"Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series" opened Sunday at the Orange County Museum of Art, nearly three years after it was originally planned to debut but was nearly derailed by the national economic crisis. The wait might have been a lucky break. Now, it turns out to be one of those odd and unexpectedly rewarding museum exhibitions that you might have wanted to see but that you didn't know you really had to see -- until you see it.
Let me explain.
The large abstract paintings Diebenkorn made in his Santa Monica studio between 1967 and 1985, in which translucent veils of vaporous color seem suspended in shifting space from a tremulous linear scaffolding, have always seemed like the culmination of something. On a grand scale, they're the end of a century-long wrestling match between color and line as the dual engines driving Modern painting.
For American art in its ambitious, often aggressive postwar efflorescence, they bring a commitment to abstraction to a virtuoso climax. For the artist, who died in 1993 at age 70, they enfold into one grand and glorious whole everything learned in earlier nuanced series, which shifted back and forth between Abstract Expressionist and figurative canvases.