press release

New York City, May 12, 2003—Everything Matters is the first solo East Coast museum exhibition of the pioneering work of Paul Kos, a leading figure of the early Bay Area Conceptual Art movement. On view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery from September 9 to December 6, 2003, Everything Matters: Paul Kos, A Retrospective features approximately twenty works spanning three decades of this San Francisco-based artist’s career. Kos is recognized as a pioneer in the genres of video, performance, and installation. In step with such peers as Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, Kos was among the first artists to incorporate video, sound, and interactivity into sculptural installations. Organized by the University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum, Everything Matters surveys Kos’s explorations of paradoxes of faith, war, and nature.

Kos moved to San Francisco from Wyoming in 1967 to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where he received his M.F.A. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Bay Area was a hotbed of Conceptual Art activity. An influential teacher, Kos experimented with video and sculptural installations determined by natural processes. Earth Art and Arte Povera were important influences on seminal, early works such as The Sound of Ice Melting (1970), in which ten state-of-the-art boom microphones amplified the disintegration of large blocks of ice; and Sand Piece (1971), which transformed a two-story gallery into a giant hourglass as a ton of sand yielded to the pull of gravity, sifting through a minute hole in the upper level to form a perfect cone on the floor below. They also shared a pared-down Zen Buddhist aesthetic with other ephemeral and time-based works created by young Bay Area Conceptualists like Tom Marioni and Terry Fox.

Many of Kos’s works explore paradoxes of belief systems. The ritual and imagery of the Catholic Church are recurrent themes, and the bell a frequent metaphor. Kos marries medieval and modern technologies in Chartres Bleu (1983-86), a full-scale re-creation of a stained-glass window from the famed French cathedral. Each of twenty-seven vertically stacked video monitors duplicates an individual leaded glass panel. Simulating the progression of light in a 24-hour day accelerated to 12 minutes, the narrative scenes are clearly read when darkened and dissolve into abstraction when brightly illuminated. In Guadalupe Bell of 1989, viewers apparently trigger a miraculous image of the iconic Virgin when ringing an adjacent bell. Kos has expressed his own philosophy by paraphrasing a statement by Czech poet and president Vaclav Havel, who observed that in the West everything works and nothing matters, while in the East nothing works and everything matters. “Things do matter to Kos,” notes Constance Lewallen, the exhibition’s curator. “Through metaphors drawn from his own experiences, passions, and activities, he makes works that require, even demand, participation from the viewer. This participation might be physical (ringing a bell, walking into an architectural space, tripping a sound element) or intellectual, but the viewer does his or her part.”

Kos has also made public artworks that reflect his lifelong interest in the natural landscape. These include his collaboration with former U.S. poet laureate Robert Haas, which resulted in Poetry/Sculpture Garden (2000) in downtown San Francisco. For it, Kos reconstituted an eighty-six ton boulder that had been brought down from the Sierras in pieces.

One of the defining characteristics of Kos’s art is a sense of play, and many of his works reference games such as chess, pool, and pétanque, a traditional French sport. Even more fundamental is his synthesis of life and work. His love of nature, his teaching, his trips to Mexico, France, and Switzerland, along with his concern for humanity (tempered with a sense of the absurd) are present in subject, symbol, or metaphor as Kos seamlessly integrates form and content into provocative works of art.

Kos considers himself a “materials-based Conceptual artist.” “I have always been intrigued by materials and the way their indigenous characteristics have a certain poetry,” observes the artist. “I like the poetry of materials the way ice behaves or the way cheese behaves or the way a chair behaves.” “We are pleased to present this retrospective of this significant West Coast artist,” states Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery. “Once you see and experience Kos’s work, you don’t forget it. His contributions to Conceptual Art and his pioneering work in video warrant greater recognition.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by the show’s curator, Contance Lewallen, senior curator for exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum, Charles Desmarais, Ron Meyers, and Rachel Teagle. Everything Matters: Paul Kos, A Retrospective is organized by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Agnes Bourne. Additional funding is provided by Paule Anglim, Ann Hatch, and Joan Roebuck. The Grey Art Gallery presentation is presented in conjunction with The Buddhism Project and is made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Abby Weed Grey Trust.


Everything Matters: Paul Kos, A Retrospective
Kurator: Constance Lewallen

02.04.03 - 20.07.03 Berkeley Art Museum
09.09.03 - 06.12.03 Grey Art Gallery, New York
05.02.04 - 02.04.04 Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
12.06.04 - 29.08.04 Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati