Conflict in the Collections

De Young Artist Fellows Andy Diaz Hope and Laurel Roth are artists-in-residence this month in the Artist Studio. They are working on completing the third monumental tapestry in their triptych entitled The Conflicts. Today, guest blogger Andy Diaz Hope discusses aspects of the Museums’ permanent collections that touch on the themes contained in this project.


In the Artist Studio, we are asking visitors to think about the themes of human vs. human conflict and/or cooperation, which is the subject of our third tapestry, Allegory of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. We’ve suggested visitors explore the collections of the de Young Museum and bring back the names of works that they think represent this idea of human conflict and/or cooperation.

I recently spent some time wandering the diverse collections of the museum with this request in mind, and created my own list of works I thought were relevant. Rather than go through the entire museum, I focused on a small area of the collections and explored the depth to which the themes of human conflict and/or cooperation were explored therein. Below is a list of some of the pieces I was drawn to and the reasons I found them interesting. I zeroed in on a couple of rooms in the Art in America to the 20th Century galleries and found representations of some of the major veins of conflict that continue to shape our country today.

Country Politician

George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879). Country Politician, 1849. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. 1979.7.16. Currently on view in Gallery 23 at the de Young

This piece shows the early democratic process. A young earnest looking politician tries to sway the opinion of an older farmer while a rich looking businessman observes them with a sly, calculating look. This piece concisely summarizes many of the underlying conflicts that are still playing out in our country. The relationships between businessmen, politicians, and the populace continue to define the cultural and political landscape of America, as each group attempts to reconcile or ignore the greater good with regard to its personal interests.

The Bright Side

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910). The Bright Side, 1865. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. 1979.7.56. Currently on view in Gallery 23 at the de Young

I was first drawn to this piece because it represents African American Union soldiers during the Civil War. The piece is filled with the complexities of slavery in America, including the fact that the soldiers represented were second-class citizens in a white man’s war waged to determine the future of African Americans in the United States. When I read the wall text that talks about debate over whether Winslow Homer painted this piece in support of the African American soldiers or as a veiled substantiation of the racist views held at the time, the painting became even more relevant in representing the physical and psychological conflict of race in America.


Beth Lipman (American, b. 1971). Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit, 2010. Blown glass and painted wood. Foundation purchase, George and Dorothy Saxe Endowment Fund in honor of John E. Buchanan, Jr. 2012.3. Currently on view in Gallery 25 at the de Young

Initially, I was attracted to the glossy black chaos of the table. It gives a sense of opulence and chaos and, to me, represents some of the tensions between money and power. The quality of the glass makes everything appear to be covered in shiny black crude oil that makes the dead bird represent the conflict between human commerce and progress and the natural surroundings that sustain us. The museum text says the piece may be a “commentary on the transience of all human life and material possessions” or reference the “fragile nature of economic bubbles”—a phenomenon rife with human vs. human conflict.

Fog San Quentin

Sandow Birk (American, b. 1962). Fog over San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California (from the Prisonation series), 2001. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Museum purchase, American Art Trust Fund. 2002.7. Currently on view in Gallery 27 at the de Young

I came across this piece at the end of a line of American landscape paintings. The paintings are all beautifully rendered landscapes. It wasn’t until I read the title of the piece that I noticed the prison looming in the fog of the Sandow Birk’s atmospheric landscape. In my mind, this piece succinctly represents one of the great internal conflicts of our society: how do we deal with the members of our society who break the covenants to which we have supposedly universally agreed?

Which artworks in our permanent collections do you associate with the concept of human vs. human conflict and/or cooperation? Take a walk through the galleries with this idea in mind and share your thoughts with Hope and Roth, who will be in residence in the Kimball Education Gallery Artist Studio at the de Young through July 1 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1:00–5:00 p.m. and during Friday Nights at the de Young from 5:00–8:30 p.m. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

If you can't make it to the Artist Studio in person this week, we encourage you to share your thoughts on this topic with the Artist Fellows via email at