Wiley's 'Gong' Celebrates Art Museum Start


One side for peace
One side for war
One side, what for?

—William T. Wiley

These words etched on the steel structure that suspends William T. Wiley’s Gong, now displayed outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, call out the UC Davis artist’s style. He is fond of displaying conflicting political and philosophical viewpoints on his abstract pieces of art that — in some cases — he also plays as musical instruments. (A harp he constructed resides at the art space di Rosa in Napa.)

Now, the Gong, constructed in the 1980s from salvage yard finds, has journeyed cross-country to Wiley’s academic and cultural home at UC Davis, where he served on the art faculty from 1962 to 1976.

Wiley, who lives in the Bay Area, will play the Gong in a ceremonial groundbreaking Saturday for the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. The event begins at 3 p.m., and the public is invited.

“I think it’s a great thing that it can be here,” said Wiley, as he watched the steel, wood and bronze structure installed with heavy equipment on Wednesday. He would like to bring more of his pieces to campus, he said.  His artwork is displayed in museums, galleries and public places all over the world.  The Gong once was  displayed in New York’s Times Square, he said, where it had to be locked up to keep people from playing it all night.

The 4,000-pound piece is on long-term loan from Don Lippincott and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco. Lippincott’s LLC is a company in Connecticut that enables artists to construct large art pieces at its facility.

At the groundbreaking on Saturday, Wiley will join old friends and colleagues from the early art faculty of which he was part, and he’ll meet newer faculty, students, administrators, lead donors for the project and members of the public as they welcome a museum that is, alas, decades in the making.

Most of Wiley’s UC Davis colleagues were assembled in the ’60s under then-Department of Art Chair Richard Nelson (for whom the Nelson Gallery is named).

The eclectic faculty group held classes in leftover spaces throughout campus and made art in TB 9, a campus building still in use by UC Davis artists. Back then, graduate students also had studios off campus in what was called Aggie Villa, where Aggie Village is now, he said.

They socialized and worked together, but they also had distance and independence — enough distance from the art culture in San Francisco to create their own style, but “it wasn’t that far away,” Wiley said.

The art department’s lack of cohesiveness and isolation added to their creativity and authentic style, he said.

“I think it may have been better,” he said. “It was just what was going on.”

Read a review of Wiley’s current exhibit, “Newslate” at Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco.

The first photo in the slideshow was taken by Robin Bernhard, registrar and collections manager of the Nelson Gallery; the remainder were shot by Gregory Urquiaga of UC Davis Strategic Communications.

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