Art on the Avenue: The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On College Avenue, just on the north side of the Berkeley-Oakland border, is the office of the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was a painter and printmaker who was raised in the Bay Area and spent the majority of his life in California. From 1956 to 1966, the Diebenkorn family lived in the Berkeley Hills near Rockridge.

Diebenkorn made nearly 5,200 unique works of art in his lifetime, and the foundation that bears his name has been part of an effort initiated over 20 years ago to document each of those works. Jointly sponsored by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Diebenkorn catalogue raisonne will be published in a four volume edition by Yale University Press in 2016.

In addition to its own publication project, the foundation helps other institutions to organize publications and exhibitions. Recent shows have been as near as San Francisco's de Young Museum in 2013 and the Richmond Art Center last fall, and as far away as London, where the Royal Academy of Arts is currently hosting a retrospective exhibition spanning five decades of the artist's work. Each of these shows has featured works made by the artist during the time he lived in the area; the de Young show was composed only of works made during Diebenkorn's Berkeley years.

As noted by Richard Grant, the foundation's executive director, there are many connections between the foundation, the artist, and the neighborhood: "The Diebenkorn Foundation is fortunate to have found a home within a few blocks of where Diebenkorn created the works from the Berkeley period. He had several studios in the East Bay, and the last one was behind his house on Hillcrest Road just up from the Star Grocery. His children went to neighborhood public schools, and both continue to live here."

Diebenkorn also spent time later in life in the Elmwood District, where his colleague Elmer Bischoff grew up. (Bischoff's brother, John A. Bischoff, Jr., was featured in the April 1987 issue of The Rockridge News as part of an oral history compiled by Andrea Gabriel.)

Between projects, the staff of the Diebenkorn Foundation might be found around Rockridge, lunching at Wood Tavern or taking their dogs over to Barclay's Pub. Richard Grant, whose wife Gretchen is the daughter of the artist, also sees some of the benefits of living in the neighborhood by noting "the convenience of being able to walk to BART and do all of our shopping without getting into a car is great. And the one-half block commute to work is pretty good, too."

Carl Schmitz is Art Research Librarian at the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. He also serves as Director of Communications for the Catalogue Raisonne Scholars Assocation, an international professional group, and can be reached at