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Tom Marioni's Golden Rectangle

The increasingly palpable link between the Buddhist principle of wakefulness and site-specific conceptual art is practically a moot point. After all, it's inarguable that the primary function of the latter is to educate both sentient and oblivious beings in the subtle art of perception -- but this alone does not a work of "Buddhist" art make. Thankfully, artist Tom Marioni's Golden Rectangle exhibit doesn't rehash the same truisms of the Zen experience, but instead enchants viewers with a complex, elegant interplay between the sacred and colloquial, the contemplative and the social.

The exhibit, featured at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, reflects Marioni's interest in Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the creative process over the finished (and commodified) piece and stresses the temporary impression of moments rather than the permanence of the art object. In the late 60s to early 70s, Marioni popped onto the scene with a West Coast style of conceptual art that was cerebral yet operated on the playing field of the everyday. From 1970 to 1984, Marioni operated the Museum of Conceptual Art at 75 3rd Street, which was the first art museum in the SF MOMA and Yerba Buena neighborhood. Marioni's rich body of work includes the exploration of performance art as sculptural procedure, integrating nontraditional elements like time, sound, light, air and social situations.

Marioni's signature work, "The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends is the Highest Form of Art" was first staged during off hours at the Oakland Museum and continues, unabated, at the Yerba Buena Center's Anteroom Gallery from 3-5 pm every Thursday. A site-specific installation in the guise of a high-end happy hour, remnants of the festivity -- beer bottles, cans, cups, pieces of paper -- are salvaged as markers of the potential for mirth and joie de vivre in an artistic collective. One of the few rules for the gathering is that there shall be "no art collectors except in disguise," downplaying the seriousness that permeates much of modern art.

The Golden Rectangle exhibit is a continuation of Marioni's brand of "social" art, and fluidly entwines the analytical and sacred, with a dose of light-heartedness. After viewing a series of Marioni's Buddhist-inspired drawings, viewers follow a path that leads to the Temple of Geometry. Conceived as a sheet-rock structure composed of a series of white cubes, the Temple demonstrates a concept based on the golden mean: that is, nature is present in the form of perfect proportions. Visitors cannot go inside the temple but they can walk through a small opening that requires one to bow upon entry, in the spirit of going into a Japanese teahouse before a ceremony. On one side of the room, a black lacquered sculpture entitled "Musical instrument that cannot be played" lounges on a small-scale stage and is a smaller replica of the Temple of Geometry. The suggestion seems to be that the sacred and the social are inextricable- the stage and the instrument are another form of the Temple. Indeed, while the Temple can't be entered, sacredness is all around; and the surroundings are meant to demonstrate this. The entire room is doused with yellow light, and the hardwood floor is enumerated among the other works as a found object. This is a detail that's, admittedly, hard to swallow but it certainly points to the dual cheekiness and discernment in Marioni's art, which is stripped of all gravity yet insists on attentive viewers.

The Golden Rectangle presents Marioni's work in the context of ongoing projects, including a built-in bar in his symbolic "teahouse," replete with free beer. Much like "The Act of Drinking Beer" project, Marioni is invested in the idea of a ritual of neighborly experience. In addition, Marioni, who has been incorporating sound in his performance settings since his first sound-art show in 1970, plans to have a Buddhist band perform during the exhibition.

It's interesting to consider The Golden Rectangle in light of the exhibit it's flanked by, Game Scenes, which is ravaged with digitized images and mock-ups of the most notorious events in history. The second exhibit examines gaming culture and the management of information flow. What viewers are presented with is an image of an alternate world of combat games and war simulations, once accessible only to government think tanks and political scientists.

It's fascinating to note the similarities in the works, which are both invested in the way our surroundings inform our moods and orient us with "reality." When the raison d'etre of the hour points more and more to simulated realities and a cloudburst of data that's processed, manipulated, and parceled out to the masses, I can't help but long for the simpler things in life, like beer and rooms full of light. I'm sure the great Bodhisattva would concur.

Runs: Jan 17-Apr 4, 2004
Gallery 1, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission St.
(Mission @ Third)
415.978.2700

Gallery Hours
Tue-Sun 11 am-5 pm
The first Thursday of every month, 11 am-8 pm
$6 reg/$3 sen & stu/FREE for Members
Our Galleries are FREE to the public on the first Tuesday of every month unless closed for installation.