Long Beach

Carl Andre

Aggressive, overbearing and inappropriate for the viewing of most art, the University Art Museum in Berkeley functions in the anti-art architectural tradition of the Guggenheim. The cast concrete, bunkerlike edifice holds six galleries whose bays project over a vast central exhibition hall. Ramps rising upward connect the gallery spaces that surround the central area.

For six consecutive months installations by Daniel Buren, Robert Irwin, Carl Andre and Maria Nordman dominated this museum. Under the direction of Mark Rosenthal, the “Space As Support” program seems very much an attempt at positive transformation of the museum’s public image through artists’ didactic responses to the structure. Conforming to neither the neutral white gallery environment favored by the ’60s Minimalists, nor the slightly raw alternative ’70s space, the University Art Museum poses a unique set of problems, and in turn elicited some provocative solutions.

While “Space As Support” cannot be termed an unqualified success, it does offer provocative insights into the philosophical and logistic problems artists face in a non-neutral environment. The University Art Museum is a seductive space, implicitly theatrical, and Buren, Irwin and Nordman, in coping with this aspect, were forced to extreme positions. Particularly in the case of Buren and Irwin, their installations posited ideological conflicts to their previous works and writings. With Nordman the problem was merely one of scope, the artist working in an environment where less control adversely affected the style of her work. Andre, on the other hand, avoided most of these issues by remaining within sculptural boundaries.

“Space As Support” represents a unique set of circumstances, and in turn generated responses that rather than having signature status, will probably be considered for the qualities that make them atypical in these artists’ works. For viewers, “Space As Support” was a positive and sensitizing experience, a sometimes ironic but intelligent merging of anti-art architecture and space-oriented art.

CARL ANDRE’s contribution to “Space As Support,” shown in conjunction with a retrospective of the artist’s work, functioned as a kind of sculptural nucleus to the entire installation cycle. Minimalist sculpture has given major impetus to concepts of site specificity, and Andre’s retrospective provided an historical anchor to “Space As Support.” Angelimb, 100 California redwood timbers (12 inches square, 36 inches wide) were placed one-half inch apart to form a gently curving arc that extended the entire length of the gallery floor. Distinct from Buren, Irwin and Nordman, all of whom created pieces that dealt emphatically with the space, Andre developed a work more reflexively sculptural and antithetically linked to the museum architecture. While indicative of place through the use of native materials, Angelimb’s graceful movement and wood substance were marked contrasts to the heavy, angular, concrete environment. Angelimb’s most aggressive relationship to the site was as an obstruction, blocking the gallery so that viewers were forced to circumvent the work. While its modular elongation has antecedents in Lever, 1966, and also Secant, 1977, its 36-inch width realized a more dominant form. Nevertheless, it seemed almost classic Andre, a predictable and not very unusual response to the museum space.

Angelimb’s most curious facet was centered on Andre’s decision to install Pyramid, an early (1959) stacked wood construction on a concrete ledge at the foot of the sculpture. Since Pyramid has no visual correlation to Angelimb, its presence was puzzling. The inclusion of the work was perhaps politically motivated, the artist’s way of linking Angelimb to his retrospective, and thereby denying participation in the “Space As Support" program, a sentiment he had verbally expressed. Unfortunately, Angelimb succumbed to the pitfall of moisture on the museum’s concrete floor, and after mold was discovered on the bottom of the timbers, was temporarily removed at the artist’s request.

Hal Fischer