Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beyond Narrative: Varujan Boghosian

[“American Bouquet” (1997), mixed media construction. “Homage to Joseph Albers” (1995), paper collage. “Three Yellow Objects” (1998), mixed media construction.]

Various roles of selector, editor, builder, and juxtaposer characterize the working method of Varujan Boghosian. Cherishing the out-dated and the cast-off, Boghosian energizes them in a process imbuing them with new meaning, aesthetic value, and a contemporary sense. From Boghosian’s studio, old children’s toys, antiquated tools, and oddball objects are transformed into collages, relief constructions, boxes, and sculpture. One can get a sense of the working method of this lifelong collector at his solo show at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, which runs through January 9, 2010. Berta Walker, of the renowned Provincetown gallery bearing her name, has lauded the elegance, lyricism, and poetic nature of Boghosian’s work, calling it “Haiku in found objects.”

Constant trips to flea markets and antique stores have paid off handsomely for Boghosian, who has parlayed these scavenged parts and scraps onto a palette in which time is an essential element. Yet, this sense of time impacts on a number of levels, including Boghosian’s working process: Objects amass in his studio, perhaps waiting years for their new purpose to reveal itself. Even when recontextualized and reconfigured by the artist—however surprisingly and surrealistically—these objects and materials tend to manifest age and vulnerability despite their “rescue.” Boghosian’s very fluency in transcending previous contexts allows a conversation with the past without an ensuing nostalgia. Importantly, he does this without diminishing the integrity of his materials.

Boghosian has even recast history and legend in pursuit of his artistic endeavor. One source repeatedly mined by Boghosian has been the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Robert M. Doty, curator of Boghosian’s 1989 retrospective exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth, explained the artist’s ability to forge something ever larger out of component parts: “There is a mood about the work, a stirring of feelings about life and death, which is greater than the specific narrative and has universal meaning and appeal. Boghosian has revitalized the myth of Orpheus in his own terms, using physical means to create images which act as catalysts for transforming individual rapport into the most fundamental human experience.” Under Boghosian’s hand, Leonardo “goes native” in the Victorian Era before exploding like a psychedelic time-bomb into the 1960s. That, while the pitiful—yet hopeful—Orpheus is imprisoned in brick.

The G.I. Bill allowed WWII veteran Boghosian to attend the Yale School of Art and Architecture, where he studied under Josef Albers (1888–1976) whose name appears on a collage in this show. Albers’ students also include the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Weil, Cy Twombly, and Ray Johnson. An eminent refugee from the Third Reich, Albers—whose work represents a transition from traditional art of the European academy to American modernism—is probably best known for his abstract paintings and his role in art theory. Bauhaus communicant Albers appropriated Color-Aid—originally developed in 1948 as a backdrop for photographers—and propelled it into a staple media for modernist color theory.

In addition to Lori Bookstein Fine Art, Boghosian’s work has been presented at—or is in the permanent collections of—such entities as Stable Gallery, Cordier & Ekstrom, Berta Walker Gallery, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Hood Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum. Twice artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, Boghosian has taught at Pratt Institute, the Cooper Union, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth.

According these weathered doors and windows, ornamental woodwork, toys, tools, and set after set of children’s building blocks with new identities through his faithful and masterful assemblage, Boghosian (the son of an Armenian cobbler) casts a light on roles played by dislocation and repositioning in identity’s construction. Indeed, upon such dislocation or “repositioning”—whether successful, tragic, or both—rests much of the history of the 20th century. Woefully, in light of identity’s seemingly intractable nature, this “exploration” remains unresolved.

Varujan Boghosian
Through January 9, 2010
@ Lori Bookstein Fine Art
138 Tenth Avenue, NYC 10011

Monday, December 28, 2009

Out of Order: Surfing on Confusion’s Clashing Waves

[“Anatomy” by Scooter Laforge (2009), oil on canvas. “Levitation in Washington Allston’s Desert Landscape” by Larissa Bates (2008), acryla gouache & ink on canvas. “She Turned Up Her Toes” by Stephen Tashjian/Tabboo! (2009), acrylic on canvas with glitter.]

