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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Art/Talks, Part One: Arts on the Point

The first of this year’s Art/Talks, a series of discussions given by and about contemporary artists, took place Thursday, October 10 in the Harbor Art Gallery.

Although the talk was given at 11:30am, a time chosen so as to fit the schedules of art majors who take studio courses, attendance was poor. This seemed to have been due in part to a problem with the messaging system used to announce the event. It was unfortunate that more students could not find the time to come because the talk was informative, interesting, and relevant to the state of the arts here on the UMB campus.

Those who did attend enjoyed a casual dialogue in a comfortably intimate setting. Full of facts and anecdotes, Professor Paul Tucker, director of Arts on the Point, delivered a detailed review of the progress of the Arts On the Point sculpture park.

Tucker began by addressing the issue of accessibility. Contemporary artwork has reputation for being notoriously hard to understand. “That is certainly one of the biggest problems about contemporary sculpture,” said Tucker, “And that’s too bad because most of these works are made with considerable intent to provide people with ways of thinking that are far beyond the mundane.”

He went on to counter the negative view of contemporary sculpture by bringing up the example of Luis Jimenez, whose entertaining work (Steel Worker-sadly, now departed from campus and touring the country-and the newly acquired Los Gatos) is anything but cryptic.

Speaking of Jimenez’s Los Gatos, Tucker said, ” I think this is a piece of great humor, of great fun. Totally accessible.” Tucker explained how the piece was conceived as part of a renewal project for a town square in San Antonio, Texas. The old town square had featured a pond with live alligators, so when Jimenez was commissioned to create a piece for the restoration, bringing back the gators was the obvious choice. Because of this original intention, Tucker said that the piece is “like the kind of sculpture that graces so many European cities.”

He gave a detailed analysis of the work, pointing out its spatial complexity and the dynamics of its form and color. “Los Gatos is the kind of work that seems to change as you move around it. “If you look from certain directions, it looks quite different from where you stand in another position.” Tucker also explained the process of creating the work, which was sculpted in clay and then cast in fiberglass, allowing the artist to produce more than one copy. The Los Gatos here on campus is one of several similar pieces on exhibit across the country.

In contrast to the bright, kitschy kinetic energy of Los Gatos, stands the “anonymous, dark, industrial” steel sculpture known as Stinger, by artist Tony Smith. The enormous work is painted flat black and is starkly geometric, curving in on itself like a scorpion tail, a shape which allows visitors to enter a space that is 6 feet 6 inches in height, the piece is tall enough to block the view of most people who are daring enough to enter its enclosure. “When you’re inside of it, its almost as if you are some kind of cage.”

Tucker discussed the piece’s “prism-like purity” and its use of simple geometric shape and alignment to create optical illusions. Looking at the piece in a certain way, Tucker said, “It’s difficult to know whether this is actually connected to that, whether it’s flat or whether it’s sticking out at you.”

Tucker revealed the history of Stinger, whose maker, who spent years designing the work, died before seeing it completed. Smith did create a full-scale wooden mock-up in 1967, which was shown in New York and Europe, but as Tucker pointed out, “fabricating it in steel was very expensive.” Stinger did not appear in present and final form until just two years ago.

Tucker traced the feeling of isolation that the piece suggests back to Smith’s childhood; Smith suffered from tuberculosis and spent most of his early years in quarantine. It was in this situation that Smith began to develop his artistic tendencies. “There is something deep and personal and weighty about the piece,” said Tucker.

Certainly, it is physically weighty. At 32,000 pounds, Stinger required a complicated feat of engineering in order to be supported on the spot where it stands along the perimeter road overlooking the Harbor.

Tucker saw in the placement of the work in this space a commentary on the relationship of “the human to the world.”

“It is that way of thinking that Tony Smith always had. He always felt his pieces were in some kind of dynamic, slightly spiritual relationship to the world as a whole.”

Tucker also made mention of a new sculpture that will hopefully be appearing on campus with the next semester: The Tourists, by Duane Hanson, a life sized, and startlingly life-like, sculpture of an elderly couple cast from live models, complete with real clothes and real hair.

“I hope that there are other pieces that we will be able to install this fall and next spring,” said Tucker. Most likely within the next month, UMB students traveling the grassy area behind Quinn towards the bus stop will be able to view a sculpture by Willem DeKooning. Later on this year, an installation by Gillian Jagger will make its appearance near the brick pump house. The piece is comprised of three enormous tree trunks. “The engineering for that is so complicated that we might have to delay in terms of installing it until the springtime,” said Tucker.

Through a thoughtfully compiled slide show, Tucker supported his discussion with examples of the new work and made visual comparisons with classic pieces. In discussing Los Gatos, he drew a correlation to the sculptures of such masters as Bernini and Rodin. In Stinger, he saw a parallel to the ruins of Mycenae and the temples of ancient Greece, structures also intended to emphasize the spiritual connection between the work of man and the work of nature.

Overall, Tucker made an insightful and persuasive argument for the merit of the new acquired sculptures and for their importance to the cultural value of the UMB community. It was a shame that there weren’t more people there to hear it. Hopefully, when the next Art/Talk rolls around, on November 14, there will be.