San Francisco

East Bay

Various Venues, San Francisco

The exhibitions of kinetic sculpture at the University of California and the San Francisco Art Museum might lead one to believe that the trend in contemporary sculpture is more toward activation and actuation than a broad view supports. But the concepts of both painting and sculpture have changed radically, as our modes and manners have changed. This point is made by the exhibition of works in “2-D, 3-D” at the Richmond Art Center, which opened with little fanfare and runs concurrently with the San Francisco show. It is a real sleeper.

The City of Richmond is at the northern extremity of the Oakland-Berkeley-Albany-El Cerrito metropolitan complex, and is some blocks west of U.S. Highway 40 (Interstate 80), the main arterial linking San Francisco with the East Coast. The McDonald Street exit leads directly to the Civic Center, where the Art Center is located. Yet, despite this easy access, the Richmond Art Center does not enjoy the patron age it deserves. It has mounted some outstanding shows, and its directors have at times shown a more progressive attitude than its larger neighbors. The two inside galleries are big and well lighted. There is a glassed corridor gallery for sculpture and a large paved and landscaped patio where an outdoor show of Bay Area sculptures is being assembled at this writing.

But because of the somewhat fixed traffic of Northern California gallery goers, who shuttle between the San Francisco museums and those in Berkeley and Oakland, the Richmond Art Center seems to have been side-tracked. One hopes the new director, John Weeks, will be able to break this traffic pattern to include his own galleries. And if he continues the vital program he has started, he should do so. “2-D, 3-D” is the first exhibition completely conceived and executed by Weeks and his curator, J. J. Aasen, both only recently appointed to the RAC staff. It is designed to recognize the fast-fading categorical line between paintings and sculpture.

“The concern wit h the 20th-century artist to explore all avenues open to him, including exciting new technological processes, made it inevitable that such an artificial dict ate that 3-dimensional works remain colorless while color remained the concern of the artist working in two dimensions would further be re-examined and quite possibly be abandoned totally,” he wrote in the catalog which accompanies the exhibition. And his aim is to satisfactorily point out that the distinction was arbitrary and really had no basis except in the western Renaissance tradition.

Weeks makes his point, by way of special selection. That the tradition still persists, however, is evident in the huge retrospective exhibition of Giacometti’s works at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and by such other shows as “Casting” at the Hansen Galleries, San Francisco, where the light playing on polished surfaces and the kinesthetic response to contrasting surface textures creates its own optical illusions.

But Weeks is correct in his assertion that painters are becoming involved with real space and confronting the spatial problems of working with 3-dimensional compositions, and that many sculptors are primarily concerned with polychrome surf aces that integrate sculptural problems of form and space. Fletcher Benton, a painter recently turned sculptor, has the only automated work in the show, and he is also the only artist represented in the University Art Gallery and the San Francisco Museum of Art shows. He uses steel, wood, plastic and acrylic to create a diamond-shaped sculpture in which a very slow traverse movement creates changes of pattern. At polarities to Benton’s smoothly finished sculpture is Tom Holland’s “January Flyer,” a three-dimensional painting which includes a dioramic mountain landscape with a symbolic exhaust pipe labeled U.S. A. floating in the slickly painted sky. It is being punctured by the huge figure of what must surely be the ugliest female figure ever to wear wings, in posterior presentation.

Included in the exhibition are Dennis Oppenheim, Bob Hudson, Bill AlIan, Jeremy Anderson, Mowry Baden, Jerrold Ballaine, Bob Biancalana (his classic “Egg” is the most beautiful piece in the show), Roy de Forest, Tony Delap, Bill Dubin, Dick Faralla, Bill Geis, Sidney Gordin, Bob Graham, John McCracken, James Melchert, William Morehouse, WiIlis Nelson, Jeryl Parker, Jack Richard, Sam Richardson, David Simpson, Fred Spratt, Richard Van Buren and William Wiley. Among them they have contributed to one of the most significant exhibitions in the Bay Area so far this year. Following its Richmond run, it will move to San Jose State College, with two replacements: Tom Holland and Fred Sprat twill each replace their works.

Betty Carney Pope, exhibiting at the Artists Cooperative Gallery, Sacramento, has also found painting in 3-dimensions necessary to full expression. She sets up a tableau of fiberglass or magnesite figures (with polyester resin finish) against an architectural background to make a commentary on life situations. Mrs. Popest rives toward penetration of the wall by optical means while yet projecting her figures, physically, into the room. At times she is successful. She chooses at times to be literary and her subjects are of ten from the Bible, but it is when expressing her own philosophy, using her own understanding of gesture and position, that she makes her strongest statement.

Barbara Spring, Al Cunningham, Jerold SiIva, Fred Dekker and John O’Conner show sculpture, watercolors, painted collages and paste ls at the Crocker Art Gallery. Barbara Spring works with wood and magnesite, and is engrossed with kitchen genre. Her sculptures and assemblages are combinations of “found” furniture and created objects such as wine bottles, cattail arrangements, books, fruit-vegetable-and-food scrap still life, and such 20th-century specialties as “diet dinners”—complete with vitamin pills. These she has presented with wit and humor, although her work here, with its overtones of Pop culture and limitation to the woman’s world, lacks depth in the sense of making a penetrating and original observation from the generalities she presents.

Al Cunningham, formerly a hard-core realist who painted with watercolor, has recently turned his attention to the creative possibilities of abstraction. With free-floating washes and some drybrush, he has synthesized Turner’s vast and foggy space with Feininger’s gauzy planes. There is yet a suggestion of contrivance in his recent work, perhaps because he too of ten forces size at the expense of proportion. Jerold Silva is also a watercolorist—one of great sensitivity and astonishing skill. There is about his work a wonderful fragility, although his figures are ample enough and his sedimented washes give them volume. While he uses a fulI color range, his palette is held to a minor key, sometimes high, sometimes low.

Fred Dekker works the surface of his painted collages into a rich brown monochrome with landscape references. They resemble old tooled leather, glossy with age. His technique supersedes his subject matter, a trait he shares wit h many contemporary artists. John O’Conner’s pastels also are about landscape. They are bold and bright, strongly masculine although small in size. His drawings support his already notable reputation in this field.

In its Contemporary Gallery, the Crocker has mounted a retrospective exhibition of the late works of David Park, but since his death so much has been written about this outstanding pioneer of Bay Area figurativism that one hesitates to comment further for fear of contributing to what has become something of the cult of a personality. Which is the last thing Park would have wanted. Suffice it to say that the show is well selected to represent Park’s major moves in the last decade of his life.

E. M. Polley