Kenyon College

Tom Marioni


In 1969, as an art action, Tom Marioni released a tightly coiled metal tape measure into the air. The instrument started out as a circle, then opened up and created a loud sound as it made a drawing in space, and finally fell to the ground as a line. The work was titled One Second Sculpture, and it demonstrated several principles of Conceptual Art. This type of art was new at the time but has now become a major influence on artists and on our society. A principle demonstrated by One Second Sculpture is that duration can be an element in art. Another is that the lasting form of an artwork is created and later re-created in the viewer’s mind. And a third principle is that elements other than the visual (in this case, sound) may be part of the form of an artwork.

Conceptual Art extended and expanded traditional art approaches in unprecedented ways. For example,instead of looking for form in things, or objects, in the world, Conceptual artists began to pay attention to forms that occur in life situations. Marioni pioneered using social situations as art, and his 1970 piece called The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art has become legendary. Also in 1970, Marioni founded the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) as “a large-scale social work of art.” Until it closed in 1984, he directed MOCA and at the same time continued to pursue his individual work as an artist. MOCA was the first “alternative art space” in the United States, and its presence in San Francisco is evidence that in our time, with our fast world-wide communications, it is not necessary to live in the country’s primary art center to do influential work. MOCA presented many landmark shows, (including the first Sound Sculpture show in 1970), and also provided a social situation for artists.

Tom Marioni is a sculptor who has created a large body of work in drawing and printmaking. Tree, Drawing a Line as Far as I Can Reach, 1972, set up a theme that he has developed for twenty-eight years. A work from the same time, Bird, Running and Jumping with a Pencil, Marking the Paper while Trying to Fly (1972) is the forerunner of his new color print Flying with Friends (Drypoint). In fact, most of Marioni’s prints have been results of repetitive activity, his own or others’. Even his pictorial prints are dependent on his activity—a Zen-like concentration on mark-making.
Marioni is interested in Asian art and thought, and the elegant spareness of his art in general has something to do with Zen philosophy. The work has a simple beauty that, like Zen, offers at the same time something to think about.

– Kathan Brown: Crown Point Press