Art 110’s Maintenace Art activity @ Piotr Kowalski’s NOW

"Now" sculpture as installed on the campus of Long Beach State University
NOW, 1965, Piotr Kowalski

The Sculpture

This is Piotr Kowalski’s 1965 "dyanmite sculpture," NOW. Parts "A", "B", and "C" are the tall "petals" ascending into the sky. Not seen in this photo is "D" a dome centered between the 3 petals. The final element, "E" is a reflector seen at the right of this photo. Originally the reflector moved through the day to cast sunlight on the petals. After about a year the mechanism broke down and, with Kowalski’s permission, Long Beach State University converted it to a static reflector.

Also, in front of each of the 3 petals there is a circular hole in the concrete covered by a metal disk. I imagine that these were originally colored lights to illuminiate the interior of the petals at night. I imagine that at some point these became a maintenance issue and the university covered them. All in all, for a 55-year-old outdoor sculpture, NOW seems to be in good shape.

Detail of the reflector portion of Piotr Kowalski’s 1965 sculpture NOW as installed on the campus of Long Beach State University. The detail shows the extensive dust and “finger graffiti” on the sculpture.

The Problem

Because they are nearly vertical curves, the petals don’t seem to attract too much dust and dirt. At a 40-degree-or-so angle, the reflector collects a lot of dust. And over the years the campus community has contributed a lot of finger graffiti to the reflector.

A year or two ago I contacted LBSU’s Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum about having it cleaned. But they said that since it is an artwork you can’t just call facilities and ask them to clean it, you have to hire art conservators to do the work.

Today Art 110 decided to take a page from Mierle Laderman Ukeles Manifesto for Maintenance Art and clean the scultpure ourselves.

But before we get into our Maintenance Art project, here’s a short video on the sculpture and a bio on Piotr Kowalski from his website:

Piotr Kowalski

Piotr Kowalski was born in 1927 in Warsaw, Poland. He studied science and architecture at MIT in Cambridge USA, then became an architect and developed many sculpture and housing projects that wanted to be at the cutting edge of technology. He worked in particular from 1952 to 1957 in New York with IM Pei and in Paris with Marcel Breuer for the UNESCO Palace. With Jean Prouvé he studies prefabricated structures for desert habitats, one of the main examples of which is a cabin from the Sahara presented at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in 1958.

Very quickly he reflected on the possibility of integrating art into the urban fabric, as proven by several projects in France, Europe, the United States and Japan. Particularly at La Défense, the Place des Degrés and the Grand Escalier to the left of the Grande Arche, as well as the monumental sculpture Ax de la Terre in Marne-la-Vallée.

In 1958 he founded an art society around the machine that produced the first large-scale sculpture-architecture construction. He produced a prefabricated prototype of an EDF electric transformer installed in Fresnes in 1960, which remains a decisive element in architecture in new techniques. Made of polyester sheets, the walls of the building are designed like a sculpture allowing spaces to be given complex shapes. This design takes up the deformations undergone by an elastic surface stretched over a metal frame. The new process therefore allows Piotr Kowalski to imagine the habitat in a different way than conventional prefabrication. This production method was shown for the first time in 1961 at the Galerie des Beaux Arts in Paris, and during “Antiprocès 3” at the Galerie Brera in Milan.

Throughout Kowalski’s work, the action of science on artistic conception is constant, his work essentially focusing on the relationship between physical laws and matter, just like the poetry that is present there. Unlike the artists of the 60s who strongly believe that science heralds a new era for art (Kinetic art / Mec art), Kowalski uses modern technology only as a means and not as an end. You have to use objective things, external (to art), to be free (..). There is no dichotomy between science and life for me, it is part of the same world.

piotrkowalski.com/biographie / Google Translate

Maintenance Art @ NOW

Today we (I) decided that since it’s been standing at this outdoor site for 55 years now, Piotr Kowalski’s NOW can probably stand to have a bit of water brushed across it with a soft towel to remove the dust. So, as part of our Art Idea of the Week, "Women’s Work" is also Art, we followed Mierle Laderman Ukeles lead and performed some Maintenance Art. We cleaned the sculpture and also walked around the campus collecting trash. Those who stayed near the sculpture didn’t find too much trash, but others walked further and found a lot of trash on campus.

"Women’s Work" is not generally appreciated by our culture. And, it’s endless. Yet it was deeply satisfying to clean a prominent campus sculpture (especially prominent for me as I hold my office hours right next to it at the tables outside Robeks/Coffee Bean) and to see this unique artist’s work paid a little respect here in the 21st century. It also afforded us the opportunity to spend an hour with the massive sculpture.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020, 3:32 pm
3:33:45 pm
3:33:49 pm
3:33:59 pm
3:35:34 pm
3:35:56 pm
3:36 pm
3:37:24 pm
3:37:34 pm
3:53 pm – we cleaned a lot of dust and finger graffiti from NOW today. One student managed to use the edge of his credit card to remove the remnants of a sticker that had been on the reflector for a few years. We did not attempt to address this paint that someone added to NOW.
4:28 pm – we collected so much trash from the LBSU campus

Spending Time with an Abstract Sculpture

Can you tell what you’re looking at?

Can you see it?

It’s a whale!

LBSU SOAR tour guide

Apparently LBSU SOAR tour guides tell visitors that "it’s a whale". Not only is "whale" not what Kowalski was going for, but it’s also the least interesting thing you can say about this sculpture. The urge to name abstract things often shuts down experience. If you can say "whale," you can say,

I get it! It’s a whale!

Check! Done!

But if it isn’t a whale
If it isn’t a nameable thing
Then you have to spend time and be with it

Experience it’s physical and acoustic properties. Experience the massive petals that tower over your head. Experience the sonic presence of the petals which are also acoustic mirrors.

Today we spent time with Piotr Kowalski’s NOW. The average artwork in a museum is viewed for something like 4 seconds. Instead of viewing hundreds of works for 4 seconds each, we spent an hour with one work, NOW, today. We spent time with a phenomenological experience that cannot be named.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020, 3:59:05 pm – the petals of NOW function as parabolic speakers or acoustic mirrors. Here, a student holds a Bluetooth speaker near the focal point of the “C” petal acoustic mirror.
3:59:10 pm
4:08 pm

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?