This summer, the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) debuts Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, the first major museum exhibition to fully investigate the fascinating visual legacy and life of Gertrude Stein. At the same time, a companion exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, features the works of celebrated artists the Steins admired, collected, and influenced. The Steins Collect is jointly organized by SFMOMA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris. The CJM exhibition explores Stein's multifaceted identity as literary pioneer, transatlantic modernist, Jewish-American expatriate, American celebrity, art collector, and muse to artists of several generations. In conjunction with the CJM exhibition, UC Berkeley Extension is offering a course of the same name beginning in June.
Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century, is perhaps most famous as a modern writer and the creator of such oft-repeated phrases as "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." But Stein's reach across the arts was extraordinary, extending well beyond literature to include collaborations in opera, ballet, and more, and her influence as a style maker, art collector, and networker was considerable. Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1874 and raised in Oakland, California, in an upper middle-class Jewish family, Stein left the United States for France in 1903 at the age of 29. Like James McNeill Whistler and Henry James, her American predecessors, Stein became an expatriate, living in France until her death in 1946. With her partner Alice B. Toklas (1877–1967), she brought together creative people and friends—such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, and members of a cosmopolitan gay and lesbian elite—at legendary salons held in her home.
Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories is built upon exciting new scholarship by guest curators Wanda M. Corn, professor emerita in Art History at Stanford University, and Tirza True Latimer, associate professor and chair of Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of Arts. The range of material in the exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, photography, drawings, and artists' gifts to Stein, as well as items from her custom-designed wardrobe, manuscripts, books, periodicals, letters, journals, and personal belongings. This wealth of material—more than 100 artifacts—illuminates Stein and offers multiple ways of looking at or "seeing" her. About the exhibition, Latimer says: "We're art historians rather than literary scholars, so our approach is fundamentally visual. Our research on Stein uncovered some major themes that have been missing from the composite image built up by her biographers. . . . We're telling five very different but also very interesting stories."
Story one, Picturing Gertrude, presents images that interpret Stein, who modeled freely for artists including Félix Vallotton, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, and Jacques Lipchitz. The second story, Domestic Stein, looks at the lesbian partnership of Stein and Toklas, focusing on their distinctive dress, home décor, hospitality, food, and pets. The Art of Friendship explores Stein's relationships and artistic collaborations after World War I with the neoromantics, a circle of international artists who were young, male, and gay. Celebrity Stein tells of Stein's triumphant return to the United States in 1934–35, and the last story, Legacies, explores her ongoing presence in contemporary art through the work of Andy Warhol, Red Grooms, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Glenn Ligon.
In the course offered by UC Berkeley Extension, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, students have the opportunity to learn in depth about this 20th century complex icon. Led by CJM curator Dara Solomon with guest lectures by the exhibition's curators Corn and Latimer and local Stein scholar Renate Stendahl, the course focuses on a different story each week. The classes combine museum visits and in-class lectures and discussion. The course also gives students the opportunity to learn how to analyze material culture and how to speak and write about objects in a museum setting. One class meeting is held at SFMOMA featuring guest lecturer Janet C. Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA.
The CJM exhibition opens on May 12 and will be on view through September 6. The UC Berkeley Extension course is from June 2 to July 7, 5–8 pm, and is located at the CJM at 736 Mission Street in San Francisco. extension.berkeley.edu/cat/course2554.html. The SFMOMA's exhibit premieres from May 21 to September 6, afterward continuing on to Paris and New York.