“Solid Concept VI”
November 13-December 21, 2013
Gallery Paule Anglim
14 Geary Street
San Francisco, California
“Pointing the Way Toward What May Be”
By John Held, Jr.
The exhibition, “Solid Concept VI,” currently on view at Gallery Paule Anglim, has as much to do about the proprietor of the gallery as her artists. No gallery owner in The City is as firmly rooted as Paule Anglim. She began her art career placing monumental sculpture in public settings for a wide audience. Once ensconced in her own space, she began rounding up the best The City had to offer for a more discerning public. In the show previous to this (“Sight Vision,” October 9-November 9, 2013), she showed her allegiance to the “old guard” of San Francisco’s avant-garde: Jess, Jay De Feo, Joan Brown, Lawrence Jordan, Wally Hedrick, Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, George Herms, et al. In the present exhibition, she serves up a succeeding generation of artists of the conceptual persuasion, who she has been supporting for the past thirty years.
“Solid Concept” is indeed an apt descriptor. This is the fifth rendition of the exhibition, which the gallery has staged since 1989. For the most part, it is composed of the same artists: Terry Fox, David Ireland, Paul Kos, Tony Labat and Tom Marioni. This is in and of itself an amazing statement: that a gallery offers support to a group of artists for over thirty years. Paule Anglim has long standing faith in her artists and her artists hold faith with her –that’s incredible in the topsy-turvy world of artworld politics and economy- and it’s why Paule Anglim is such a beloved figure in this burg. In a review of the 1989 edition of “Solid Concept,” Bay Guardian reviewer Karla Mallette wrote that, “This sort of work is difficult (and some of it physically impossible) to sell, and galleries, after all, survive by selling. But it’s an important show, and hopefully will be well-attended by young Bay Area artists – it has at least as much to offer them as it does the collectors.”
Anglim’s ambition for this group of conceptual artists has been prescient. San Francisco artists of several generations have risen to the task of absorbing the lessons laid down by these artists, many of whom have taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, including Kos and Labat, who have headed SFAI’s New Genres Program, and have had incalculable effect on students of succeeding decades, including Karen Finley and Devendra Benhart. In championing the old guard of San Francisco artists (Jess, De Feo, Conner, et al.) Paule Anglim has kept alive the memory of what was. In her support of a newer generation of artists, she points the way toward what may be.
As Kenneth Baker has written, “The conceptual artist is one who makes art for ideas’ sake, with no attachment to a particular medium.” (“San Francisco Chronicle”, January 14, 1989). Indeed, the present exhibition features works in ceramics, video, cement, chalk, paint, dirt, printmaking, photography, sound, found objects and a splinter. Tom Marioni, founder of the Museum of Conceptual Art in 1970, who has often stated his distaste of painting, offers up, “Not a Painting, a Sign,” although he leaves interpretation open ended by the addition of a few subtle ‘painterly” flourishes. Closer to his true nature, Marioni also offers up a splinter from Duchamp’s “Étant Donnés,” a site specific work residing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The framing of it bears all the hallmarks of a religious object. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Saint Marcel informs most of the work in the Anglim exhibition.
Must I pick out favorites that highlight the exhibition? No, I don’t think so. I am respectful of all the artists, and their right to formulate an artistic philosophy in any form they see fitting. But I remain enamored of David Ireland’s work, especially his works with concrete – especially his thrown “dumbballs,” which are used here as an aid in printmaking (dedicated to the memory of another Duchamp acolyte, John Cage).
Paul Kos, another of the artists that has shown since the initial 1989 “Solid Concept” exhibition is represented by a series of works, incorporating photography, video, sound, sculpture and ephemera previously shown at the De Young, based on a desert experience in which he walked in circles exclaiming, “There aren’t any sounds in the desert,” which evolved into “There are tinny cymbals/there aren’t any symbols.” Three/fifths artist and two parts inventor (like Cage), Kos amazes with his ability to bring forth fire with a cube of ice. Go see how he does it.
Terry Fox is dead. Long live Terry Fox. Like Marioni, Ireland and Kos, he was one of the initial “Solid Concept” artists of 1989. He is represented in the present exhibition by two works, “Excursus,” which is a word poem masquerading as sculpture and “Cone of Silence,” which is pretty much exactly what it is. Neither of the works are for sale, once again establishing that the Anglim is more concerned with thoughtful intercourse between the gallery and it’s audience than filthy lucre.
Another alumni of the 1989 show, Tony Labat reflects upon his mother’s exodus from Cuba, with the work, “An Unwanted Collection of Memories of Places Never Visited (Target Practice),” featuring souvenir plates festooned like Christmas decorations, accompanied by a high tech sling shoot and BBs. He’s the baby of the bunch, having been a student of Paul Kos in the 1970s. He is currently the Faculty Director of MFA Programs, New Genres, leading a new generation of artists by example.
Al Wong and John Roloff are first time exhibitors in the “Solid Concept” program. Over the years, the core group of Fox, Ireland, Kos, Labat and Marioni have been joined by other collegial colleagues including Howard Fried, Sharon Grace, and Alan Scarritt. Wong is a link to the Beat artists – and the Art Institute, where he taught film for a number of years. He is represented here by a video work, “”Same Difference,” which deals with the passage of time. Roloff’s work, documentation of a public commission in Seattle, deals with multiculturalism, geological and ecological histories.
Working histories are very much in keeping with “Solid Concept VI.” The multi-year programming of the exhibitions mark not only the progress of the featured artists, but the enduring relevancy of Conceptual Art, which found an early home in the Bay Area and continues to exert a powerful influence on art being produced today, not only in the Bay Area, but in the larger world, which has always looked to San Francisco and environs for its alternative take on the given –be it political, social or artistic.
“Solid Concept VI” is on view through December 21st, 2013.
For more information visit Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco.
Previous reviews by John Held, Jr.