Writing, photographs, media, and other material from Northern Californian art critic, collector, and teacher John Fitz Gibbon.
John Grattan Fitz Gibbon (1934 – 2009) was an art critic, professor of art history, KPFA broadcaster, and collector of postwar
Californian art. From the 1960s onward, he was heavily involved in the Northern Californian art scene, where he was friends
with and wrote extensively about a number of renowned artists of the period, including Robert Arneson, Elmer Bischoff, Joan
Brown, Don Hazlitt, Jim Nutt, Robert Colescott, and Richard Diebenkorn.
Born in Los Angeles on July 12th, 1934, Fitz Gibbon came of age in Pasadena, Laguna Beach, and Berkeley, enrolling in University
of California at Berkeley in 1952 before transferring to Yale the following year. He graduated from that institution with
a B.A. in English in 1956 as a Scholar of the First Rank. In 1959, Fitz Gibbon became an English teacher at Berkeley High
School, where he remained for a decade while simultaneously working at the Southern Pacific Railroad switchyards in Oakland.
During this time he also became immersed in art history, hosting a KPFA radio show themed around art criticism from 1962 –
In 1969, he was appointed as a Visiting Associate Professor of Art History at UC Berkeley. Later that same year, he was hired
as the Chairman of the Art Department at Sacramento State College, and in 1971 he became the Associate Professor of Art History
at the same institution. Fitz Gibbon would go on to teach art history at Sacramento State for the following two decades, recruiting
a number of his artist friends to teach in the art department throughout the 1970s and 80s. During this time, Fitz Gibbon
wrote dozens of essays, reviews, and exhibition catalogs, eventually winning a National Endowment for the Arts award for art
Through the 1970s, John and his wife Jane Fitz Gibbon hosted a series of ‘Events’: choreographed performances and theatrical
celebrations inspired by ancient myths. Held at the Fitz Gibbon’s Pilot Hill estate each spring, the Events generally involved
100-200 people and featured copious nudity, dancing, and playful attire. The Pilot Hill Events also hosted well-known artists
and art historians from around the country, such as Judy Chicago, Allan Kaprow, Marcia Tucker, and Bruce Nauman.
Over the course of their lifetimes, John and Jane Fitz Gibbon developed a large private collection of post-1950s Californian
art at their Pilot Hill home, consisting of approximately 400 works. Highlights of their collection were shown in the 1990
exhibition California Art, A to Z and Return, an alphabetic representation of Fitz Gibbon’s favorite California artists hosted
at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. An accompanying exhibition guide was published the same year.
In 2002, highlights of their collection were again shown in The Pilot Hill of Contemporary Art, an exhibition hosted by the
Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. An accompanying exhibition catalog featured a lengthy retrospective written by John Fitz
Gibbon on the California art scene of the previous 40 years.
After suffering from Parkinson ’s disease for the last two decades of his life, John Fitz Gibbon, Sr., died on October 25th,
2009, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was survived by Jane, their daughter Kate and their son John, Jr. The following month, the
city of Sacramento officially recognized Fitz Gibbon’s contributions in the fields of art criticism and arts advocacy.
While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not
an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission
or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.