DOROTHY DERINGER’S ART COLLECTION
Dorothy Deringer’s art collection is eclectic. That was my impression on first viewing it, and it is one that remains. Yet certain tendencies stand out. Much, though by no means all, of the work is figurative. A Pop Art sensibility suffused with shades of California Funk and Folk Art seem the presiding aesthetic. This shouldn’t be surprising, for the majority of the collection was acquired by Deringer through Martha Branner of the Branner Spangenberg Gallery. Branner has for many years divided her time between Menlo Park and Davis, California, the latter being a kind of epicenter for the California Funk movement. Gallerist Branner describes Deringer as being the sort of collector who makes sure that she is well-informed about the works she has purchased; it is crystal clear from surveying this collection in its entire that Deringer has the courage of her convictions, buying that which pleases her, with no concern for what is in fashion at the moment.
As displayed in situ in Deringer’s house, the eclectic nature of the collection is highlighted by the intermingling of wall art, freestanding sculpture, as well as accumulations of small objects which, while perhaps not part of Deringer’s art collection per se, add to the overall visual effect. I was put in mind of the magnificently digressive Barnes Collection, that high temple of artistic eclecticism, where decorative iron hinges from the Middle Ages hang cheek-by-jowl with masterpieces of Modernist painting. In Deringer’s house, netsukes and Russian nesting dolls spill across tables in tandem with South African beaded figures and other cryptic and intriguing objects, many gathered on Deringer’s frequent travels to exotic climes.
Surveying the entryway and living room of Deringer’s house, I was struck by the confluence of a startlingly enigmatic wall sculpture by Peter Foley, “Latitude#12,” a kind of totemic sail in which aboriginal and high-art impulses seem to hold equal sway; Gertrude Bleiberg’s “The Bizarre Bazaar,” a freely brushed, Matisse-inspired color fantasy, as well as, round a corner, another Bleiberg canvas, a large, thickly impastoed painting of the side of a glacier that appears to synthesize the disparate influences of Marsden Hartley and Clyfford Still. Venturing yet further into the living room, a large and vigorously linear painting by Ann Harrold Taylor comes into view. If one continues past the aforementioned table of netsukes et al, Willy Scholten’s metal and wood sculpture, “Who’s Next #2,” demands attention, its looming, aggressive whimsy at once improbable and inescapable. Lastly, Manuel Neri’s “Fix My Heart, God Dammit,” a funny valentine if ever there was one, hangs, askew, for our contemplation.
Other rooms yield different treasures. Works that struck my eye, in no especial order, include, Vonn Sumner’s cool, technically and aesthetically polished “(Thought Picture) Touch Shelves”; K.C. Rosenberg’s “Milky Frontiers,” with its wild and wooly juxtapositions (is that General Custer in a red corset!?); several works by Outsider artist Eric Roberts, including the delightfully off-kilter “The Bathers”; and yet another assemblage by Peter Foley, “Study for Dahomey,” which manages the trick of being both spare and assertive at the same time.
Deringer is doubtlessly driven to collect by many different impulses, but, like any collector worth their salt, ultimately she follows her own eye. I wrote above that she has the courage of her convictions; this may seem a necessary and commonplace attitude of any collector, but alas it is a rarer attribute than one might suppose. I salute her for this quality, for it is a kind of vision; so much art is bought today by collectors obediently following the directions of a consultant or advisor, and it is entirely refreshing to contemplate instead Dorothy Deringer’s highly personal collection , idiosyncratic in the very best sense of that word.