Artist Bruce Beasley donates foundation for sculpture center
By Jesse Hamlin
Published 6:53 pm, Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Over the decades, as he created a profusion of big abstract sculpture in acrylic, steel, aluminum and bronze that landed in museums, civic plazas and airports around the world — he also invented the process for casting large acrylic forms used to make the first transparent deep-sea submersibles — Beasley bought up the surrounding parcels. He planted gardens, sycamores and red oak, built a house for his wife and two daughters, and studios to accommodate his increasingly monumental work. He also got involved with his neighborhood, organizing efforts to get Caltrans and the city of Oakland to put in a park (South Prescott), streetlamps and sidewalks.
“There were no doors, no windows, the plumbing was broken, the wiring pulled out,” says Beasley, 75, gazing at the facade of the old masonry building he repaired. It became the nucleus of the sprawling complex of studios and sun-dappled open spaces that he’s bequeathing to the Oakland Museum of California as a center for sculpture. He’s also bequeathing his works and archives and a multimillion-dollar endowment to maintain and program the place. (The family home is not included, because Beasley figures he’s going to depart this earthly plane before his French wife and fellow civic activist, Laurence).
The bequest, expected to be announced Thursday, is valued at about $20 million — the largest private gift in the history of the Oakland Museum, an institution with which Beasley has had a long and fruitful relationship. The future Bruce Beasley Sculpture Center will be used for exhibitions, residences, public programs and research.
“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend my life making the art I believed in, and that the world has allowed me to do that,” says Beasley, who’s still actively making big commissioned pieces and developing a new technology, which utilizes 3-D printing to form plastic sculptural models and significantly cut the cost and energy expenditure of bronze casting. “I wanted to leave something to help the sculptors that haven’t been as fortunate, a place where sculptors can have shows, and a place to speak for the legitimacy of sculpture as an art form.”
Beasley, who just finished a stainless steel ring piece from his “Rondo” series for the city of Fremont and has started a 60-foot tubular steel piece for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, never figured he’d make a living as a sculptor.
“There are 100 painting shows for every sculpture show,” says Beasley, who proudly introduces his longtime head studio assistant, sculptor Albert Dicruttalo, who’s finishing a stainless steel piece of his own, his first commission, for San Mateo. “Museums don’t like to show us, because we’re difficult and problematic. Sculptors have to have a stronger calling, I think, than other artists. It’s the hardest on our bodies, and it requires the most sophisticated tools. It’s basically a burden to be a sculptor. So sculptors really end up being the people burning the hottest passion.
“But the opportunities are very limited. Sculptors are much better at figuring out how to get the work made than getting it exhibited. The thing that’s really lacking is a place for it to be seen. The need is to facilitate the connection with public.”
Oakland Museum Director Lori Fogarty calls the bequest of this sculptural oasis a block from the West Oakland BART Station “a game changer, not just for West Oakland, although it is really important to the neighborhood, but for the fields of sculpture and modern art. This will be a destination for people from all over the world.
“I have never heard of a living artist making this kind of generous gift. Making this kind of statement for the field and the community is extraordinary.”
One of the things that turns her on about the future center — which she hopes doesn’t come about for many years — is the idea of programming that will explore “Bruce’s incredible relationship between art and technology, art and engineering, which is so important to this region. He continues to push the boundaries and experiment with process, which is pretty unique for a sculptor after 55 years in the profession.”
Beasley says he arrived 50 years ago, when he “was the only white person in the neighborhood, the only person with a college degree. I felt a responsibility to get involved in the neighborhood. That’s turned into a lifetime engagement. I want to leave something that will be a kind of cultural destination here, to say West Oakland is a good place to be.”