John Bowsher, director of special installations, was instrumental to the reinstallation of the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden (which we talked about on Friday). As a collaborator with artists, he certainly has one of the most interesting jobs at the museum. Here he tells us about his longstanding relationship with Michael Govan, about the 680,000 pound rock that’s on its way to LACMA, and about his favorite part of the sculpture garden.
Q: How would you describe what you do?
A: I help artists realize their ideas.
Q: What kind of training has prepared you for your line of work? I don’t suppose there’s a degree program for enormous artwork installation.
A: No, it’s one of those things that you learn on the job. I started as a carpenter at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and over time my work evolved to include large objects and working with living artists.
Q: What came after the Walker?
A: When director Richard Koshalek moved from the Walker Art Center to MOCA here in L.A., he hired me. MOCA did a big Richard Serra show and borrowed three Richard Serra sculptures from Dia in 1998, and that’s how I got to know Michael Govan, LACMA’s current director and Dia’s former director. I worked at Dia for eight years, then came here to work on the installation of the two Serras installed in BCAM as well as other projects such as Chris Burden’s Urban Light.
Q: Do large-scale projects come with particularly large-scale problems?
A: Well, in 2010, we’re planning to bring Michael Heizer’s Levitated Slot/Mass to LACMA. It’s a granite boulder weighing 680,000 pounds, so that presents its challenges. Moving it will clearly be an enormous undertaking, but even looking under it to assess the structure of the rock is complicated when you’re talking about this scale. I guess you could say that the problems are simple but the solutions are complex.
Q: You just finished up a big project with Robert Irwin, the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden. What’s your favorite part of the reinstallation?
A: The Balzac sculpture—it keeps a watchful eye on Urban Light.
Three projects that couldn't have happened without John Bowsher: Chris Burden's Urban Light (left), Robert Irwin's palm garden (center), and the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden (right).
Q: What have been some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on at LACMA?
A: Working on the feasibility study for Jeff Koons’s Train because it’s very complex. I have been working with engineers to determine if it is possible to authentically recreate a steam locomotive that has certain functions like steam, and wheel acceleration, and suspend it vertically from an actual crane.
Q: What’s been your most challenging installation to date?
A: It hasn’t happened yet—Michael Heizer’s Levitated Slot/Mass.