Scott Hug, the founder K48 magazine, has organized a diverse group of 33 contemporary artists into an exhibit at Andrew Edlin Gallery. Dealing with themes of disarrangement, mysticism, and internal logic, “Out of Order” runs through January 16, 2010 and asks: “If order comes out of chaos, what comes out of order?” K48 magazine—produced once a year and filled with works by emerging artists, photographers, fashionistas, and writers—gives Hug a natural vantage point in organizing this show. Like the artists represented in “Out of Order,” Hug has gone solely on gut instincts by picking up the pieces and carrying on in a world that seems to be falling apart. Hug’s own work has—at various times and in a number of media—interpreted and traversed the visual distance between boardroom and spiritual realms. As an artist, the curator’s work has been shown in such venues as D’Amelio Terras and The Kitchen.

In Scooter Laforge’s work—represented in “Out of Order” by two of his trademark neo-surrealist paintings “Anatomy” (2009) and “Bat” (2009)—whimsy can barely contain a larger volley of ambient danger, raw sexuality, and irony emanating from his East Village studio. Proceeding on a daring course, Laforge’s pungent storytelling fuses with a rich palette in a narrative on the heartaches of life in the Metropolis. Tenuous movements between desire and its fruition—and between fable and fantasy—reverberate upon Laforge’s tableau. His beguilingly deviant work has been shown in such venues as Exit Art, Wooster Projects, and White Columns.

Banality gets the shaft on the canvases of Stephen Tashjian (Tabboo!)—a seminal figure in the East Village’s 1980s underground scene. An artist not contained by any media—whether painting, sculpture, photography, puppetry, music, or theater design—Tashjian is revealed to viewers of “Out of Order” by three of his paintings: “She Turned Up Her Toes” (2009), “The Early Bird Catches the Worm” (2009), and “John Heys as Diana Vreeland” (1989). Tashjian attended the Massachusetts College of Art where he became friends with vanguard artists Mark Morrisroe, Nan Goldin, and Jack Pierson. Indeed, Goldin included photos of Tashjian in her book “The Other Side” (though in his drag persona Tabboo!). He performed in that persona at the noted East Village venue, The Pyramid Club, alongside other legends of that era such as the Lady Bunny, Rupaul, and Hapi Phace as well as at the annual Wigstock. Probably best known for his graphic design and iconic lettering on the cover of the successful Deee-Lite “World Clique” album, Tashjian’s work has been documented by the New Museum (New York) and Grey Art Gallery.

Greatly influenced by the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) who worked in the classical style, Larissa Bates reflects a determined logic, clarity, order, and preference for line over color in her work, including those exhibited in this exhibition. Symbolism and imagination amid invented geometric spaces are offered in painstaking—though surreal—detail to the viewer. Bates work encapsulates a vigorous critique of gender roles, environmental swashbuckling, and political dynamics gone awry. The debilitating constraint of social pressures upon men to exude bravado and machismo is visceral in her paintings while she simultaneously provides an alternative construct for masculinity. In this new gender code, Bates frees men to possess sensitivity, vulnerability, and childbirth. Bates’ strange worlds and rich motifs—set within grandiose dramas—have been exhibited at Bendixen Contemporary Art (Denmark), the Mobile Museum of Art, the Ulrich Museum of Art (Kansas), and New York’s Monya Rowe Gallery.

In Andrew Guenther’s “Not a Doctor (Orange)” (2009) and “Green and Black on Chair” (2009), viewers catch a glimpse of his artistic practice in which sculptural elements are added to the canvas. Guenther’s paintings, silkscreens, and drawings accentuate and delineate viewer perspective and reaction—at the same time underlining our culture’s cumulative ambivalence. Paul Brainard has curated group shows as well. Having organized a group show called “True Faith” in the summer of 2007, Brainard’s figurative work runs to the edgy. “Fire in the Snow,” his piece in “Out of Order”—dense with collision of divergent human reaction—reflects Brainard’s penchant for the seductive and sexually charged.

