BY: DANIEL GOLDSBARY
They get walked past, gawked at, pondered at, and yes, even vandalized. Some may know what they are, and some may think they have an idea. Students here at Cal State Long Beach, however, may not know the significance of the sculptures that are scattered throughout campus like some artistic Easter egg hunt, or the history behind them. Try to imagine the campus as it was 49 years ago. Just a year before that, 50 years ago, the campus was going through a controversial name change reminiscent of the situation currently happening; LBSC (Long Beach State College) became CSCLB (California State College at Long Beach).
That same year, a memorial service was held in the central mall on campus in honor of late President John F. Kennedy. Carl W. McIntosh, the second president of CSULB, presided over the service with a speech after the choir sang.
Fast-forward a year to 1965. This is in the midst of the social movements that had been happening throughout the United States in the sixties. Tensions must have been high because of student protests against the Vietnam War that were happening on college campuses across the country, including our very own. A Beechcraft Bonanza, the same type of plane that killed Buddy Holly in 1959, crashed on the lower campus volleyball court around mid-January.
The events that were happening around this time should be taken as important context concerning the sculptures that we walk past every day. In a time of such turmoil and tragedy, something positive and artistic has potential to make a difference, even a statement.
According to Brian Trimble, the curator of education at CSULB’s University Art Museum, a sculpture professor named Kenneth Glenn organized the California International Sculpture Symposium in 1965. While this event was the first of its kind held in the United States, reflective of similar events in Europe at the time, the true significance remains in the innovation being fostered in the creation of the original nine sculptures.
“Artists from all over the world participated and nine monumental public art works were created in one summer,” Trimble said. “This sculpture symposium was historically important and cutting edge in its time. It was extolled in publications, such as the New York Times, Canadian Art Magazine, and Art & Architecture magazine.”
Akin to the recent exhibition held at the University Art Museum, “Materials and Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful,” the sculptures created during this symposium were the result of a collaboration of art and technology. The artists were selected from a worldwide roster to be paired with an industrial sponsor that would provide materials and access to facilities in order to foster the finished product we have on our campus today. The results would be historical.
The initial nine structures completed that year include some of the most visible, if not most well-known pieces of art on campus. ‘Hardfact’, constructed by Kosso Eloul, is resting atop the hill beside the Molecular and Life Sciences Center and is composed of concrete and stainless steel. The large wedge-shaped sculpture that sits at the apex of a concrete wedge cut into the hillside is made of concrete and faced with stainless steel. Eloul worked with an industrial specialist in space technology in order to figure out how to bond concrete and stainless steel.
The piece entitled ‘Carlson/Bloc Tower’ was one of the initial sculptures began in 1965, but was actually not completed for another seven years. Andre Bloc is the sculptor responsible for the large white tower overlooking the hill connecting upper and lower campus, though he passed away just a year after construction began on the project.
On the hill just a bit lower than the ‘Carson/Bloc Tower’, a sculpture sits just beside the campus’ Coffee Bean. Its large curving metallic petals enclose a small mound of metal rising from the earth. This piece was constructed by Piotr Kowalski and is called ‘Now’. Trimble said that he is most excited about this sculpture.
“Kowalski worked with North American Aviation in El Toro in 1965 to create the components of this piece through experimental explosion forming,” Trimble said. “North America created a documentary on the entire process, in which they state that Kowalski explosion forms had informed their processes for the aerospace industry.”
Trimble has been in contact with Kowalski’s family in Paris, and they have connected him with a collector in southern California that has some of the original experimental explosion forms Kowalski created at El Toro in preparation for Now.
The most recent public sculpture on campus is M&A Pyramidial, located between the Walter Pyramid and the Daniel Recital Hall. According to Trimble, this was a collaborative project with the UAM and the Department of Design.
“Kristina Newhouse, our curator of exhibitions, partnered with Heather Barker’s DESN 360A class to create a public work connected to the exhibition Materials & Applications: Building Something (Beyond) beautiful, Projects 2002-2013,” he said.
Shefali Mistry, Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator at the University Art Museum, spoke about an event centered on M&A Pyramidial.
“To celebrate the opening of MA:P, we collaborated with students and alumni from the Design and Fiber departments, Yarn Bombing Los Angeles, and the Long Beach Depot for Creative ReUse for a community yarn bombing of the sculpture,” she said. “The material is gone now, but we’re looking forward to seeing how else we can engage the community to interact with the space. To me, that’s the best part of public art.”
“You are going to see much more activity around the sculptures in the next year, including conservation treatment on some of the work,” Trimble said.
The reason for this is that the 50th anniversary of the sculpture symposium is just around the academic corner. Next fall, the museum will be working in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute on a conservation initiative, an exhibition, and an international conference on public art to be held on our campus.
If there was ever a time to be excited about Cal State Long Beach’s cultural history, this is it. With a school that’s been churning out graduates for over 50 years, there’s plenty of rich history just waiting to be discovered and discussed. Art is meant to stir conversation, raise questions, and stimulate the mind. In order to get the full scope of these pieces of art, it is important to understand the context surrounding them. The campus we all walk through every day is full of history and innovation. Quizzes, projects, deadlines, and anything else of the like will surely have us all scrambling through campus, but try to take a minute to spend some time with one of these sculptures. It could cultivate inspiration, offer a short escape from an otherwise hellish day, or even just provide some much needed shade during these warm days on the tail end of summer.