Sam Francis? At the Huntington?

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Artist Sam Francis is known for making abstract paintings that look to the future. Unlike earlier Abstract Expressionists who grappled with emotions, Francis, who died in 1994, explored perceptions of light, space, movement and growth and celebrated the joy of color in juicy little canvases and vast, mural-size compositions.

An artist who traveled widely but spent much of his life in Los Angeles, Francis is represented in museum collections around the world, including L.A.'s County Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art. The Huntington Library, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens hasn’t had a Francis, but that hasn’t been an issue because the venerable San Marino institution is best known for looking into the past -- especially British art history. The Huntington’s American art holding is relatively new and little of it is contemporary.

But as Huntington watchers know, it is making a big effort to expand and upgrade its American art collection for the impending inauguration of new galleries. And now it is the proud owner of a Francis painting. It’s a recent gift of the Sam Francis Foundation, a Glendale-based organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the artist’s legacy. ‘Free Floating Clouds,’ a 1980 work that combines a grid structure with loose, gestural passages, is a monumental piece, more than 10 feet high and 21 feet wide. It will be installed with other 20th century works in the Huntington’s enlarged and redesigned Virginia Steel Scott Galleries of American Art at the May 30 opening.

The donation launches the foundation’s new gifting program, intended to place Francis’ art in meaningful contexts. At the Huntington, ‘Free Floating Clouds’ will hang near works by Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn and Ed Ruscha in an installation that will integrate California contemporary art into American art history.


-- Suzanne Muchnic