At present, Keith Mayerson’s work is included in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Metaphor runs counterintuitively in his works, which draw from iconic images and popular culture—albeit with a mirroring twist that couples an unconscious world with one more concrete. The viewer will find a rich synchronicity of factors in Mayerson’s works—including those related to constructs of gay experience and identity, semiotic exploration, transcendence, and wells of cognition. Mayerson’s paintings are emotionally, socially, and spiritually replete. One is “catapulted” from them into an alternative dimension dependent upon the mood or figure captured in the particular painting.

As art critic Eric Gelber has pointed out most succinctly, “Justin Lieberman uses text in his art for comedic purposes and to recontextualize, subvert, critique, and perversely celebrate the mass media environment we are submerged in from birth to death.” Viewers of “Out of Order” are treated to a bit of Lieberman’s self-reference and bitingly twisted humor in his mixed-media work “Our Machine” (2006-2009). Despite our immersion in the overwhelming and overbearing mass media, Lieberman’s work poses an ultimate—if incomplete—transcendence of this situation by individuals who will find some way to express authenticity.

A number of David Benjamin Sherry’s works are represented in this show. Sherry hems and haws between psychedelia and surrealism, portraiture and landscape, reality and fantasy, and abstraction and photography in an eclectic creative tornado. A successful fashion photographer whose work has appeared on the pages of Dazed and Confused, Purple, i-D, V Man, and Japanese Vogue, Sherry’s first monograph “It’s Time” (ISBN 9788862080934) was recently issued by Damiani. Notably, Sherry worked with photographer David LaChapelle while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Tyson Reeder’s gouache works “Orange Lighting” (2009) and “Pink City” (2009)—as well as his oil painting “Jungle” (2009)—exude a certain primal velocity of color and line in elemental cosmologies broaching myriad landscapes. Reeder sometimes accomplishes this with Impressionist deftness, other times with a troubling impatience.

Upon walking into Andrew Edlin Gallery, one is confronted immediately by the looming untitled work of Louisiana ex-pat Lucky DeBellevue—constructed with chenille stems! Known for his sculptures made by pipe cleaners and other inexpensive store-bought materials, DeBellevue is represented by another piece in this show (also untitled and also made with chenille stems). Meanwhile, Michael Mahalchick’s mixed media works—produced with scraps of fabric, fur, and clothing—often result in nearly figurative and emotionally searing sculptures in which one encounters existential issues tinged with sexuality and loss. Mahalchick has exhibited his work at such venues as the Sculpture Center, PS1, and Andrew Kreps Gallery. Brian Belott mines thrift stores for discarded junk such children's books and found photos that are cut up and assembled into collages emanating beautiful, chaotic acts.

Others included in this show are Hackworth Ashley, Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, BOBO, Matt Bua, Jeff Davis, Jake Ewert, Ry Fyan, Amy Gartrell, Jonathan Hartshorn, Nancy de Holl, Shaun Kessler, Anne Koch, Ryan Lucero, Billy Miller, Annie Pearlman, Asher Penn, Jacob Robichaux, the Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness, Ryan Trecartin, Jan Wandrag, and Amy Yao.

“Out of Order” offers the viewer a gleefully subversive odyssey, thankfully free of the pedantic and academic. Despite divergence in artistic fluency, this array of considered reactions and visions surprises at every corner while stretching the envelope to its farthest point and throwing in a bit of fun besides.

Out of Order
Through January 16, 2010
@ Andrew Edlin Gallery
134 Tenth Avenue, New York City 10011

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Virtual Vistas: Nola Zirin

[“Lost in Palermo” (2009), oil on canvas. “Saturnine Spirals” (2009), oil & enamel on canvas. “Black Holes” (2009), oil & enamel on canvas.]

From her studio in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, Nola Zirin produces work tapping into the rich traditions of Abstract Expressionism—particularly the spatial, color, and pictorial relationships and equations enumerated by Hans Hofmann (1880–1966). Bursting forth in constant movement, Zirin’s vibrant visions point toward mythic objects and patterns. “Virtual Vistas,” an exhibition of her new paintings will be up at June Kelly Gallery through December 29th.

