Morris Graves: Instruments for a New Navigation

Jan 13 - Feb 25, 2001

"Just as many of his birds seem to be conveying a mysterious empathetic message of life's essential one-ness, so the Instruments for a New Navigation... will be emphasizing, in more abstract forms, another aspect of this eternal theme -- at once so intimately personal and universal -- an affirmation of the unity of all life." Nancy Wilson Ross, 1963

At age 91, artist Morris Graves has chosen to reveal works he began 40 years ago, but never publicly exhibited until last year in New York. The Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College in Moraga marks their California debut. The sculptures in "Instruments for a New Navigation" were originally conceived at the beginning of the space program, reflections of Graves' awareness that technology was about to take humans deep into the heavens. They are being called the fruit of his life-long search for a place where we fit together in the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of our being.

Graves designed the sculptures and supervised their fabrication in Europe between 1959 and 1963. But then they were set aside, uncompleted. Each one is a puzzle; most have a lens-like aperture of luminous elements that invites the viewer to look through the work, rather than around it, suggesting some navigational function. Crafted of Tuscan marble, alabaster, intensely-hued Venetian glass, brass, mica, bronze, iron pyrite, and other rich materials, these totemic forms reflect Graves' lifelong fascination with spare shapes and Zen philosophy. The exhibition also offers viewers a rare opportunity to see the distinctly original and delicate works on paper that Graves has likened to "cobwebs holding dew," displayed alongside the newly revealed sculptures of stone and metal.

Noted Graves authority Robert McDonald will offer a lecture, "Morris Graves: Art as Spiritual Exercise," at 2 p.m., on Saturday, Jan. 13, in the Soda Activity Center, followed by a public reception from 3 until 4:30 p. m. in the Gallery. Lecture $5. Complementing the 19 sculptures and 9 paintings on paper on loan from Schmidt-Bingham Gallery in New York are 15 additional drawings and paintings on paper from the Hearst Art Gallery permanent collection. The works were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond A. Vellutini.

A CD of the lyric voice of John Cage, reading his composition, “Series re: Morris Graves 1973,” will play continually in the Gallery. An illustrated catalog, with an introduction by Barry Schwabsky and an essay by Nancy Wilson Ross, accompanies the exhibition.

The Hearst Art Gallery is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. A $1 admission donation is requested. For information on membership or group tours, please call (925) 631-4379. The Gallery is accredited by the American Association of Museums.