Opening Today: State of Mind
Today marks the opening of the new exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum, State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970. As the name suggests, the exhibit features works of art from a period of social and political tumult. As such, the pieces are often intensely socially aware and critical. The exhibition is sponsored by Pacific Standard Time, the same group that has been sponsoring exhibits of LA art at the Getty. State of Mind, however, is the first Pacific Standard Time exhibit to also feature works from Northern California artists.
During my tour with the curator and some of the artists, I learned about what was going on at that time in the art world. Performance art was beginning to catch on, though it did not have a name. Artists were becoming more interested in concepts—the ideas behind the work—than in the work itself. The artistry transcends the object and falls on the process or the philosophy behind it. For instance, one work consists of a block of ice on a metal tray. It slowly melts over the course of a few days (don’t worry, it gets replaced) and surrounding the block are about a dozen microphones hooked up to a sound system. The work, entitled Sound of Ice Melting (Paul Kos, 1970), is an absurdly comical look at processes that are almost imperceptible. I saw it as a humorous take on climate change—we cannot watch climate change happen, we cannot hear it happen, we can only see the effects after it’s too late. In the case of Kos’ work, the effect is a puddle on the ground.
Another of Kos’ works is also on display upstairs. It is one of many of the fascinating video installations on display, entitled Roping Boar’s Tusk (1971). Boar’s Tusk is the name of a rock formation in the desert. Kos stands in the foreground of the shot, twirling a lasso over his head for several seconds. He then tosses the lasso in the general direction of the rock in the background some miles off, and fails. He draws up the rope, and tries again. Once again, Kos provides an absurdist angle on the relationship between man and his environment, specifically the ineffectualness of man in dominating his surroundings.
The show is immense, and I could spend pages describing the works to you (the tour itself lasted nearly two hours). Instead, I recommend you walk over to BAM and see for yourself. Students get in free with their ID, so you really have no excuse.