SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

University Art Museum Berkeley, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

Exhibition: The Eighties (17th March-4th November 1970)



In response to this new zeitgeist, Berkeley Art Museum curators Brenda Richardson and Susan Rannells presented The Eighties in 1970, soon after the museum moved into its new building. Richardson and Rannells asked a group of artists to address in their works what the world would be like in the 1980s. They came up with an array of oddities, including Wayne E. Campbell's latex room titled Table the Problem; James Melchert's wishing well consisting of a sheet of Plexiglas covered with water drops and money suspended over the heads of viewers; and, emanating from a wooden box, William Wiley's faint, tape-recorded voice repeating over and over, "This is the eighties, this is the eighties."

Much of the art in the show looked as if it was still in progress, and some of it was. The artists agreed to spend time in the galleries, working, talking to visitors, and encouraging them to present their own ideas, artwork, poetry, or music in a designated "free space" marked by a neon sign. Depending on the day, one might see typewritten statements about the future tacked onto the wall, or latex sculptures representing deformed bodies, or a tombstone with images of flowers and the words "Rest Assured" etched into it. As one of the artists commented, "You kind of get the public to come in every day to see what's happening, instead of to come to see what has happened . . . that's what we need for the eighties."[1] The decision to blur the distinction between gallery and studio, spectator and artist (observer and participant), art and life came out of several long and freewheeling conversations among the artists[2] and foreshadowed an attitude that would become de rigueur as the decade progressed.

The most infamous piece in the show was Terry Fox's Defoliation, performed on opening night. To express his anger over the U.S. military's scorched earth policy in Vietnam, Fox used a flamethrower—the type used in Vietnam to cremate plants—to burn a section of star jasmine plantings on the Berkeley campus [….] (Lewallen 2004)

Curator(s): Brenda Richardson and Susan Rannells

Participants: James Melchert, William Wiley, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Mel Henderson.