Curated by Constance Lewallen
Paul Kos is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's most influential Conceptual artists. He moved from his native Wyoming to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where he received his M.F.A. in 1967 (and where he has taught in the New Genres department for 25 years). His work early on evolved in the direction of video and sculptural installations in which he allowed the action of natural materials to unfold.
Kos was among the first artists to incorporate video, as well as sound and interactivity, into sculptural installations, using them to both humorous and unsettling ends in rEVOLUTION: Notes for the Invasion: mar mar march (1972-73). To experience this, and many of Kos's other works, one must be willing to enter into it. Although not overtly polemical, many of Kos's later works question the rigid national divisions that lead to conflict, or indirectly advocate for human understanding. Tower of Babel's cacophony of languages is an apt metaphor for the difficulty of communication across cultures.
Many of Kos's pieces engage the viewer in the paradoxes of belief. The ritual and imagery of the Catholic Church are recurrent themes, and the bell a frequent metaphor, in such works as Guadalupe Bell, which lets you believe, if only for a moment, in magic. Chartres Bleu is one of Kos's most sublime works. In this video sculpture, the artist simulates the experience of a medieval technology, stained glass, through late-20th-century electronic means.
One of the defining characteristics of Kos's work is a sense of play-indeed, many of his pieces refer to and are organized around games such as pétanque, pool, and chess. But even more fundamental is the synthesis of his life and work. His love of nature, his teaching, travels in Mexico, France, and Switzerland, his concern for humanity (tempered with a sense of the absurd) are all present in subject, symbol, or metaphor as Kos seamlessly integrates form and content into provocative and visually stunning works of art.