Critics’ Picks

Chartres Bleu, 1983–86.


Paul Kos

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2155 Center Street
April 2–July 20

Paul Kos is perhaps not the best-known figure to emerge from the Bay Area Conceptualist milieu of the 1970s, but, as this retrospective reveals, he's been a consistently interesting artist who has dealt, often presciently, with issues of media, perception, and global tension (of the cold-war variety). The show looks great, making full use of BAM/PFA's difficult, soaring concrete architecture. Its centerpiece, the 1989 Tower of Babel, is a twenty-four-foot-tall sculpture that nods to Tatlin's 1919 Monument to the Third International. Composed of twenty video monitors resting on a steel framework, the piece swoops gracefully upward in the museum’s tremendous atrium. Each monitor features a talking head chattering in a different language. Kos's multimedia address of globalism still holds water, as do a hefty percentage of well-selected works in a polymorphous range of media, from broomsticks and cuckoo clocks to a program of single-channel tapes. In the arte povera–ish 1971 Sand Piece, a pile of sand slowly filters through a tiny hole into the basement; it’s an extremely simple intervention that transforms the building into an hourglass. Sand Piece maintains the same kind of steady meditative focus as the quietly grand twenty-seven-channel video installation Chartres Bleu (1983–86), which deploys stacked monitors to emulate the light pouring through stained glass in the famed French cathedral. Kos has said that the piece was a response to an aesthetic benchmark of the '80s: the quick-editing ethos of MTV. But it also functions as an example of the artist's ability to make time-sensitive issues timeless. Though Kos’s references to Soviet flags may seem dated, it's not difficult to make the very pertinent connection to prickly present-day foreign relations.