As described by writer Jill Conner, Zirin’s new work traverses boundaries between the banal and transcendent. “Pictorial depth renders a light, buoyant effect as each painting captures the dynamism of this world.” Zirin “clearly” captures an aura and ambiance in utilizing the landscape structure, according to Conner.

Superfluous elements fall by the wayside in Zirin’s work, allowing a glimpse into what is truly important. It is no wonder that Zirin studied painting with George Ortman and Milton Resnick (1917—2004) at New York University. In her geometric and symbolic vocabulary—conjugated in monochrome planes with flurries of “activity”—we see Ortman’s influence. In Zirin’s larger artistic animus, Resnick’s hand is seen in qualities and quantities of paint lodged across faces of her canvases and resolution of confluent forces in her compositions. With the specter of the September 11 tragedy extant in some of her works, one also can see a bit of the mystical qualities found in Resnick’s abstract paintings.

Color powers the velocity of the speeding, hovering, swaying, and other movement in Zirin’s work. This fluency of hues—coupled with a seemingly instinctive sense of space—allows the viewer to readily engage or commune with feelings and moods coming to life on her meditative canvases. Interchange between her painting movements drives Zirin’s representational spectrum. Whether fluid or coarse, her techniques culminate in communicatory depths not without their paradoxes.

Zirin’s work has been shown in such venues as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Heckscher Museum of Art (Huntington), the Islip Art Museum, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (Rutgers University), and the National Museum of Taiwan.

Virtual Vistas: Nola Zirin
Through December 29, 2009
@ June Kelly Gallery
166 Mercer Street, NYC 10012

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Without Saying a Word: Jiří Kolář’s Poetics of Silence

[“Charles Baudelaire: Beauty” (1972), collage on board. “Charles Baudelaire: Hymn” (1972), collage on board. “Untitled (Movie Series” (1970s), collage. “Dialogue Between Mr. B & Mr. R in Heaven” (1973), collage. “Untitled (Madonna of the Rocks)” (1960s), collage.]

First introduced to American audiences through retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery during the late 1970s, the work of Czech collagist and poet Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) will be presented in a solo exhibition by Pavel Zoubok Gallery through December 19, 2009. Kolář’s work—both as a poet and visual artist—emerged from the politically charged atmosphere of the Central European avant-garde during the 1950s and 1960s. Standing as a powerful symbol of resistance, Kolář’s work was forged through the ordeal of social and political repression.

Kolář railed against abuse and degradation of language by the nomenklatura of the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Defying the ruling elite of that “people’s democracy,” Kolář developed numerous collage techniques to establish a purely visual expression called “the poetry of silence.” Despite his auspicious beginnings as a young poet, translator, and designer, political circumstances were to intrude. By the late 1960s, Kolář became more widely known as a visual artist.

Jiří Kolář’s was profoundly influenced by the writings of Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986), the first and only Czech writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature; Futurist Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944); Irish novelist James Joyce (1882–1941); and the politically controversial Ezra Pound (1885–1972). Additionally, he participated in a number of edgy cultural circles in Prague. The best known of these was Group 42, which was enchanted by technology and influenced by Civilism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and—to a lesser degree—Surrealism. Though Group 42 was established in 1942, its development began in the late 1930s and it had pretty much formed by 1940. It ceased to function upon the Communist assumption of power in 1948’s February coup, but its influence upon Czech culture was palpable for decades.

Kolář supported himself in a variety of jobs such as cabinetmaker and bartender until he became a full-time writer in 1943. Communist Party membership for him was a revolving door—in and out in 1945. Since “former Communists” drew the greatest ire of the nomenklatura, Kolář was forbidden to publish after their takeover. From the terror engulfing Czechoslovakia during the dark Stalinist years (especially in the wake of 1952’s bogus Slánský Trial) and then through the 1960s, Kolář moved progressively away from literary expression toward one more purely visual. He had great incentive to do this: When authorities uncovered a manuscript of his work “Prométheova játra,” he was arrested in 1953 and spent several months in prison.

