During the First Friday Art Crawl on Jan. 6, Tulsa Artist Fellowship opened the exhibition “Bruce Goff: The Art of the Continuous Present” at the Flagship x Tulsa Artist Fellowship performance space (112 N Boston Ave., Tulsa, OK 74103). The exhibition originally opened during Goff Fest, Dec. 1-4, is a festival that reimagines the life and legacy of 20th century, queer and organic architect Bruce Goff. It was curated by Britni Harris, co-organizer of Goff Fest and a director of the documentary “Goff,” and Lindsay Aveilhé, an independent curator and director of the Gardiner Gallery of Art at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Additionally, Karl Jones, a co-organizer of Goff Fest and a literary and performance artist, provided additional support for the exhibit.
Walking into the Flagship exhibition space, the title “Bruce Goff: The Art of the Continuous Present” was bold with zig-zagging typography, with a description detailing how Goff started his work in “Rush, Endacott, and Rush,” how Goff was one of the few architects Frank Lloyd Wright considered creative, and his controversial leaving from the University of Oklahoma.
Harris explained the theme’s title: “Bruce Goff’s main philosophy was ‘the continuous present,’ which is a term that was coined by Gertrude Stein, who he admired and followed much of her work. The continuous present is the theory that you live in the past and present in one continuous stream. In terms of architecture, he wanted you to be a part of the building that you could evolve within so that you weren’t contained by the walls around you, but that you were growing, and evolving, and the building was doing the same.”
She said, “The closest thing he designed that is like the continuous present was the Bavinger House in Norman, Okla.” The house’s architectural drawings on display at the exhibition, showed shell-like spirals and nature incorporated into the house.
Upon entering, the exhibition-goers can hear Debussy classical music on the record player, a choice the curators made in reference to Goff’s time at the University of Oklahoma. At the beginning of his architectural classes, he would turn off the lights and have his students put their heads on the table to listen to classical music for inspiration. Jones said, “Goff is known for his amazing record collection at the Price Tower, and we have some of those on display.”
One challenge the curators faced, The Flagship, which usually serves as a contemporary performance space, had to become a historical museum for the first time in Tulsa Artist Fellowship history.
For example, the south facing brick wall couldn’t be drilled into to hang art objects. Jones said, “What we did was inspired by Anita Fields’ exhibition, ‘In the Absence of Gathering.’ She had hung things from the ceiling, creating this environment you walked under…So all the biographical information is hanging in front of the wall.”
The curating choice referenced the way Goff was one of the first people to use bricks in non-traditional patterns, laying them vertically, then horizontally as an expression of his art deco work in Tulsa.
Outside of the main description, the exhibition was minimalistic, most objects sat removed from their original context, with no description to divert the eyes. This format invited an interactive element, having visitors walk to a gallery worker, and ask why packets of sequins sat inside the glass vitrine. The answer: Goff loved to create his own furniture, and sequins were one of the materials he used.
“We really wanted to expand our storytelling this year, which is why we switched from the text, for each item, to the catalog. That gives you more information about each item and because we really wanted to tell more about what was significant about each item,” said Harris.
The exhibition focused mostly on telling the life story of Goff through the things he owned. The main part of the timeline is visually supported by the glass vitrines of Goff’s Agatha Christie books, his Asian calligraphy brushes he acquired on his travels to Asia, his colorful gouache, and many more.
Aveilhé said, “These are objects kept at the Price Tower, many from his time working from an office there. We really were drawn to showing his personal objects, the things he was touching, working with, reading, and inspired by. It really gives you a sense of Goff as a person.”
The curators had personal experiences with Bruce Goff’s work, which got them interested in cementing his legacy. Jones, who began his Tulsa Artist Fellowship in 2020, applied for an Arts Integration grant in 2021 to create Goff Fest, which opened in November 2021.
Jones related to Goff a lot, as a young queer person, he felt he needed to leave Tulsa to discover a community, “almost a hundred years before mine…[Goff] encountered a lot of similar things, but also chose to tough it out. He continued to….make work in rural and middle America.”
Harris found herself amongst Bruce Goff while she was at the University of Oklahoma studying documentary film and journalism. For her senior documentary capstone project, she wanted to focus on an Oklahoma artist, “I immediately felt connected to his story. He was this really eccentric, but humble guy. He was creating these out of this world’s designs that I had never seen before.”
She wanted to preserve his legacy through documentary film, which involved working after hours during her full time at the Food Network. After gathering a professional crew from the Oklahoma area, “I planned a 10-day road trip across the country, starting in Oklahoma up to Kansas City and basically over to the West Coast, interviewing homeowners, students of his, people that he knew closely…I knew immediately that it was going to be a feature length film.”
Through making the film, Harris always knew “the film could be so much more than this two dimensional object.” This year, she feels she was able to elevate it by including a lot of archives and a timeline of his life.
Aveilhé said, “In a state where the status quo can be embraced too readily, especially during the decades in which he was working, his grit stands out…There is a mysticism and spirituality in his work that really resonate with me.”
The saddest thing for all three people who worked on the exhibition, as Aveilhe said, “the reality is that the preservation of his architecture is still not happening to the extent that it should.”
“Bruce Goff: The Art of the Continuous Present” will exhibit through the First Friday Art Crawl on Feb. 3.
More information about the exhibition can be viewed via the Tulsa Artist Fellowship Facebook.
Information about Harris’s documentary can be found on the website.
The next exhibit at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship will be a partnership with the Jones’ Center for Queer Prairies scheduled for the First Friday in March.