Long Beach

Maria Nordman

University Art Museum (UAM) at California State University

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.

MARIA NORDMAN’s Dawn to Dusk, a one-day summer solstice installation, entailed covering the floor of the main exhibition hall with white vinyl and the lower half of the adjoining walls with white sheetboard. Transparent acetate in red, green and blue was affixed to the glass on the museum doors. Throughout the sixteen-hour/longest day of the year, light played dramatically against the white field. Bereft of artificial illumination, slivers of light filtering in from the windows were made more visible, and shadows cut across the main hall and filled the upper galleries.

Most of Nordman’s installations have been designed for viewing by one or two people at a time, environments in which a sense of intimacy or solitude becomes meditative or mystical if the viewer is so inclined. While Dawn to Dusk offered a dramatic, multi-levelled view, the presence of many people turned the experiential into cult art. In contrast to a natural-light phenomena installation Nordman created in San Francisco two years ago, the Berkeley piece became an improvisational performance with place and numbers of viewers determining the mood. As the day progressed and the lighting grew less dramatic, attention was turned more toward the viewers and how they played out their reactions against the white field.

The most provocative and unexplainable aspect of Dawn to Dusk is the way in which Nordman’s visual presentation affected other sensory perceptions. The presence of the white field dramatically altered spatial perception, distorting ones sense of distance. Similarly, ambient sound held more clarity as space and time seemed to combine.

Hal Fischer