Born in Fresno, CA, 1943; lives and works in University Park, PA
Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the quiet suburban town of Los Altos was a rather unlikely hotbed of performance art. The driver behind this was Charles Garoian, who, just out of Fresno State in 1969, landed his first teaching position in the art department at Los Altos High School (LAHS). Though he was making paintings at the time, he became increasingly inspired by Allan Kaprow, Tom Marioni, Bruce Nauman, and other artists engaged with nontraditional, process-oriented work. Over the course of a seventeen-year-long tenure at the school, Garoian developed a highly inventive curriculum with performance art at its center. In 1974 SFMOMA honored Garoian with its SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) award, given to Bay Area artists of great distinction and promise.
For Project Los Altos, Garoian's collaborative work at LAHS is represented by a sequence of documentary images. The actions themselves took various forms. In Ice Happening (1970), for instance, Garoian's class sought community participation by soliciting donations of "water to be frozen in any kind of container." Using more than a ton of ice that showed up at the school, the students built a structure and then watched it melt away. Watermelon Sculpture (1972) involved arranging forty melons in a grid on a platform. Next the students climbed up on the platform and systematically halved, quartered, and then sliced the fruit yet smaller — transforming the visual character of the grid before it shrank as it was eaten. For Drill Team (1973) Garoian and his students added an unexpected element to the school's homecoming parade. Riffing off a Nauman work of the same name, the participants joined the fleet of Porsche convertibles transporting the homecoming court, drilling into wooden boards as they marched, followed by decorative floats and the traditional drill team and pom-pom squad.
Curator of Painting and Sculpture
Charles Garoian on collaborating with his students at Los Altos High School
Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the City of Los Altos. The lead sponsor of this exhibition is Passerelle Investment Company.
Major support is provided by SFMOMA's Collectors Forum. Generous support is provided by the Bay Area Contemporary Arts Exhibition Fund, founded by Agnes Cowles Bourne; and Brit and Dave Morin. Jim Breyer, Randi and Bob Fisher, Patricia W. Fitzpatrick, Adriane Iann and Christian Stolz, Nion T. McEvoy, and Thomas W. Weisel and Janet Barnes are sponsors of the exhibition. Additional support is provided by the Graue Family Foundation, Alka and Ravin Agrawal, The Black Dog Private Foundation, Phyllis and Bill Draper, Concepción and Irwin Federman, Marissa Mayer and Zachary Bogue, Christopher and Michele Meany, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and the Los Altos Community Foundation.