by Á.R. Vázquez-Concepción
Paul Kos. Condensation of Yellowstone Park Into 64 Square Feet , 1969/2016; mud and sulfur; 96 x 96 in.; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and di Rosa, Napa. Photo: Wilfred J. Jones.
Currently at di Rosa, Equilibrium: A Paul Kos Survey features works by one of the pioneers of performance-based video and installation art, one of the most exceptional representatives of the Bay Area Conceptual Art movement. Rightfully, art critic Jonathan Gilmore states that this branch of Conceptualism is “more playful and less cerebral than its relatively austere analogue in New York.” This assessment is both corroborated and expanded in this showcase.
Curated by Amy Owen and Tanya Zimbardo, the fulcrum of the exhibition is Kos’s enduring fascination with Western topography—as it’s manifest in Kos’ contemplative, emotional body of work— and his long-time relationship with di Rosa’s geographical location and its founders.
The exhibition’s title references balance and equality, but the operative word for understanding it as a whole is “survey.” Fundamental to grasping Kos’ work is paying attention to the play between the act of looking carefully (in analysis of a person or an object) and the gesture of examining and recording the physical features of an area of land. Such perceptual/spatial play is apparent throughout Equilibrium, which illustrates Kos’ dynamic shadowing and detouring off the modalities of land surveying. A case in point is the diptych titled Real Estate Sculpture and Loan (1968–69), a work consisting of official tax documents, annotations by the artist, and a pyramidal cross-section of geological strata below a 100 feet by 50 feet existent plot of land. In this work the artist effectively appropriates the modality of property tax records and a stratigraphic representation of real estate, and declares them a ready-made expression.
A remarkable work that will surely stand out for its placement at the entrance to the exhibition is Condensation of Yellowstone Park Into 64 Square Feet (1969/2016). It is a representation of a bubbling sulfur and mud pot like those typically found near geysers, and invokes contrast between the outdoor setting where one usually encounters such geological formations and the sanitized aesthetes of the white cube.
The works in Equilibrium, produced between the late ’60s and mid-2000s and lent by the artist and the di Rosa collection, typify turning points in the artist’s aesthetic investigations. Focusing on the ontological relationship between humans and the land —between external geological and internal psychological forces— Kos deploys a conceptual practice that discursively communicates through assemblages of raw earthen materials, references, and signs.
Equilibrium: A Paul Kos Survey is on view through October 2, 2016, at di Rosa, Napa.
Ángel Rafael Vázquez-Concepción (b. 1981, Puerto Rico) is an independent curator based in San Francisco, California. In 2015, he obtained a Master’s in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts.
This review was originally published on Daily Serving