In 1970, Tom Marioni founded the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) in San Francisco. On the opening night, he presented the exhibition Sound Sculpture As, which included a range of sound-based installations. Marioni announced to the crowd that he would perform Allan Fish’s Piss Piece for him—then climbed a ladder, faced the wall, and urinated into a bucket below. As the metallic bucket filled, the pitch of the sound changed, manifesting the work art. Unbeknownst to the audience, Marioni was, in fact, Allan Fish. He used the pseudonym when performing in the exhibitions he curated.

In the coming years, MOCA became a convening ground for the artists who defined the Bay Area’s unique approach to conceptual art. While conceptual artists in New York focused on language and systems, Marioni and his circle focused on “actions,” using humor and the artist’s body to challenge the sterile aesthetics of the New York conceptualists. The exhibitions at MOCA combined site-specific installation with performance, or “actions,” and included artists such as Paul Kos, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman, Terry Fox and Linda Montano.

These artists often convened at MOCA for Marioni’s Wednesday night free beer salons. These gatherings—where artists drank, laughed and discussed ideas—were conceived by Marioni as “social artworks,” meant to blur the boundaries between art and life.

"I am fascinated by art that can only be seen if you know it is art." — Tom Marioni

David Ireland, Untitled, 1994

artworks in museum of conceptual art

origins: museum of conceptual art