San Francisco

“Jaques Overhoff: Sculpture for Architecture”

Arts of the Bay Area, San Francisco Museum of Art

This exhibit highlights the problems involved in specially commissioning and designing sculpture for incorporation in build­ings or their close environment. For Overhoff is a specialist, in the sense that given a predetermined site he specifically creates abstract, but or­ganic forms, carefully related in scale and material to the host building. Since this is a review of Overhoff’s work, it is not the place to discuss the formal question of whether a truly creative building requires this form of com­missioned decoration, except to state that the fusion of commissioned art­works of any kind with architecture pre­sents special problems today, as compared with the past, and in most cases, with all the good will in the world on the part of the architect, rarely suc­ceeds without either the art or the architecture suffering. I cite for ex­ample, the Paris UNESCO building which contains specially commissioned work by Picasso, Moore, Arp, Miró and other distinguished artists. Without exception, the work “in situ” is in­ferior to what the artists are capable of, and conflicts with the architecture. The Henry Moore stone carvings integrally incorporated in Time-Life’s Lon­don building looks like a piece of anonymous contemporary decoration rather than the work of an important sculptor. One example of successful incorporation of contemporary art is the Gesenkirchen Theatre in Germany which includes works by Robert Adams, the late Yves Klein, Norbert Kricke and Tinguely. The principal reason for its success is the rare discernment and knowledge of contemporary art of the architect plus the fact that a theatre is a scaffolding for drama. As I have said earlier either the architect or the artist normally loses in the ensuing conflict of interests. This is precisely Overhoff’s problem, and although his forms (to quote from the introduction to the exhibition) follow form, there appears to be no room for them to show those fine grains of life that take them from empty decoration into the realm of art, without this conflict ap­pearing.

John Coplans