Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bucky Fuller at SFMOMA

"To boldly go where no man has gone before," might have been Buckminster Fuller's motto, which is well demonstrated by the current show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). While not a retrospective, there is more than enough to overwhelm the first time visitor.

While three-quarters of the exhibit comes from the museum's own collection, it also draws upon the massive Fuller archive -- including 4,000 hours of film -- acquired by Stanford University Libraries in 1999. The Stanford material includes drawings, plans and items such as a 1966 Popular Science magazine cover touting a "low cost sun dome you can build easily," right in your own backyard.

 "The Whole Earth Catalog," published in 1968 was dedicated to him; the museum has one of the original catalogs on display under glass at the exhibit. There are prints and photographs of numerous items inspired by him, including of David de Rothschild's recycled Plastiki sailboat, North Face camping tents and Kaiser's geodesic dome, all of which testify to his long-lasting legacy.

Glass domes, pill dispensers and Jambox speakers are arrayed along a cutout of the San Francisco coast in photographer Frank Hülsbömer’s still-life constructions pay homage to the influence of his ideas in the more mundane areas of life.

Included in the show is designer and sustainability advocate Yves Béhar’s One Laptop per Child project, a.k.a. a $100 laptop, alongside images showing the remarkable change the initiative has brought to education systems and underprivileged schoolchildren in countries like Rwanda and Peru.

The exhibits also include a study model of Thom Mayne’s 2007 San Francisco Federal Building, which incorporates a “living skin” of automatically adjusting windows said to be influenced by Fuller.

Colorful drawings and two elaborate models convey a visionary, never-built project by San Francisco's Ant Farm design collective. The idea was to develop a geodesic-domed Convention City in Texas in time for the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial, with an arena for real-time political debates.

Fuller's most popular design, the geodesic dome, is everywhere -- from colorful versions on playgrounds to Montreal's Expo 1967 to Florida's Epcot Center. But the mechanics of his projects are less important to museum exhibit curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher than his broad vision and passionate belief that smarter design could help change the world.

Visitors to the exhibit can watch an excerpt of “Everything I Know,” a small portion of the 42-hour marathon film that he made in 1975. “We couldn’t find a player that could handle 42 hours of video,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the exhibition’s curator. On the monitor behind her, the video played and Fuller said, “My information stimulus from the brain is always terminal, so all my inputs are finite.”

Infinite would be a more apt description of the man, along with visionary, creative, perpetually curious and a believer that humanity's hope rested not with organizations of any type but rather with individual human beings. His vision was that we, who reside on the planet he named "Spaceship Earth," could be provided with the necessities of life.

However flawed his projects were in execution, his belief in collective creativity and idealism is a vision that we need now more than ever.

 Opened March 31 through July 29, 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays and Fridays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m. Thursdays

 The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: Through July 29. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. Museum admission: $18. Call (415) 357-4000.

More information: The Stanford Libraries searchable database includes material from the university's extensive Fuller archive:

On May 1, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SF filmmaker Sam Green will regale audiences at the SFMOMA with a "live documentary" presentation, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, featuring a live score by Yo La Tengo.

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