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San Francisco Chronicle: Bella Feldman: Sculptor gets a retrospective

Bella Feldman: Sculptor gets a retrospective

Kenneth Baker

Oct. 9, 2013

For decades, octogenarian New York native Bella Feldman has been turning out sculpture made of wood and steel; blown, cast and etched glass; and – occasionally – found objects. Her “War Toys,” provoked into being by the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath, rank as canonical Bay Area sculpture.

Though revered as a longtime teacher at California College of the Arts, Feldman says, “I’m not exactly high on a list of collected artists.”

he Richmond Art Center honors her with a stirring survey exhibition, in which we met and spoke.

Q. Do you see an overarching ambition or theme in your work?

A: I do. I see that the work has always had an element of anxiety and instability – it’s the 20th century’s effect on me. That, plus living in earthquake country. … A lot of this has erotic overtones. But eros has always has certain anxieties attached to it, especially if you came of age in the ’50s.

Q: How big a part does scale play in your work?

A: I try to use the whole language of sculpture and one of the strongest aspects of it is scale. The recent small pieces grow out of the fact that machines bamboozle me. … Also, when I was 13, I went to the Museum of Modern Art for the first time and saw (Alberto) Giacometti’s “The Palace at 4 A.M.” It’s always stayed with me, the power of that small piece.

Q: Some appear to be interactive in the old-fashioned sense.

A: I always like all the work to be interactive, but clearly when you get up in scale, you can’t push a big thing around without some element of danger. … Motion is part of the physicality of objects, so I’ve included that in my sculptural vocabulary, and also it’s part of that instability.

Q: How do these sculptures originate?

A: They start out as very small ideas. I like to do very quick little drawings, and then we work it out as we go along. It’s a completely integrated system between myself and my assistant.

Q: The “War Toys” responded to events of their moment. Do other works also?

A: I don’t see them that way. Many times I do the work and only later realize some of the emotional, psychological stuff behind it. … I work strictly from subconscious impulse. I consider my work sort of expressive of the times, but I’ve never been a didactic artist.

If you go

Bella: A 50-Year Survey of the Work of Bella Feldman: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Through Nov. 15. (Artist talk and film screening 1 p.m. Oct. 19.) Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. (510) 620-6772.

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