San Francisco

“Invention and Tradition in Con­temporary Sculpture”

San Fran­cisco Art Institute

A new touring exhibi­tion of West Coast sculpture now avail­able for loan, presents visual evidence of the concepts of tradition and inven­tion which became polemical in the late 19th century and are still debated. The thought behind the assembling of it is to urge a more objective view before either degrading or exalting the sculpture of today. It is a stimulating show, where sense often becomes nonsense, and nonsense embraces more sense than is sometimes immediately apparent. One hardly knows where to begin a review––every piece merits discussion because it bears on a general as well as a specific point of view. Wally Hedrick reaches one extreme of interpretation, Elio Benvenuto reaches the other. Benvenuto’s formal marble and wood sculp­ture, polished to a soft sheen, is work about which it is not necessary to say very much, not because it is unworthy of comment, but because its excellence is obvious. Hedrick’s huge winged in­sect-object is quite another matter. Now one of the Bay Area’s most controversial artists, Hedrick, although he may start his works tongue-in-cheek, is not quite the prankster he seems. His Ameri-ka is constructed entirely of red beer cans and is something of a symbol of our age of super insects and beer can litter and the “ka” of the body of America and the cult of the serio-comic. However, Hed­rick meant this work when he started it, he has become involved in cultural an­thropology, pointing up that distillation of folk wisdom which reminds us that many a true word is spoken in jest. Frances Moyer’s Old Time Voyage, a split-level tableau assemblage of steel and assorted bones, bolts, washers and nuts, fits perfectly into Henri van Lier’s theory of “the absolute” in art, involving total unity, universal symbolism, primi­tiveness (the first happy moment of vision), magic space, the collective un­conscious, the youth of the world, free necessity and eternity of expression. Seymour Locks’ Basin restrains rather than contains. Win Ng’s ceramic Grand Canyon Pillow is somewhat reminiscent of ancient Jomon cord-decorated pot­tery, reflecting on the past and com­menting as well on the present. Func­tion-wise it is a better weed vase than pillow!

E. M. Polley