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Chartres Bleu

August 25, 2008

The Di Rosa Preserve in Napa, California, came into being in the 1960s when art collector and journalist Rene di Rosa purchased and transformed 460 acres of dilapidated vineyard into a working vineyard, a home and space for fueling his passion for Northern Californian art. The Preserve, which I visited for the first time last week, houses approximately 2,200 works of art by more than 900 artists on 217 acres. The collection is extraordinary for its breadth and unorthodoxy.

The highlight for me on this first, all too brief trip, was Paul Kos' meditative installation Chartres Bleu. One of the major figures in the early Conceptual Art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Kos was key to the development of video, performance and installation art in the Bay Area, focusing much of his attention on interactivity and novel uses of sound. Created in 1989 and currently housed in a specially-built "catacomb" underneath Rene Di Rosa's former home on the Preserve, the work consists of a stack of 27 video monitors that recreate one of the famed stained glass windows from Chartres Cathedral in France.

To get to the work, you enter through a set of heavy wooden doors from a sun-washed concrete patio outside the museum's main exhibition hall and walk down a dark, cool and narrow corridor fashioned from smooth concrete to look like part of a cloister in an old European church. The corridor opens into a similarly dank and ethereal chapel. The mood of profound calm is further heightened by the sound of steadily dripping water. There are simple seats on which to sit. After the heat and scurry of the Napa sun, Chartres Bleu suggests deep chill and icy stillness. Being in the work is probably a bit like being in a womb. This feeling of profound rest is peculiarly thrown into relief by Kos' reconstruction of the Chartres window itself. On the far wall when you enter the inner sanctum, the video screens, depicting the crystalline-blue stained glass window of the original in France, gaze steadily at us. The video projections supposedly cycle through the light as it passes through the windows at Chartres throughout the day. It's hard to look at the screens for too long though. As gorgeous as they are, there's something unnerving about the pixelated forms. They play tricks on our eyes. I had to keep blinking and looking away.

The work eloquently expresses for me the relationship between the restless, ADD-afflicted pace of modern life and the meditative long-view stance of former generations -- the people who spent years building churches and hours sitting thinking and worshipping within them.
br>Oh, and here's a bit of interesting trivia: The Preserve hosts many weddings, but the only person ever to have gotten married in the Chartres Bleu "chapel" itself is the artist.


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