The art is removed, the performance ends, the audience ambles toward the exits, but inevitably the museum is left with a trace of that presence. Markers of past exhibitions, programs, and visits cover its walls, built up over the past forty-five years and riddling its concrete surfaces with drill holes, silver anchors, and screws that remind me of dental fillings, graffiti from intrepid visitors, pencil notations left by installation crews of yore, the residue of countless tape-downs and fastidious measurements. These mark a friction, a struggle between the artwork with its mode of display.
Museums are more than just housings for objects: they allow us a place where we can go to conjure the unknown. Architecture stages this experience, and often the simpler the space the more direct our experience of the artwork. The ideal gallery strips away all cues that might interfere with the perception of the object as “art.” In these chambers of aesthetics, the mystique of art mingles with ideas, and the space is unshadowed, white, artificial, refusing the inconstancy of time. Yet, dissonant spaces often allow artworks to resound with a more context-laden story. Art historians and critics have written volumes about this effect, especially the Franks (Lloyd Wright and Gehry), whose monumental architecture sometimes overshadows the relative subtlety of objects contained within. Somewhere between Wright’s sculptural forms and Gehry’s explosive gestures is our own Brutalist behemoth. From the outside it could be a parking garage or a military barracks, from above it looks like a spaceship, but inside it is both expansive and intimate: skylights suspended over fanlike galleries, and the walls, as Ciampi wanted, telling their own stories.
So, as we bid adieu to our beloved Mario Ciampi building, we must say farewell to our own “Ciampi effect.” I’ve compiled several photographs highlighting some idiosyncrasies left on the surface of the museum, by exhibitions, visitors, and other (natural) forces.
Spinning discs included in Matt Heckert’s MATRIX 153 exhibition Mechanical Sound Orchestra (1992) left behind these perfect circles.
“This was in Paul Kos’s retrospective, a 1995 work called Caucasus Carpet, one of a series of pieces that had to do with furniture and furnishings. A carpet with a hole cut in it hung on the wall. On the floor nearby, the design on the cut-out circular element was etched into the floor in Gallery B.” —Constance Lewallen, former Senior Curator
This was the hole through which Paul Kos’s Sand Piece (1971) filtered down into a utility closet in the men’s restroom.
“This was our solution to showing Kos’s Sand Piece, first shown at the Reese Palley Gallery in 1971 where there were two floors. At BAM/PFA, in Gallery B, we could only show the top floor as the sand filtered into closet in basement. So, in a sense, we showed half the piece. I believe it was at that point the only time it was shown since the Reese Palley show.”— Constance Lewallen, former Senior Curator
Peek through the hole and into our collection storage!
“My office was in the area now used by registration. I had the back area of space including a large walk-in closet. There was a chronic leak over my desk and solution was to let water flow from ceiling hole into suspended metal pan that in turn was tilted to drain into plastic tubing that was rigged to carry the water into closet area and drain into large waste basket. Once a week the wastebasket had to be emptied or it would get too heavy to move. It was quite ingenious and funny to view, a conversation piece for every guest who entered my office, and for film people it suggested a Buster Keaton or Charlie Bowers movie.” —Edith Kramer, former director, Pacific Film Archive
A leftover transducer from Ed Osborn’s Vanishing Point (2001) that converted the glass windows of Gallery B into giant rattling speakers.
When Jonathan Borofsky came to install his major retrospective in Galleries A and B, he noticed a tear in the window film. As a creative solution, he cut the film to fit the shape of his signature silhouette, turned upside-down.
A sample of the many hundreds of pencil markings on our walls. Often these are made by installation crews trying to trace their steps in the cumbersome process of attaching large works of art to concrete.
Whispers of Lawrence Weiner’s A RECTANGULAR REMOVAL FROM A XEROXED GRAPH SHEET IN PROPORTION TO THE OVERALL DIMENSIONS OF THE SHEET.
“This was part of the stairwell exhibition Held Rectangles (March 12-August 3, 2008), which included photo screen prints by John C. Fernie, and a text work by Lawrence Weiner selected from the book Lawrence Weiner WORKS — a gift to the museum from our former director James Elliott. BAM/PFA sought permission from Weiner to include this work in the show. The artist granted permission and supplied instructions designed specifically for the space.”—Stephanie Cannizzo, Assistant Curator
“The building was designed in six parts with places to flex while the concrete settled. This is one of those places, but in the event of an earthquake, do not put your fingers in there!”—Barney Bailey, former Exhibition Designer
“As the building settled, one of its six parts shifted and a portion chipped off. It was noticed sitting free in place when we replaced the skylights. The project manager asked if I thought we should survey the building. I said yes. They brought in a firm to do a $30,000 survey and found all the other problems with seismic instability.”—Barney Bailey, former Exhibition Designer
A room hidden in plain sight!
“It was designed to be the lighting/tech control room for performances in Gallery B.”—Nina Zurier, former Director of Design
The artistry of Barney Bailey, former Exhibition Designer.
“For years we could not hang paintings [on the lobby wall] during the winter due to rain leaks. This diverter moves the water to the side and down the wall to allow us to hang paintings below in the rainy seasons. The other one is on the wall above my office—it was put up to divert a large drip in Gallery B above the Ellen Fulman instrument. We did not realize until after she installed her instrument that it was going to rain the night of her performance.”—Barney Bailey, former Exhibition Designer
These mounts for Len Lye’s Flip and Two Twisters, Trilogy (1965) remain installed in the ceiling above Gallery D.
“The museum owns the Len Lye sculpture and these mounts were installed at the very beginning of the museum for hanging the mobile; it was in fact a feature of the original design of building so I have been told, but the installation was too dangerous to leave there. A pity since it is a spectacular piece!”—Edith Kramer, former Director, Pacific Film Archive
A fluorescent bulb left over from Dan Flavin’s exhibition in 1978.
“It was a nifty place to add colored light. I think green if I remember right. The best and most unexpected part was that the light went up through the skylight and the steam flowing out of the building in that area at night was colored green.”—Barney Bailey, former Exhibition Designer
“Yes, it was green. We turned it off when the other neon became permanent because Brian [Rush] thought it interfered with his piece [Two Out of Blue, 1982, on the Bancroft entrance]. It was called Untitled (For Gretchen) after Gretchen Glicksman, who was a registrar at the museum then. Flavin made it for the show, with the stipulation that it could stay up as long as the museum wanted, but it couldn’t be moved or sold.”—Nina Zurier, former Director of Design
BAM/PFA’s friendly ghost.