San Francisco

Roger Berry

Bluxome Gallery

By merging streamlined geometrical form with an environmentally responsive function Roger Berry creates some of the most inventive steel sculpture currently being produced in the Bay Area, particularly in the genre of public art. The dynamism of the work springs from its dualities, chiefly the contrast between the sculpture’s appearance and its interactive intention. Berry’s neo-Constructivist shapes and industrial medium bespeak Modernity. His simple, monumental open circles, spheres, planes, and cones are reductively abstract, while less angular and more lyrical than Minimal art per se. But these forms are used in a manner related to ancient systems of marking time. The sculptures are not self-contained objects; they are completed by the patterns of sunlight and shadow that range across them in installation. The steel elements are angled to the passage of the sun, the holes and loops often aligning with the sun’s position in the sky at the solstices and equinoxes and generating a shadow play that emphasizes both the shape of the sculpture and the viewer’s connection to the cyclic progression of light through the year.

The centerpiece of the show, at least in terms of its size, was Diana, 1984, a perforated stainless steel band 34 inches deep and curved as if encircling a globe 84 inches in diameter. The gleaming, reflective surface is augmented by gestural hatch-mark texturizing which further refracts the light. In natural light the design of open rectangles along the band would create a strong patterned shadow, and at the equinoxes the sun would follow the angle of the band. Yet in the more diffused light of the gallery the sculpture, without shadows, seemed too complete, or maybe too simple and self-evident.

By contrast, the two dark loops of Io, 1984, are poised in a kinetic tension which sustains interest even without the shadow effect. The circular steel bands, 5 feet in diameter, merge for a short arc of their perimeter—rather than doubling in thickness, however, they become blade thin—and then spring away from each other. Their orientation is such that the top ring perfectly shadows itself at noon on the winter solstice, the bottom ring at noon on the summer solstice. It isn’t necessary, however, to observe these phenomena to appreciate the elegantly controlled energy of the forms.

One striking piece is designed to be filled with light throughout the year. The two flared bands of stainless steel in Toward the Light, 1984, a maquette for a larger piece, are embedded in a Cor-Ten plate, and the contrast of the satiny stainless and the mottled rust surfaces offer amore sensual impact than any of Berry’s more conceptualized structures. The silvery ribbons bulge away from each other in varying arcs suggesting an expansive opening, like heliotropic blossoms, or like lips. Both as allusion and as a pure abstraction created with simple means, the piece is stunning.

The differing perceptions one had of these sunlight-responsive sculptures suggest the difficulty of presenting them in a gallery. The pieces more dependent on sharp shadows would have benefited from simulated outdoor conditions—through spotlights, for example. Yet it was clear that as focusing devices to connect the viewer to cycles of light, and by extension of nature, Berry’s work contributes innovative ideas to concepts of site-specific sculpture. San Franciscans can currently observe one of his sculptures under natural light on the crest of the Twin Peaks mountain in the city, the site of the longterm installation of his Rising Wave, 1979–84.

Suzaan Boettger