San Francisco

Tom Marioni

New Langton Arts

In the videotape shown at New Langton Arts accompanying a set of retrieved and refashioned items from his Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA, the industrial loft that he used as a center for his art activities from 1970 to 1984), Tom Mariani says, “I intend to hang onto the past—that’s why I like San Francisco so much.” The past as Marioni displays it is both autobiographical and objective, an adumbrated nexus of erstwhile events and things that bear their own stamps of timeliness and formality Every form in its own way, he implies, is poignant. His care for the forms things take is monumental (in the sense of continual reminiscence), delicate, uncommonly sweet, and tidy His back-up strengths are compactness of execution and a slight edge of opinionated irony.

The centerpiece of the installation at New Langton Arts was The Back Wall of MOCA 1970–1986, 1986, a new, idealized version of the original loft wall with its “accessioned” hard-edge-type stretch of paint, the shape of which was first seen in the early days of MOCA’s occupancy when the previous tenant’s printing equipment was removed, unmasking the bare lower and side areas of the surface. (The plot thickened progressively with a “vandalizing” of the found painting by the performance artist Darryl Sapien, a “restoration,” with straighter edges, by David Ireland, and eventually the wholesale demolition of the loft building when the property changed hands, in 1984). The installation version was made of paint on canvas with wood stripping, conduits, and a vent salvaged from the old site, and (a Mariani “signature” touch) dim yellow floodlighting. On a facing wall, an oddly slanting display of memorabilia—flyers, notes, postcards, and photographs from the years 1970–1981—yielded a ready-made history of the salad days of Conceptual and performance art. On a third wall was a framed relic from the original wall—a thin shard of yellow plaster shaped more or less tellingly like a knifepoint.

The installation at Eaton/Shoen amounted to a miniretrospective of sculptural tableaux, adjusted readymades, and prints done since 1972. Marioni is interested in the exchanges between locale and human activity: an area of wall where a shadow is cast, a city or country where the citizens perform certain characteristic tasks. Some of his images are residual; all suggest a transience of forms. The “nations” pieces show the strangeness of national identities as received ideas. They are ironic enshrinements of those ideas. In The Italians, Part I, 1984–85, a pizza cutter, its blade gold-plated and its handle painted black, stands on end behind sealed cruets of oil and wine; the support is a trim, spindle-legged sidetable, and the backdrop is a lithograph with a diagram of the inner ear and a floor plan of a Florentine basilica by Leonardo. Conversely, the print for The Germans, Part I, 1984–85, has an oculist’s diagram and silhouettes of the fronts of trains, and the tableau—two beer bottles in a bread making form and a Baroque plaster flourish in a surgical pan—rests on a dark brown, dysfunctional- looking umbrella stand.

The most recent piece and the magnum opus of the show was The Marriage of Art and Music (For Los Angeles), 1985. A large still-life tableau partially activated by spotlighting and “framed” by a waist-high railing in the foreground, it is a solidified quandary, a neat scrambling of the muses’ accoutrements, a verge signified by the inclination of one shadow (that of a copper plate in the outline of a violin sound box) toward another (a telescope on a tripod with two white twelve-inch LPs appended, its outline equating an oldfashioned movie camera). The “marriage” as announced isn’t so much occurring as pending, as the last note of the implied processional drifts away.

Mariani has made Conceptualism into a genre—hence the original “museum” qualification of his enterprise and its latest extension as “The Academy of MOCA.” His pieces simply face and gently assign placement to the observer; they don’t test much. Their succinct manners anticipate meaning in ways that leave all meanings open and plausible and none very important. They are sensible bemusements, recapitulations of Mariani’s mild concern.

Bill Berkson