As his homeland settled into a “milder” Stalinism, he led a group of poets including Václav Havel. The 1960s found him writing experimental poetry before visual art became his primary focus. When 1968’s Prague Spring and reforms for “socialism with a human face” initiated by Alexander Dubček (1921-1992) were brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union, Kolář found himself again afoul of the nomenklatura. Along with a cross-section of 1,200 citizens of the Czechoslovak “people’s democracy,” Kolář signed Charter 77—calling for respect for human and civil rights. That dictatorship’s authorities reacted swiftly and relentlessly: Supporters of the document faced harassment and arrest. Despite this, Charter 77 “monitoring groups” periodically issued reports on the Czechoslovak government's human rights violations. The efforts of Charter 77 were fueled by the Helsinki Accords—adopted in 1975—and aided by Human Rights Watch. Such events hastened Kolář’s emigration and exile.

Jiří Kolář gradually developed his unique and formal vocabulary (Crumplage, Rollage, Chiasmage, Ventilage, Razor Poems to name just a few of his techniques), which allowed him to combine various layers of meaning and order. These were first published in his “Dictionary of Methods” (1986). However, it must be remembered that Kolář exhibited visual art from 1937—and his collages could be found in those earliest exhibitions. After the success of 1989’s “Velvet Revolution,” Kolář spent increasing lengths of time in his homeland—eventually spending his last years in a Prague hospital.

Although Jiří Kolář’s presence on the American scene diminished following the “burst” of his New York retrospectives, his work has continued to be exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. “The Poetics of Silence” features over 40 key works from the 1960s-1980s and explores a broad range of themes (nature, art history, language, memory) that collectively articulate Jiří Kolář’s unique contribution to the theory and practice of collage.

Jiří Kolář: The Poetics of Silence

Through December 19, 2009

@ Pavel Zoubok Gallery

533 West 23rd Street, NYC 10011

Friday, November 20, 2009

To Cut Out: Daniel Buren's Situated Works (1969-2009)

[Various situated works by Daniel Buren (2009), MDF, Alupanel, vinyl, & paint.]

Daniel Buren’s second exhibition at Bortolami Gallery—“To Cut Out: Situated Works 1969-2009”—will be up through December 22nd. This conceptual artist—most often classified as an Abstract Minimalist—has challenged the accepted canon and prescribed experience of art since the mid-1960s. To this end, he has coined a number of neologisms that have redefined art.

“Work in Situ” is work made for a particular site, for a particular time, and exhibited in this particular site—thereby not germane to another place. Buren has identified as an artist living and working in situ. From his perspective, this indicates a concept going far beyond painting, sculpture, and other media—emphasizing art as an experience, life, or weltanschauung.

“Situated Work” is that inspired by a particular location, but made with the intention that the very same elements of the original work can be reinstalled in different sites following a series of rules—evolving each time in response to the venue. Correspondingly, the venue is altered by the work. This includes Buren’s works from 1969 found in this show.

“Cabane Éclatée” or “exploded cabin” is a painting environment that has been “exploded” by turning a would-be two-dimensional work into a disparate three dimensional encounter. These evolved into the colored Plexi works that Buren has shown internationally in site-specific installations for two decades—and outside Bortolami in 2007. They have also snowballed into the “Zigzag” sculptures made of MDF to join Buren’s creative aggregate.

“Visual Tool” functions as a standard or measurement unit of formal properties in Buren’s work—an intended sign serving as a constant within wildly variable parameters and juxtapositions of any and all “in situ” and “situated work” accomplished by the artist since 1965.

When Buren created a sculpture in the great courtyard of Paris’ Palais Royal in 1986, he triggered an intense debate over the integration of contemporary art and historic buildings. But then Buren—like many in the French intelligentsia was highly affected by the outbreak of France’s May 1968 worker-student rebellion emerging out of the Sorbonne extension in Nanterre. Very little of cultural import was left static in its wake and nothing remained sacred. Buren himself was influenced by deconstructionist philosophies that gained ground in the aftermath. He began creating unsolicited public art works with striped awning canvas—inviting viewers to analyze traditional artistic boundaries and ideas. Hundreds of striped “panels” appeared around Paris, and later in more than 100 stations of the Métropolitain—forcing a public appraisal of artistic boundaries through this “extra-institutional art.” In another burst of “guerrilla installation,” Buren used stripes to block the entrance of the gallery conducting his first solo exhibition.

