A Different Kind of Rock Show at the Oakland Museum of California

Jedediah Caesar, 'XX,' 2011.

Jedediah Caesar, 'XX,' 2011. (Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

No, I’m not talking about the Rolling Stones. When I say “rock show,” I mean the back corner of the Oakland Museum of California’s art galleries, hosting UNEARTHED: Found + Made, a quiet but engrossing exhibition that pairs stones found with stones made.

The found stones come to OMCA from local suiseki clubs. Following a Japanese tradition of carefully selecting, appreciating and displaying stones on carved wood platforms, or daiza, the California Suiseki Society and the San Francisco Suiseki Kai take trips to nearby rivers four to six times a year in search of “landscape stones,” microcosms of larger landscape features — waterfalls, mountains and ravines.

Jedediah Caesar, 'Californianian,' 2008–2012.
Jedediah Caesar, ‘Californianian,’ 2008–2012. (Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

Similarly, Jedediah Caesar’s sculptures, made with collected materials and epoxy, are microcosms of the detritus of everyday life. Caesar has his epoxy blocks cut by industrial blades into Body Worlds-like slabs, revealing cross-sections of corn on the cob, electrical wires and even his own repurposed sculptures. At OMCA, these slabs are displayed as inches-thick wall-mounted rectangles and sharp-edged triangles, all cut from the same epoxy block.

Suiseki club members, depending on the rules they observe, might identify with Caesar’s process. Some societies allow for one cut, to balance or optimize a found stone. The cut stones on display in UNEARTHED closely resemble miniaturized versions of craggy peaks, volcanic islands and — in one case — Mt. Fuji. Beautifully crafted wooden daiza cradle both cut and uncut stones.

Mas Nakajima, 'Fuji-san,' collected stone and made daiza finished, c. 1995; collected c. 1990 Clear Creek.
Mas Nakajima, ‘Fuji-san,’ collected stone and made daiza finished, c. 1995; collected c.
1990 Clear Creek. (Collection of Janet Roth & Mas Nakajima)

While the suiseki stones sit protected under vitrines on pedestals of varying heights, Caesar’s artworks lack any elaborate presentation methods beyond a single platform. This is for the largest object in the exhibition, which also has the longest title: One corner one cap stone/ Butyl benzyl phthalate + 4,4’ Methylene bis (phenylisocyanate)+curcuma longa (terra merita(turmeric)): (800+60)lbs and again (80+6)lbs. The sculpture is a hulking, yet squishy-looking cube of urethane and turmeric. Yes, turmeric, the common curry ingredient. I sniffed around it to no avail.

This combination of organic and synthetic makes the urethane expand violently, rendering a two-part sculpture that weighs nearly 1000 pounds. The effect is geologic, a swirl of colors echoed in the erosion and patterning of stones throughout the exhibit.

Robert Gould, 'Untitled,' collected stone and made daiza, finished 2013; collected 2013 Black Butte Lake.
Robert Gould, ‘Untitled,’ collected stone and made daiza, finished 2013; collected 2013
Black Butte Lake. (Collection of Robert P. Gould)

If the rocks in UNEARTHED at first appear staid (especially in comparison to the “I spy” quality of Caesar’s work), even the smallest amount of sustained looking yields appreciation. Imagine what members of the suiseki societies, with decades of gazing under their belts, see in their chunks of metachert, porphyry and serpentinite.

Peppered throughout the wall labels are stories from the stones’ collectors. A quote from Bob Carlson about Henry van der Voort’s Chrysanthemum Stone captures the feeling of the hunt. “Henry made a lot of noise when he found it,” reads the wall label. “I could hear him a half mile away.”

Keith Mansfield examining a stone.
Keith Mansfield examining a stone. (Photo: Vince Monasterio)

The exhibition itself fosters an appreciation for the smallest of details. Caesar mounts his slabs to the wall with hex bolts ground down into triangles. Viewed from the side, they sit like gleaming jewels on the surfaces of his sculptures. Likewise, top-heavy suiseki stones sport museum brackets painted to blend into the objects they support. (Be sure to inspect the verso of Blair Gould’s Doha stone for some particularly nice faux-marbling.)

UNEARTHED draws a fascinating connecting line between an individual studio practice and a group activity, neither of which had prior knowledge of the other. In this combination, curator Christina Linden points to yet another microcosm: Caesar’s sculptural processes, so similar at times to the geologic processes that created the suiseki stones, mimics our current era, the anthropocene, in which human activity effects change on the environment at a global, geologic — and often terrifying — scale.

UNEARTHED: Found + Made is on view at the Oakland Museum of California through April 24, 2016. For more information visit museumca.org.

A Different Kind of Rock Show at the Oakland Museum of California 16 December,2015Sarah Hotchkiss

Author

Sarah Hotchkiss

Sarah Hotchkiss is KQED Arts’ Visual Arts Editor and a San Francisco-based artist. She watches a lot of science fiction, which she reviews in a semi-regular publication called Sci-Fi Sundays. Follow her at @sahotchkiss.

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