Going, Going ... ‘Gong’!

Wiley’s Interactive Sculpture Is Moving On

Man holds gong striker, next to Gong sculpture
“Gong” artist William T. Wiley presides over the sculpture’s debut on the UC Davis campus in 2014. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

After eight years on campus, William T. Wiley’s beloved Gong artwork is being moved to a new public home.

The interactive sculpture, created in 1986, made its official campus debut at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art in March 2014. Wiley, among UC Davis’ first-generation art faculty, was there — striking the Gong and saying of his time in the art department, “At Davis it felt like anything was possible.”

For Wiley, who died in 2021, the possible included a maverick, genre-crossing style and playful aesthetic, as seen in the Gong. A sign posted near the sculpture reads: “Play the Gong as you would your favorite guitar.” And thousands of people have taken up the offer.

Man strikes the Gong
Striking the “Gong” on Picnic Day April 23 — one of the sculpture’s last days on campus. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Upon receiving the Gong on long-term loan, the Manetti Shrem Museum, not yet built, positioned the sculpture in front of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, where the museum’s ceremonial groundbreaking took place. The Gong has sat outside the museum itself since the building’s completion in 2016. You can see and play it there through Sunday (May 1). The 4,000-pound work will be disassembled May 2 and 3.

The sculpture has been part of the Manetti Shrem Museum’s ever-rotating lineup of artworks shown in and around the building, ranging from neon sculptures in the lobby to other semi-permanent installations such as the outdoor display of Manuel Neri sculptures on the west side of the museum. The Gong’s departure creates room for new ideas, new artists and a new symbol of the museum as it enters its next five years.

Gong will be right at home at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art near Napa, in a collection that also features works by other UC Davis first-generation artists, including Roy De Forest and Robert Arneson, as well as Wiley’s Harp, another large-scale interactive musical work.

Both Wiley and his work have left a lasting legacy at UC Davis, as well as the Manetti Shrem Museum. Learn more about William T. Wiley through his early works in “William T. Wiley and the Slant Step: All on the Line,” on view at the museum through May 8.

Laura Compton is the communications specialist for the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, and can be reached by email or phone, 530-754-0482.

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