Shotgun Reviews

M/D: Coda at SFMOMA

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Carolina Magis Weinberg reviews M/D: Coda at SFMOMA in San Francisco.

Mickalene Thomas, Sista Sista Lady Blue, 2007; chromogenic print; 40 3/8 x 48 1/2 in. (102.55 x 123.19 cm); Collection SFMOMA, gift of Campari USA; © Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Katherine Du Tiel

Mickalene Thomas. Sista Sista Lady Blue, 2007; chromogenic print; 40 3/8 x 48 1/2 in. © Mickalene Thomas/Artists Rights Society, New York. Courtesy of SFMOMA, San Francisco. Photo: Katherine Du Tiel.

In the current political moment, in which women and people of color struggle (as always, but now even more tangibly) for visibility, Matisse/Diebenkorn at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)—two canonical artists shown in cross-generational conversation—is a bit too pretty, perfect, and White-male-centered. Does Matisse need another show? Is this exhibition, heavily publicized by this major institution, relevant today? It’s a gendered imbalance of male painters of female subjects, again. As a Mexican female critic and artist, I enjoyed Matisse/Diebenkorn the way one enjoys art history that feels distant; like overhearing someone else’s conversation, I had the feeling of being somewhere I did not belong.

Yet, after I passed through the exhibition’s exit, one more room sparked my hope and excitement. Accessible without a surcharged ticket, this exhibition was also curated by Matisse/Diebenkorn curator Janet Bishop, and had its own wall text and title. M/D: Coda operates as a footnote—or even punctuation—to the main show, ending it with an ellipsis, rather than a full stop.

This appendix, which features Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Bechtle, Elizabeth Payton, Amy Sillman, Rachel Harrison, and Mickalene Thomas, brought Matisse and Diebenkorn’s influence into a contemporary dialogue by showing how their lineages extend to other artists across time. Most importantly, this gallery showcases artists of other identities. Whereas women are only subjects of representation in Matisse/Diebenkorn, M/D: Coda presents women as authors of images. Thomas’s Sista Sista Lady Blue (2007) struck me the most in this regard.

The photograph, a staged portrait, features a confident woman on a couch, surrounded by patterned textiles that create a soft, colorful setting. Her gaze pierces back at viewers. Another woman figure, reflected in a background mirror, also gazes back. This piece is unapologetic and empowering: a woman who looks back, a woman who stages representation, and a woman who quotes Matisse and updates his work to this time—a moment when a woman of color deserves her own construction of visibility.

Matisse/Diebenkorn’s relationship to M/D: Coda becomes a matter of real estate. Five artists are compressed in one last gallery—an exhibition that exists to make amends. Although I salute and value this coda, the distribution of artists could change even more, so that the distribution of representation appears to be more timely and balanced. Could we perhaps imagine a Mickalene Thomas solo show that ends with a small gallery with a few Matisse paintings?

M/D: Coda will be on view through May 29, 2017.


Carolina Magis Weinberg is a whether reporter, and a sight specific artist and critical writer. Her projects investigate discrete forms of otherness such as the accent, which she considers to expand from orality, becoming a visual form in the production of the migrating maker.