Amazingly—despite periodic controversy—Buren has deftly managed to balance his audacious interventions and philosophies concerning art with the milieu of the museum and gallery system. Indeed, there has been much demand by that system to show his art. Buren deserves his place with “Institutional Critique” colleagues Michael Asher, MacArthur recipient Fred Wilson, Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) of the Groupe Surréaliste-revolutionnaire, performance artist Andrea Fraser, and installation artist Hans Haake—all of whom comprehensively critiqued the structure and very assumptions of institutions within the art arena.

Buren’s work has been exhibited in the following venues: Palazzo Grassi (Venice), Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena), Neues Museum (Nuremberg), Documenta (Kassel), Place de la Justice (Brussels), the Guggenheim, Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Venice Biennale, Lyon City Hall, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, ICA Nagoya, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo).

To Cut Out: Situated Works (1969-2009)

By Daniel Buren

Through December 22, 2009

@ Bortolami Gallery

510 West 25th Street, New York City 10001

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Speech Movement at Berkeley: 45th Anniversary of the Sproul Hall Sit-In

When asked by campus police for his identification on October 1, 1964, former UC Berkeley grad student Jack Weinberg refused. Tabling for the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) on the “advocacy strip” at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph just outside the main gate of campus—an area considered the jurisdiction of Berkeley rather than the University of California—Weinberg was arrested.

This incident occurred in the period immediately following Freedom Summer—launched in June of that year—when the highest possible registration of African-American voters in Mississippi was attempted. CORE was part of a coalition taking on Mississippi, a state that had—until then—nearly excluded black voters. That coalition, Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) also included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC, which came into national consciousness through their lunch counter sit-ins throughout the South in the early 1960s, was the lead group –with SNCC field secretary Robert Moses co-directing COFO and directing Freedom Summer.

Jack Weinberg wasn’t alone on this strip, which had come under the scrutiny of UC Berkeley Dean Katherine Towle who announced regulations prohibiting advocacy, recruitment, and fundraising for political causes and student organizations in that area. Empowered by the previous summer’s organizing in Mississippi, fundraising for groups like SNCC proceeded apace. It was also the middle of a Presidential campaign, and student organizations supporting Democratic incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson and Republican challenger Barry Goldwater –in turn—sought support from students on this flagship campus. In this politically charged situation, students spontaneously surrounded the police car in which Weinberg was to be transported. That car did not move for 32 hours. Within the intervening hours, approximately 3,000 students surrounded the car, which was used as a speaker’s podium. Public discussion there ensued until charges against Weinberg were dropped.

This was just the opening salvo in the volatile political situation at Berkeley—one that would define the situation on U.S. campuses for another decade and not relent until the U.S. pullout from Vietnam and resignation of President Richard Nixon in the wake of Watergate in the early 1970s.

One of the people who climbed onto the car bearing Jack Weinberg to rouse the students blockading it was barefoot Queens, New York junior Mario Savio (1942-1996) who managed to talk the crowd down and get them to leave “with dignity” after reaching an “understanding” with UC President Clark Kerr. The previous summer Savio had participated in Freedom Summer in Mississippi–doing voter registration of African-American citizens and teaching at a “freedom school” for black children in McComb. In July 1964 he, another white civil rights worker, and a black acquaintance were attacked by two men in Jackson. [This took place during the frantic search period to find the bodies of the martyred James Chaney (1943-1964), Michael Schwerner (1939-1964), and Andrew Goodman (1943-1964)—whose deaths were presumed by federal authorities.] Savio returned to Berkeley that fall intending to raise money for SNCC organizing and was horrified to learn that UC Berkeley had banned all such activity.

