Leo Saul Berk: Structure and Ornament

May 30 – September 6, 2015

The Frye Art Museum is pleased to present Structure and Ornament, an exhibition of sculptural and video work by Seattle artist Leo Saul Berk, featuring two new site-specific installations commissioned by the Frye.

Can architecture shape our imagination? Can it transform lives; can it transform us? These questions that Berk poses in Structure and Ornament were also considered by visionary artist-architects of the early twentieth century. In the exhibition, Berk proposes a modernity that honors visionary, utopian dreams of the past in which light, color, structure, material, ornament, poetry, and music could ignite a spiritual force that would unify the arts in harmony with nature and transform individuals and the social and cultural life of a nation.

In particular, Berk's work pays homage to the mid-century American architect, painter, and musician Bruce Goff (1904–82). Berk spent the formative years of his childhood living in the Ford House, a remarkable residence designed by Goff in 1947. The Ford House is notable for its dramatic color and light, radical use of materials, unconventional shaping of volume, and organic yet rigorous structures. According to Berk, the house provided him with “an early, subconscious education in design. I have never doubted the house's pivotal role in the development of my aesthetic and spatial sense, and my eventual career as an artist.”

Some works in Structure and Ornament recreate key architectural details of the Ford House, isolating them to consider their formal properties and poetic resonances. In others, Berk uses his experience of the house as a starting point for entirely novel experiments with form. The latter works, Berk says, “point to the aesthetics, material sensibilities, and manner of working that I am now a container for because this house once contained-once enclosed-me.”

Through the installations and sculptural and filmic works in Structure and Ornament, Berk hopes “to illuminate the transformative potential of exceptional architecture to positively shape our lives and creative imagination.” It is a call to liberate ourselves from built environments that constrain our imaginations.

Leo Saul Berk: Structure and Ornament is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors, 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax, and the Raynier Institute & Foundation through the Frye Art Museum | Artist Trust Consortium. Seasonal support is provided by Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and ArtsFund. Media sponsorship is provided by Seattle Met.

Support for research travel to the Ford House and for production of Clinkers, 2012, and Wind Jangle and Specular Reflections, 2015, was provided by the Frye Art Museum through the Frye Foundation. Production support for Mortar and Marbles, Cone Twelve, Structure and Ornament, and Coal Salt Cellar, 2014, was provided by INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts) and the Digital Crafts Research Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Leo Saul Berk. Structure and Ornament (detail), 2014. Plywood and Acrylic. 120 x 213 x 59 in. Photo: Paul Mitchell
Leo Saul Berk. Clinkers, 2012. Duratrans, sculptural light box. 76 x 64 5/8 x 3 3/4 in. Frye Art Museum, 2013.002.
Leo Saul Berk. Cone Twelve, 2014. Medium aluminum composite panel and stainless steel hardware. 154 x 60 x 60 in. Photo: Paul Mitchell
Leo Saul Berk. Mortar and Marbles, 2014. Glass and Corian. 78 x 142 x 10 in. Photo: Paul Mitchell