Gallery without walls: First of five Beasley sculptures arrives on campus

At first light Wednesday morning, a trailer bearing a graceful tangle of giant, gleaming hoops rolled slowly up Adeline Street from West Oakland, squeezing under a Highway 24 overpass on its way to the UC Berkeley campus.

Lifted by crane and gently settled onto the Tolman Hall breezeway, the piece was the first of five large, stainless-steel sculptures that will be installed over the summer to form the first such exhibition of public art on campus.

Sculptor Bruce Beasley, left, and an assistant help as a crane gently lowers a 1,200-to-1,500-pound sculpture onto the Tolman Hall breezeway early Wednesday morning. (NewsCenter photo by Steve Finacom)

Sculptor Bruce Beasley, left, and an assistant help as a crane gently lowers a 1,200-to-1,500-pound sculpture onto the Tolman Hall breezeway early Wednesday morning. (Photos courtesy of Bruce Beasley)

The sculptures, all fabricated from polished rings interlaced in lighter-than-air configurations, are the first of a new series by Oakland sculptor Bruce Beasley, who graduated from Berkeley in 1962 and has work in some 40 galleries around the world. He calls the series “Rondo.”

“I liken this to a gallery show without walls or hours or admission,” says campus landscape architect Jim Horner.  “It’s pretty exciting to have art on this scale from a world-renowned artist.”

Berkeley has a long tradition of public art. The first outdoor sculpture, “The Football Player” by Douglas Tilden, went up in 1900, and the campus’s greenswards and glades are home to many pieces, both from the Berkeley Art Museum’s collection as well as gifts to the university.

But the Beasley installation represents a first, Horner says: “To our knowledge, there hasn’t been an exhibition of multiple works by a single artist in a series on the campus before.”

Each of the five pieces weighs some 1,200 to 1,500 pounds and will measure 12 by 15 feet, or so.

Artist rendering of Bruce Beasley "Rondo" sculpture as it will be installed in the Mining Circle pool. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Beasley)

Artist’s rendering of Bruce Beasley “Rondo” sculpture as it will be installed in the Mining Circle pool.

The most dramatic installation will be one that appears to float in the middle of the Mining Circle pool. Struts will hold the piece just at the water line, with no visible lines of support, says Horner.

The other three will be installed on the lawn between Wellman Hall and the Valley Life Sciences Building, on the Crescent and on the lawn just southwest of Morrison Hall.

“The work will enrich the public space, add interest and create focal points that people should enjoy very much,” says Horner. The pieces, while large, are light and transparent, so will have what Horner characterizes as a symbiotic interaction with the environment but not dominance over it.

The exhibit, approved by all relevant campus committees, is intended to last about a year, Horner says.

Beasley proposed the installation and will be bearing the “significant” costs of making, installing and later removing the works himself.

Why? First, he has an emotional connection to the campus. “I came to Berkeley specifically to study sculpture. It was one of two schools in the United States at that time that had more than one sculptor on the faculty,” he says, “It was a wonderful experience.”

And second, he adds: “It’s a beautiful campus — such a wonderful combination of nature and urban.”

A guide to Berkeley’s outdoor art, including a map showing locations of 33 sculptures, can be downloaded as a PDF from the UC Berkeley Capital Projects website.