Medalla's work has begun to achieve renewed interest in the past few years,
especially in Europe, where in 1960s London he founded Signals, an influential gallery and newsletter. Medalla
featured advanced artists from all over Europe and South America, and often focused
on kinetic art. The Signals
gallery and newsletter were named in honor of the sculptor Vassilakis Takis,
who created many works by the same name, and who Medalla exhibited and featured
in the newsletter to significant acclaim. (For a feature on Takis at the MIT
Museum, see below.)
Medalla's early sculpture Cloud Canyons, created in 1963, is one of the most important kinetic works of the twentieth century. The piece is essentially a simple bubble machine, but its effects on viewers were profound.
Curator and author Guy Brett, who has written extensively on Medalla, described experiencing it: "creation proceeded inseparably from destruction, the fullness and monumentality of form was accompanied by its complete evaporation, it was simultaneously a material 'something' and an immaterial 'nothing'. A seething activity went together with an overall calm. Chaos and order coexisted; motion and rest."
By the time Medalla first exhibited Cloud Canyons in 1963, he had been working on the piece for three years, and had shown a 3 inch prototype to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (author of Air and Dreams and other texts that resonate beautifully with Medalla's work). Medalla's friendship with Bachelard paralleled his friendship in Paris with Man Ray, who had been introduced to Medalla by Marcel Duchamp. (Medalla didn’t speak French and Duchamp recommended the native Philadelphian Man Ray to help him navigate Paris.) Medalla cites Duchamp's Monte Carlo Bond as one of many references that inspired the Cloud Canyons, including
- beer bubbling in vats, seen at a brewery when he was a teenager
- clouds seen on that day too
- a young man, who had come to warn Medalla’s family to flee their
- home during World War II, who was found dying in their garden, hidden
- under a hibiscus with blood bubbling out of his mouth
- a memory of watching his mother cook outside, pots bubbling, as he
- recovered from a childhood illness
Of these disparate inspirations, Medalla says, “I like to provoke—in a nice way—to show different realms of experience.”
Created in a period when artists were, in Guy Brett's formulation, "modest" about the idea of chance, Medalla's Cloud Canyons achieved, "freedom and depth by being transparently simple, by being both ordinary and cosmic at the same time."
It’s that freedom and depth that are inspiring, as I look for work that makes me slow down and watch.
Open the window,
Close the book.
Do not shake
Against the wind.
Let the wind claim the candle
For its bride.
Let the darkness dissolve
And its memories.
The voice of your childhood
In the tree's branches.
Open the window.
Close the book.
"I recited this poem in the finale of my performance entitled, The Poet in Abyssinia, at the Academy Raymond Duncan [Raymond Duncan was Isadora Duncan's brother] in Paris 1960." - David Medalla
Signals journal (David Medalla, ed.) has been re-issued as a boxed set, available through the Institute of International Visual Arts in London.
Iniva has also published David Medalla: Works in the World (Cv/Visual Arts Research), in which Nicholas James interviews David Medalla, an e-book available through Amazon
and Google books
Anuradha Vikram wrote an interesting 2009 article about Duchamp’s Monte Carlo Bond for SF MoMA, aligning his ploy to raise funds to support a new work with contemporary artists’ fundraising projects.
Guy Brett, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla, with illustrations by David Medalla, was published in 1997.
Other books by Guy Brett, with substantive remarks about Medalla’s work, include:
Force Fields, Phases of the Kinetic, 2000.
Kinetic Art: The Language of Movement, 1968.