Set on a concrete slab outside the MOA Centre for Cultural Research, is one of the museum’s newest acquisitions, a bronze sculpture by Montana artist John Buck. Donated to the museum in 2013 by Tomoko Amgwerd, the sculpture invites visitors to explore the possibility — and the challenge — of creating new understandings of our world across time, space, and cultural differences.
Entitled Chevron, this piece is the first of its kind for Buck, whose work has traditionally included wooden sculpture and prints, and the only piece by the artist in the MOA collection. Buck’s works often present the idea of how objects and things are connected in odd but significant ways. This concept of an assemblage of things is brought about in much of his work but is presented in this piece via his signature motif of the balance between a human-like figure and objects.
“Together with the main collections of Aboriginal and Asian and other cultural belongings from around the world, these modernist works help to stimulate dialogue about ‘culture’ and ‘difference’ and learning about one another,” said Karen Duffek, Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts and the Pacific Northwest.
Chevron stands 11 feet high and features a genderless, human-like figure. This figure, bound by what appears to be barbed wire, stands with a series of objects upon its shoulders. Included in these objects is a face on its side, ordered, yet randomly piled upon the top of the figure. One can’t help but notice that the sculpture still bears the texture of a wooden sculpture, the illusion of carved wood contrasting the metallic material and machine-like accents found upon the sculpture.
“For me, it is a modernist work that helps us think about questions of cross-cultural influences and translations. It stands here in relation to the museum building itself: Erickson’s 1976 masterpiece of modernist architecture inspired by and translating elements of Aboriginal architecture of the Northwest Coast and Japanese aesthetics, and housing a worldwide collection,” says Duffek.
There is no doubt that Buck’s work is meant to be experienced by the viewer. “He cautions that no matter what the art form, each individual confronts a work of art with visual references built on his or her own experiences, memories, and emotions,” says Linda Teslner, the then Director of Contemporary Art at Lewis and Clark College, in a program for one of Buck’s largest exhibitions.
For MOA, home to thousands of objects, belongings, and artifacts, the sculpture is a reminder that these things are not meant to be understood in a vacuum but as material objects with a social history and present of their own. Chevron isn’t alone on the south-facing side of the museum but is quite close to a large Musqueam piece by Susan Point. ”It is important that we reserve the space at the main entrance of MOA to be a space of Musqueam welcome,” says Duffek, as she explains the piece’s location further away from Point’s work.
“I feel that both sculptures invite visitors to think about how we view the symbols and expressions of cultures other than our own, what meanings are shared, what meanings may be withheld, and how the human figure is interpreted differently through art,” explains Duffek.
For curators at MOA and visitors alike, Buck’s piece could serve as a reminder of responsibility when it comes to working with objects that carry deep meaning and are connected to real human experiences. It may also remind us of how the material might constrain us.
Chevron, is located next to the entrance of MOA’s café patio and administrative wing, which houses research facilities, a library and is an active place of cross-cultural research and dialogue.