East Bay

East Bay

Various Venues, East Bay

Plans for the $4,000,000 Arts Center and Museum on the Berkeley campus of the University of California have suddenly plunged from high hopes to actual distress, as a result of an unexpected decision by the University’s Board of Regents. There are conflicting interpretations of the reasons given, but that the University’s new art museum will not be built for some time seems to be a certainty. An art museum and theater were to be opened on the campus in 1966 as part of the University’s centennial celebration. Hans Hofmann gave 45 of his own paintings and a quarter of a million dollars toward the museum. Peter Selz resigned from the Museum of Modern Art to become its director. And Mario Ciampi was engaged as architect. Then, at the meeting of the finance committee of the Board of Regents on July 15, “the president advised that several Regents have expressed a desire to examine more thoroughly the entire concept of the proposed Arts Center to be constructed on the Berkeley campus. At his suggestion the committee voted to recommend to the Regents that the chairman of the Board be requested to appoint a special committee to consider this matter.” The committee was appointed, but to date has never met, nor have any meetings been scheduled. There is much speculation as to the meaning of the delay.

Meanwhile, there are 24 paintings of towns and seacoasts in Sicily, and scenes from the foothills of the Alps, by Glenn Wessels, professor-emeritus in the Art Department, in the Worth Ryder Gallery of the University. Wessels spent the past year in Europe, where these works were done. In them, the “push and pull” principle that he learned from Hans Hofmann many years ago has been translated by means of Kokoschka’s flickering brushstroke into a more detailed rendition of ebb and flow, rise and fall, advance and retreat. Here he reaches peak performance. With a palette that varies from bright to sombre, he creates tensions through light and dark, warm and cool, rough and smooth, and in doing so has fulfilled his ambition to give the illusion of the movement concealed in seemingly static appearances. However, in his effort to reveal its underlying energy he occasionally fragments the subject at the expense of identity, which may be one reason why these paintings reflect the essentially feminine quality of the European landscape (as opposed to the masculinity of the American terrain).

In the University Gallery are photographs, models, and drawings of the recent architecture of Louis I. Kahn, designer of Yale University’s Art Gallery (1953). It is ironic that this exhibition should be hosted by U. C. at a time when its own plans are uncertain, and when criticism of its Donnybrook campus has become something of an indoor sport. The exhibition is arranged to excite interest in buildings designed to lift the spirit as well as shelter the body and house the activity.

Scattered around the perimeter of the campus are several small cooperative galleries, and of them the Berkeley Gallery is outstanding. Its fall season opened with a two-man show of paintings by Margot Campbell and George Woodward. Miss Campbell is a skillful portraitist, and her figures are reminiscent of Bischoff’s ample women. But she makes her most individual statement in those paintings where animated skeletons cavort in a colorful atmosphere. Like shades of a departed family, these grisly remains in which the sap of life is still running caricature the gestures of life in an environment where they seemingly have no other business than to remind one of the futility of death. Miss Campbell has a habit of using diagonal strokes throughout her paintings, and while they activate the surface they sometimes create a restlessness where stillness would be better. She has found a use for them in these works—where bare ribs and slatted light support each other in a chilling Macaberesque.

Woodward has just returned from Texas where he went to “meditate, paint, and pursue private study.” In this, his first Bay Area exhibition, his work incorporates ancient symbols, references to archeology and biomorphic shapes that have little to do with Texas and more to do with North Africa. The egg appears often as both shape and symbol, and it was not surprising therefore to learn that he had been a laboratory technician. Woodward’s enigmatic themes, however, have little to do with a laboratory report, either.

The new director of the Richmond Art Center is James Weeks, formerly of Artforum’s Los Angeles staff. The two exhibitions current—sculpture, drawings and paintings by William Wiley and paintings and drawings by Barbara Strasen—may not have been of his programming, since he arrived in the Bay Area in October, but they are both stunning shows.

Wiley is currently an instructor at the University of California at Davis, and Strasen, with an MA from U. C. at Berkeley, is instructing in the Center’s own educational program.

Wiley’s work reveals his awareness of other artists’ methods and materials, but his own statement is entirely individual. It is sometimes enigmatic, sometimes only sly. He is concerned with the question mark and the horn from medical folklore as symbols, and uses them in many situations, always aware of the mystery that fable has endowed them with. Part of his show has to do with themes developed from leaflets from a textbook on elementary geography. Wiley has chosen broken passages and special illustrations to develop into a series of graphic statements that are sometimes cryptic, sometimes witty. He labels them Journeys to Distant Lands, the title of the book, and has subtitled them accordingly: Nilistic Stories, Wind, School Days, Mellonkollie, etc. From such items in the small illustrations as double coils of hose, he has developed huge paintings—for example, Yang-Yen. The obvious influence of designing sets and costumes for the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi is strongly evident in this exhibition. The objects have taken on the qualities of theatrical props, having only symbolic reference to real objects. An appropriate example is a free-standing pyramid covered with zebra-like stripes and draped with a chain from which hangs a question mark; below the question mark is a vaginal-like orifice. The whole ensemble stands like mute testament to an enigmatic act that had just taken place but wouldn’t mean much even if it had been witnessed. Titles such as The Question Takes an Elaborate Stand and Enigma Hook augment the mysterious effect.

In Barbara Strasen’s Hawaiian ventures, the visual ones at least, joy is unconfined. She has borrowed heavily from Gauguin’s cloisonnisme, color scheme and figure grouping. But unlike the Frenchman’s dreamy sensuality, Miss Strasen indulges in a sort of virginal bacchanalia, with figures frolicking with animals through wildly exotic shrubbery, male unaware of female, in the original paradise. Her sensitive drawings, using herself and friends as models, are among her best works. A quiet wistfulness contrasts strangely with the explosive emotionalism expressed in the paintings.

The continuing tendency of Northern California artists to seek exhibition outlets away from the city as well as within it would indicate that exhibitions in Santa Rosa, Sausalito, Walnut Creek, Vallejo or San Jose are as important as those in San Francisco, Oakland or Richmond. This may be related to the steadily expanding network of University of California campuses. Consider, as example, the exhibitions of sculpture by David Gilhooly and collage paintings by Gwen Stone at the Alamo Galleries in Benicia. Gilhooly’s show was of pottery influenced strongly by Robert Arneson, and sculpture where the new casting methods developed by U. C. instructors allow him the flexibility he seems to require as a poet. His subjects, frankly literary, are presented with wit if not with charm.

Gwen Stone combines collage with painting to develop a strong frontal plane and hold depth to a minimum. She works in small dimensions with precise shapes scaled in size and bold in design. Although she disclaims any intention of subject matter as such, her pictures, by means of color as much as anything else, suggest a sort of Surrealist landscape.

E. M. Polley