SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

Exterior of entrance to Richmond Art Center, 2450 Barrett Avenue, Richmond

Paul Kos, Richmond Glacier (July 1969)

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For his first one person show, Kos placed seven thousand pounds of ice in front of the gallery entrance. The Fire Department declared it a hazard and broke it up to melt it faster. (Anonymous 1971: 6)

Picture this: over a two-hour span on a hot afternoon in July, a “glacier” forms at the entrance to the Richmond Art Center. Three and a half tons of ice, in three-hundred-pound blocks, are stacked five feet high by five feet deep by five feet wide, and make a thick, frozen wall, sealing off the doors leading go Paul Kos’s first major exhibition.

Richmond Glacier seems like a force of nature: massive, unavoidable, and dazzling. Its wet, glass-like surface is so seductive that it exerts an almost magnetic attraction. It is large enough that the nearby air is chilled. Standing beside it with nowhere to go, even time appears to slow down. It demands contemplation. Face to face with a barrier of ice, the viewer is stopped cold and challenged to make the next move: move It. Or move around it.

It is a Sphinx that asks a single question: “What are you waiting for?”

Strategy is now as important as meaning or aesthetics. The usual way in is out of the question. Kos has tantalized the viewer, and frustrated expectations. “Access” to the exhibition (to the “Art”) is denied: the door becomes a wall. Normal “art-going” habits don’t work here.

Site is at the heart of the matter. Located precisely in the gallery’s doorway, Richmond Glacier seems to be a simple barrier. But it is really a kind of threshold. Threshold is its central metaphor, and everything, from its conceptual grace to the use of ice as a material, flows from it.

Ice itself is a threshold material, existing – precariously – along a razor’s edge of form and decay. On a hot summer’s day, it has already lost the battle. (Meyers 2003: 92)