Building on the philanthropic traditions begun by the world-famous animator and film producer Walt Disney, the sale of works from the Ron and Diane Disney Miller Collection will benefit charitable and philanthropic causes that are close to the family’s heart. Walt Disney was a pioneer of the modern entertainment industry; from the humble beginnings of Steamboat Willie—the 8-minute animated film that introduced Mickey Mouse to the world in 1928—to the internationally renowned theme park empire, Disney’s legacy continues to be felt around the world nearly a century later. A pioneering philanthropist, Disney in his heyday would surprise sick children in hospitals around Los Angeles, frequently accompanied by Disney characters and animators, hoping to bring the patients a few moments of joy.
As Walt Disney’s eldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller inherited her father’s remarkable enthusiasm and energy, as well as his commitment to philanthropy and the arts, particularly classical music. Diane was married for nearly 60 years to Ron Miller, a professional football player who became president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 1978-84. Especially devoted to raising her seven children, Diane was also an unstoppable creative force who undertook an active role in documenting and supporting the accomplishments of her father. These efforts culminated in the 2009 opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, a 40,000-square foot institution housing historic archival materials and artifacts paired with the newest technology to bring the Disney legacy to life.
Proceeds from the sale of Wayne Thiebaud’s delightful Mickey Mouse will fund programming initiatives at the museum, while the sale of the remainder of the collection will benefit a selection of other meaningful causes near to the family’s heart, including: the Jane Goodall Institute, and their valuable work in the field of primate research and global conservation; the HALO Trust and their life-saving work to remove landmines around the world; the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The latter is of particular significance to the Disney family, as in 1987, Lilian B. Disney (Walt Disney’s widow, and Diane Disney Miller’s mother) gave an initial donation of $50 million to build a performance venue in memory of her husband. Today, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is widely regarded as one of the finest classical music venues in America—a fitting reflection of Disney’s love of music, a love famously shared with the world through his collaboration with conductor Leopold Stokowski to combine classical music with animation in the 1940 film Fantasia.
For most of her life, Diane Disney Miller eschewed the limelight that her famous name could easily have afforded her. Instead, she directed her efforts into ensuring the true legacy of her famous father. The charitable fund which she set up—and which will benefit from the proceeds of this sale—will continue her father’s legacy of supporting art, music, and philanthropy.
Painted in 1978, Ocean Park #108 belongs to the series of Ocean Park paintings that Richard Diebenkorn made in his spacious new studio in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in the latter half of the 1970s. A large and accommodating second-floor space, it was rich with abundant natural light and afforded a narrow view of the Pacific Ocean. “Each day when Diebenkorn drives to his studio down the coast, he follows the Pacific Coast Highway...along the wide stretch of Santa Monica beachfront below the earthen cliffs,” the art historian Robert T. Buck, Jr., wrote in 1980. “The mellow sparkle and soft golden richness of tone bestowed upon this landscape by the California sun are unique” (R.T. Buck, Jr., Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1980, New York, 1980, p. 47). Ocean Park #108 benefits from the artist’s lifelong observation and close study of his chosen California locale. Suffused with the ineffable qualities that define the West Coast way of life, which Diebenkorn has distilled into a taut, geometric design, Ocean Park #108 epitomizes the many reasons why these paintings rank among the most treasured creations in the history of postwar art.
Diebenkorn devoted twenty years to the Ocean Park series, continuously refining and perfecting his craft from its beginnings in 1967. By the end of the 1970s, when Ocean Park #108 was created, the artist’s flair for color had been honed to a fine point, and he investigated working with layering thin segments of alternating bands of bright color with softer, more delicate passages of lighter ones. He used nuanced washes of pigment that had been thinned down in diaphanous veils, revealing the countless pentimenti of the many revisions and edits that his working method allowed. Another interesting pictorial development that appeared in Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings around this time can be seen in the upper register of Ocean Park #108, where a rounded, orange band evokes an endless Santa Monica sunset. This new visual device seems to open up and expand the space of the painting beyond its peripheral borders, creating a feeling of boundless, infinite space.
About a year after it was painted, in May of 1979, Ocean Park #108 was selected for a solo exhibition at the artist’s dealer in New York where it was displayed alongside other recent Ocean Park paintings. (This group roughly consisted of Ocean Park numbers 107 to 112). Many of those that were displayed are now located in major American museum collections, such as Ocean Park #107, in the Oakland Museum of Art, and Ocean Park #109, in the Cleveland Museum of Art. (Ocean Park #111, although not exhibited, was purchased by the Hirshhorn that same year).
Diebenkorn infused the surface of Ocean Park #108 with the distilled essence of Southern California. In the upper register, multilayered bands of diaphanous color alternate between vivid turquoise, bright tangerine, pale yellow and light brown, which are buttressed by a broad expanse of pale blue that’s been applied in a brushy, gestural style. Everything is corralled and organized by Diebenkorn’s signature black line, which limns in the exuberance of the lush and exhilarating colors. Fenced off into flat, geometric planes, these jewel tones radiate a subtle, but palpable vibration. Upon prolonged looking, the thin layers of color begin to breath and shift, drawing the eye deeper into recessional space, as the effects of sunset come into view, where blue water and sandy beach are suffused with a lambent glow.
As early as 1951, when Diebenkorn travelled by airplane from Albuquerque to San Francisco, the nascent seeds of the Ocean Park paintings were already sewn. “Often traveling by air over endless miles of landscape, he developed an eye for compressing three-dimensional landscape into stunning, two-dimensional design,” Douglas Hofstadter explained in the pages of The New Yorker in 1987. “Years later, he would recall “One thing I know has influenced me a lot is looking at landscape from the air… Of course, the Earth’s skin itself had ‘presence’–I mean, it was all like a flat design–and everything was usually in the form of an irregular grid’” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in D. Hofstadter, “Profiles: Almost Free of the Mirror, New Yorker, September 7, 1987, p. 61).
Not unlike a poet who has chosen to work solely in sonnet form, Diebenkorn’s chosen parameters of the Ocean Park paintings allowed him to tirelessly invent new variations upon a theme. “Diebenkorn avoids repeating himself,” the art critic Jeffrey Keeffe wrote. “Many artists who paint in series simply paint the same painting again and again. See one and you’ve seen them all. But I’ve seen fifty or sixty of [these] Ocean Park paintings and have felt that each was unique and unlike any other painting” (J. Keeffe, “Richard Diebenkorn,” Artforum, September 1979, p. 78). Truly, Diebenkorn was able to eke out new and seemingly endless variations upon a single theme, as the Ocean Park paintings demonstrate. “A painter does not have to invent new and original forms,” Diebenkorn himself has written. “The value of the painting rests entirely on the quality of feeling that is vested in it” (R. Diebenkorn, handwritten Studio Note, c. 1956-59, quoted in J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume One, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 199).
It is perhaps not surprising that Diebenkorn was an ardent admirer of Henri Matisse, having spent countless hours in quiet communion with the French master’s paintings over the course of his lifetime. While stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia in the 1940s, Diebenkorn made frequent trips to the Phillips Collection in nearby Washington, D.C., where he studied the many fine Matisse paintings on offer there. In 1964, Diebenkorn was selected to travel to the Soviet Union as a representative of the State Department’s Cultural Exchange program, where he visited the famous Matisse paintings in the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum. Two years later he traveled to Los Angeles for the Matisse Retrospective in 1966, which proved to be a mind-blowing event. Years later he would say that exhibition “absolutely turned my head around” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in S. Nash, “Figuring Space,” ibid., p. 70).
Two Matisse paintings from the 1966 retrospective had a profound influence on Diebenkorn, particularly French Window at Collioure (1914) and View of Notre Dame (1914). The former is one of Matisse’s most abstract paintings, taking the effects of light and shadow as perceived through an open window to their utmost extremes. Essentially a painting that’s composed of four vertical bands of color, French Window at Collioure played a major impact in influencing the direction of Diebenkorn’s next great body of work, the Ocean Park paintings that he would begin just one year later. Many prominent art historians, such as John Elderfield, Jane Livingston and, more recently, Katherine Rothkopf, have commented upon the importance of each of these two paintings on the progression of Diebenkorn’s development. Rothkopf explains their importance in the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibition catalogue of 2016, writing: “The modernity of French Window at Collioure had a tremendous impact on Diebenkorn when he saw it, modeling the expansive possibilities of abstraction at a time in his life when he was reexamining his own work. A similarly radical abstraction is View of Notre Dame, which offers an outlook from Matisse’s studio on the quai Saint-Michel in Paris that is very different from his other window views. The physicality of his attack on the canvas is visible in his brushstrokes and in traces of scraping and repainting” (K. Rothkopf, Matisse/Diebenkorn, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2016, p. 123).
In the following years, Diebenkorn would adopt many of these same techniques for his own, especially the visible brushstrokes that he allows to play an active part in the overall tenor of the Ocean Park paintings, and the so-called “expansive possibilities of abstraction” mentioned above, which propelled the artist away from a figurative style in favor of a resolutely abstract one. All of these pictorial developments had been refined and finessed by the time Ocean Park #108 debuted in 1978, making for a powerful visual statement by an artist at the height of his career.