Buky Schwartz (1932–2009)

Posted on September 8, 2009


Buky Schwartz (1932–2009)


Sculptor and video artist Buky (pronounced “Bookie”) Schwartz died on Wednesday September 2, 2009 He was 77.

I met Buky in 1979 and assisted him with his video installation Color Bars at the Akron Art Institute where I worked as an exhibit builder. I was also an art student at the University of Akron at the time and had limited experience in the visual concepts that Buky so patiently attempted to explain to me as we began the work of building the installation.

He wanted to build a wall in the middle of the gallery floor shaped like a triangle. Then we would plot out lines across the space and paint the video color bar across the gallery floor, walls and over top of the triangle. He told me when we were done that the sculptural space of the installation would appear on the video monitor as the traditional color bars used at the beginning of a video. I understood what the color bars were but still didn’t get how we were going to accomplish the task of compressing the visual space of the gallery that would become a visual burst of color and three dimensional form into a controlled two dimensional square when viewed on the video monitor.

I didn’t have to understand I just needed to build the triangle wall and prepare the gallery for the installation. I was an experience carpenter and exhibit builder I had worked on numerous conceptual installations. John Coplans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coplans was the Director of the Institute and he liked Conceptual Art and installations. I had worked with artists like Vito Acconci http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vito_Acconci and Robert Morris http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Morris_(artist) and many others on their installations and Buky’s  request was simple and right in line with what I did all the time.

So, I got to work building the triangle wall, two by fours, drywall and mud. With the triangle wall up and the first coat of mud (Plaster or Joint Compound) applied and drying Buky said it was time to start installing the video camera. The process of mounting the video camera seemed to take as long as it did for the mud to dry. After careful positioning of the camera, Buky began taping, not with the camera but with tape. He taped a grid on the TV monitor where the color bars would appear when we were finished with the painting. As he did that, I applied another coat of mud to the wall.  The day was done, I worked late to finish the wall and coated it with primer.

In the morning is when things got interesting maybe even mind blowing. We began to plot out the positions for the painted stripes that would cover the floor and walls of the gallery. Buky working from the monitor directed me to the points in the gallery that would be our references. Wild lines radiating out from a central point running across the triangle and all over the gallery compressed the 3D space into 2D on the TV monitor. Even without the color applied, I could now see what was going to happen. We began painting the stripes of the color bar on the floors and walls. Hours later, a multi-colored square appeared on the TV monitor. After adjusting the light and the camera all the viewer could see on the TV monitor was a color bar. The gallery space though was a dynamic combination of sculptural form and color.

The viewer participated in the installation by walking through the gallery space while viewing himself or herself on the TV monitor. As the viewer walked through the gallery, they would appear to disappear behind the triangle wall and reappear as they walked past the wall. On the TV monitor, it looked like the viewer was walking through the color bars disappearing and reappearing through an invisible triangle shape.

What Buky did was define the three dimensional space by showing the abstraction of two-dimensional perspective that the camera sees and artists try to duplicate when they draw. What was so mind blowing is that the two-dimensional references now existed in real three-dimensional space? The viewer could now interact simultaneously between the two dimensions and see or experience the visual and perceptual abstractions that were taking place. Buky was explaining three-point perspective  in an interactive setting that was cutting edge and in real time. Buky would have blown Masaccio’s mind. Masaccio the renaissance painter is credited with the invention of scientific perspective or three-dimensional perspective. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masaccio


Color Bars wasn’t the last time I assisted Buky. A year or so later I was President of the Student art League at the University of Akron. The Student Union wanted to fund an art exhibition. They wanted something current and innovative; they wanted something that would rock. I discussed the request with a professor of mine Don Harvey. He suggested I call Buky to see if he would do one of his installations in the Student union. Even though I had developed a good friendship with Buky during our time working together, I thought he would never agree to do an installation. We had no budget to speak of, just expenses and a very modest stipend, hardly worth a major artists time, in fact the money we had was hardly worth anybody’s time. But I called Buky anyway and he immediately said yes. He said he had a piece in mind and would call me with the details later.

