bice explained that her careful eyeing of the piece is the same process that is followed with every painting — a thorough inspection before and after the exhibition to log, and if necessary, repair any damage. The painting, at least upon first inspection, looked great. It will be displayed alongside another life-size painting of Thiebaud's, "Candy Case," painted in the same era, that is part of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.
The 2018 exhibition opens with the artist’s work in the late 1950s, just as he was beginning to transition from the impressionistic style of his early period toward the representational paintings for which he became widely known. Between 1960 and 1961, Thiebaud entered a new and exceptionally prolific phase of his practice, producing more than 100 paintings that depict everyday objects of American life — ranging from gumball machines to swimsuits and slices of pie — rendered with exaggerated colors reminiscent of commercial advertising. This transition coincided with Thiebaud’s appointment in 1960 to the faculty at UC Davis, which was then in the process of assembling a distinguished art department that also included Roy De Forest, William T. Wiley, Robert Arneson and others.