By Cori Wilbur
June 3, 2019
Opportunities to experience artworks and exhibitions in their finished forms are plentiful; very rarely are we allowed the chance to see masters in the midst of their creative processes. Roman de Salvo, a San Diego sculptor and conceptual virtuoso, has set up residency for the summer in the Timken Museum’s lobby, letting museum-goers into the undertaking of his newest project, Electric Picnic.
Inspired by Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Blindman’s Buff (1775-1780), on permanent display at the Timken Museum, de Salvo marveled at the Rococo artist’s particular style of depicting trees. “I [heeded] how [Fragonard] painted trees and used branches as a framing device,” noted de Salvo. For his new piece, he [wanted] to make a space and furnishing for people to sit and visit with the artist.”
Electric Picnic applies Fragonard’s pastoral scenes of courtship and play to high voltage transmission towers, built by the contemporary artist. The antithetical pairing of hardware and wordplay is a hallmark of Roman de Salvo’s work–he is renowned for using unconventional mediums to convey his artistic vision.
Electric Picnic illuminates the baroque architecture and playful nature of Rococo-era artistry and transposes it into an immersive construct. “Light bulbs don’t necessarily mean something else but I like to use them in a surprising way,” de Salvo remarked. The “conversation pit arrangement” of Electric Picnic, as he described, acts as a way for viewers to belong to the negative space and physically participate in the artwork.
Since the early 1990s, Roman de Salvo has been creating large-scale, interactive public works, predominantly in San Diego. “Living here gives [me] a deeper understanding of what’s at stake and what’s meaningful,” del Salvo pointed out.
Each summer, the Timken presents the work of a contemporary artist, which makes way for new and unique pieces created especially for the residency. Roman de Salvo is appreciative of the fortuity to share his art at the Timken this year, a San Diego fixture he has always admired. “[It’s] wonderful to have a free museum with these old masterpieces,” commended the artist.
Classic works of art, such as those by Fragonard and others of the Rococo era, are important touchstones to go back and re-explore from time to time. Where Fragonard illustrates the aristocratic idealism of the 18th century art connoisseur, Roman de Salvo creates an interpretation relatable to 21st century art experts and novices alike. With his current project well underway, de Salvo is putting a new spin to a significant bit of art history–and creating his own place within that history himself.
Electric Picnic opens officially on June 28, on view through August 25. Please visit http://www.timkenmuseum.org/art/exhibitions/ for details.