By the first week in December 1964 the situation leading to the arrest of Jack Weinberg still had not been resolved: The university administration was adamant in pulling the plug on public political involvement and activism on campus. On December 3rd, nearly 2,000 students assembled at Sproul Hall to order school administrators to negotiate on these sensitive issues of campus restrictions on political speech. While those left and liberal on the political spectrum predominated, students from groups like Young Republicans and the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom also chafed under campus restrictions and demanded the right to organize and do outreach on campus.

A day earlier on December 2nd, Savio electrified the crowd at Sproul Hall with his important “Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it—to the people who own it—that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” For years after his involvement, Savio would be hounded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which continually violated his Constitutional rights.

Those students engulfing Sproul on December 3rd also protested disciplinary actions against four student leaders: brother and sister Art and Jackie Goldberg (both leaders of the student United Front), Mario Savio, and Brian Turner. (All had spoken from the car holding Weinberg.) With many of the students toting sleeping bags, the demonstration was orderly. During this famed sit-in students studied, others watched movies, and still others sang folk songs. Joan Baez led the singing and offered support. “Freedom classes” on a variety of issues were held by teaching assistants on one floor. Occurring as this action did during the Jewish festival of Chanukah, students observed the holiday by lighting a menorah.

Alameda County deputy district attorney—later Ronald Reagan henchman and censorious U.S. Attorney General—Ed Meese got the “OK” from Governor Pat Brown to remove the students from the Sproul Hall in a mass arrest. Cordoning off the building in the early hours of December 4, 1964, the police stormed the building and arrested nearly 800 students. (This was the largest mass arrest of students in U.S. history up to that time.) Most of those arrested were released on their own recognizance after a few hours at Santa Rita Prison. Gluttons for punishment, the UC administration proceeded to bring charges against the “almost 800”—which led to an even larger demonstration by students, which closed the university!

While outrageous disciplinary actions were continued against the involved students, UC officials finally started to back down. In early 1965, new regulations were promulgated by the Berkeley administration that permitted tabling and other forms of political activity subject time restrictions.

While there was a backlash following the Free Speech Movement that catapulted Ronald Reagan to the California governorship in 1966, the tradition of political organizing continued at Berkeley unabated. Reagan—who demanded that “the mess” in Berkeley be “cleaned up”—immediately directed the UC Board of Regents to fire President Clark Kerr who was considered by him to be “too soft” on the students. The fact is that Clark Kerr was irrelevant. Students who had confronted the horror of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the brutality of Mississippi racists, outrageous mandatory ROTC training, and backroom tactics of East Bay business interests (who loathed student support for a “fair housing ordinance” and the Woolworth/Kress boycott) were not going to be stopped by university administrators. The Free Speech Movement would be followed in 1965 by the instrumental Vietnam Day Committee, which helped to set the tone of the mass movement in opposition to U.S. policy in Vietnam.

An instrumental spokesperson for the Free Speech Movement was red diaper baby Bettina Aptheker, who cut her teeth on the “Old Left” politics of her family—notably the Marxist historian and Communist Party theoretician Herbert Aptheker. Having met luminaries such W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson while growing up in Brooklyn, she was an important bridge between progressive political currents and tendencies. In the early 1970s she championed the release of political prisoner, childhood friend, and fellow UC professor Angela Davis. Aptheker has taught in the UC Santa Cruz Feminist Studies department since 1980. She has the great honor of having been included on the list of right-wing naysayer David Horowitz’s “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” (2006). Brian Turner—a scion of a trade unionist family—went on after graduation to do important research on employment and union issues. Jackie Goldberg was the first openly LGBT elected member of the Los Angeles School Board and City Council. She later served in the California legislature until term limits kept her from running for reelection.

Mario Savio’s “Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech

Berkeley Free Speech Movement Archives

Free Speech Movement Photographs

Free Speech Movement Digital Archives

The FSM: An Historical Narrative (by Bettina Aptheker)

In Memory of Mario Savio (by Bettina Aptheker)

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (by Robert Cohen & Reginald E. Zelnik)

Essay by Jo Freeman (published in “Encyclopedia of American Social Movements”)

Narrative Summary by David Burner