Buky called and wanted to know if I could get some logs, I could. I had a little firewood business and had plenty of logs, but he wanted log rounds of different sizes and lengths. I can do that I told him. Buky showed up as planned and I showed up with a truck full of assorted logs. I got to haul all of the logs up to the second floor of the Student Union while Buky surveyed the space. Well that was my job I certainly wasn’t the brains and I was young. If I had, had any brains I would have gotten volunteers from the Student art League to carry all of those logs upstairs and then back down after the exhibit ended.

Buky explained what he was going to do, this time I had an idea of what he was talking about after working on the Color Bars installation.

He arranged the log rounds according to the random shapes and sizes. He explained that he was going to paint random yellow lines across the logs to create a divided rectangle on the TV monitor. A similar installation can be seen in this video narrated by John Hanhardt Whitney Film and Video Curator 1974-1996.

Watch Video Here: http://blog1.videoart.net/?m=200706

During the building of the installation, Buky pestered me to show him slides of my Senior Show. I was intimidated, I felt self-conscious about my work, after all, here was a Master who I respected and admired. What if he said my work was crap what would I do?

So after we finished work on the installation we went over to the school of art. I got my slides. Buky and I went into the art history projection room. I loaded my slides into the projector and reached the moment of truth. I clicked through the slides one by one; Buky was silent and studied each one intently. I thought, he thinks my work sucks but that wasn’t the case. He was genuinely interested in the work and wanted to know why and how I had made the decisions I had made creating the work.

I had built three zig zaging steel walls in the gallery and poured coke slag against the sides of each walls. The slag like little hillsides sloughed down the sides of the walls and spread across the floor. I used the coke slag a by-product of making steel as a natural element in the installation. As the slag sloughed down the sides of the wall, it created a natural path. As would dirt or rock as it sloughs off a hillside or riverbank. However, I had neat paths sweep up between the steel walls, paths where people could walk.

Buky asked me why I had created these neat paths. I told him that the gallery director was concerned that people might trip on the rock like slag, so I made the paths to put the director at ease.

Buky was silent for a moment; I could tell he was thinking about what he would next say. He was very intent and very direct, he said, “Don’t make excuses, make decisions and understand why you make them and take responsibility for those decisions. Never do that again, never let anyone force you to change your mind about your decisions or your art”.

His advice stuck and it was some of the best advice I was ever given. What Buky explained was that I had made what would have been a great artwork just good by allowing the director to influence my decision-making. The decision to create paths instead allowing the material to take its natural form altered my intent my idea my art.

Buky was a sincere friend a friend who will tell you the truth and stand by you he was a true mentor. That was the last time I saw him. He went back to New York and I went to Graduate School. He later returned to Israel and I moved west. I don’t think that Buky ever really received the credit he deserved for his pioneering work in video in America. He was truly a Master and he was a visual genius. Buky broke new uncharted ground in the visual arts with his work. He was a giant among his peers and has earned his place in history and he was a friend, I will miss him even more now that he has passed.

Visit Buky Schwartz website:  http://www.bukyschwartz.com/main.htm

Watch Videos of Buky Schwartz at work:  http://www.videoart.net/home/Artists/ArtistPage.cfm?Artist_ID=1431

Read more about buky’s life:

Video art pioneer passes away at 77 By Ellie Armon Azoulay

Sculptor and video artist Buky Schwartz passed away yesterday. He was 77. Schwartz was born in Jerusalem in 1932, studied at the Avni Institute in Tel Aviv, worked as an assistant to Itzhak Danziger and studied at Saint Martins College of Art in London with Anthony Caro. In 1965, Schwartz was among the founders of the local 10+ Group, along with sculptors Pinhas Eshet, Uri Lifshitz, Ika Braun and other artists, including Raffi Lavie and Ziona Shimshi. In 2007, the Tel Aviv Museum displayed a comprehensive exhibition on the vivacious group, which held scores of shows throughout the course of its activity. Morehttp://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1112390.html

More Three Point Perspective… http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~barsky/perspective.html