Roman De Salvo

Roman De Salvo

Roman de Salvo "(born 1965)" is a contemporary American conceptual artist whose sculpture and installations utilize everyday objects and materials in inventive and unexpected ways. De Salvo's work combines his interest in craft, technology, language, and materials with ever present attributes of wit and play.


Roman de Salvo was born in San Francisco, CA in 1965 and grew up in Reno, Nevada. De Salvo attended The California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1990. In 1992, he went on to pursue his Master of Fine Arts which he received from The University of California, San Diego in 1995. De Salvo lives and works in San Diego. He has shown professionally throughout the United States and in Europe, including at the Whitney Biennial (2000,) the Musee d’Art Americain Giverny (2000,) the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (1998, 2001, 2006,) The California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art (2002), the Seattle Art Museum (2003,) the Public Art Fund in New York (2003) and the Nevada Museum of Art (2004.)


The art of Roman de Salvo is an invitation for engagement. His work, which ranges from objects and installations to site-specific interventions and public art, transforms expectation into intrigue. De Salvo builds on the foundations of sculpture with the critical concerns of conceptualism. His work challenges the everyday, the traditional and the contemporary high-tech with ironic provocation.

Rain Bow, one of de Salvo's earliest interactive public works, was displayed in the Natural History Museum of San Diego in 1994. This piece consisted of a pre-existing drinking fountain with a small faux window and blinds mounted above it. When a visitor stopped to take a drink and turned the handle of the fountain, the blinds would open to reveal a picturesque image of the park outside the museum with a rainbow stretching overhead. While the participant in the work may not have been aware of their actions, surely the next person in line was. De Salvo creates an unexpected encounter dependent upon his viewer's engagement, intentional or not, to activate the work. In another work from the same year entitled Zurn Fountain, de Salvo again enlisted the action of his audience to generate an intriguing intervention. This time, the flushing of a public toilet activated the eruption of a small geyser of from a drain in the restroom floor. Both works of this period exemplify de Salvo's clever and transformative response to the everyday. [De Salvo, Roman. The general, the particular, the peculiar. MFA thesis. San Diego: The University of California, San Diego, 1995]

De Salvo's work is often a playfully stated commentary on modern life, society and technology. In 1998's Garden Guardians, de Salvo combines the stuff of video games with tangible sensations of the real world. Garden Guardians consisted of joysticks mounted on the outdoor patios of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The manipulation of these joysticks, contrary to expectation, had no noticeable effect on the surrounding environment; that is until the trigger was pulled. When pulled, the joystick emitted a plume of fragrant mist. There is no mission to complete or alien ships to shoot down with these joysticks, just a subtle reminder of the power of sensation. [Yard, Sally. Roman de Salvo: Fun Follows Function. San Diego: Quint Contemporary Art, 2000.] Ten years later, de Salvo completed The Legway for the New Children’s Museum. The Legway is de Salvo’s DIY, human powered take on the Segway Personal Transporter. Unlike the Segway, which seeks to make movement easier, The Legway challenges it's rider, requiring both brain and foot power for movement. In a world driven by technology, de Salvo remains ambivalent about its overbearing role in our lives.

In the 2000 Whitney Biennial, de Salvo exhibited Face Time, a project that invited the museum's restaurant patrons to eat their meals from the artist's specially designed plates that resembled TV dinners, cosmetic cases and laptop computers. [Anderson, Maxwell et al. 2000 Biennial. Exh. cat. New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2000.] Two years later, he was featured in the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Hugh Davies describes the appeal of de Salvo’s work:

"“What always amazes me is [Roman’s] inventiveness. Form and solution become indistinguishable. There’s something peculiarly American about his art. He’s a jack of all trades who relishes in the challenge to solve problems. You can’t anticipate the next piece but it always makes absolute sense. That’s what keeps Roman’s art so fresh.”" [Pincus. Robert. "Instant Landmark," The San Diego Union Tribune 04-02-2006.]

In recent years, de Salvo has turned to more large-scale public works. His 2003 work Crab Carillon was installed on a bridge spanning the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway in San Diego. 488 chimes suspended vertically from the bridge's railing serve as a carillon to be played by the passerby. When struck in order, the chimes sing a musical palindrome composed by Joseph Waters. [Nevins, Rhoda. "Overpass Ovation: SDSU Faculty Create Musical Sculpture." SDSU Universe.] In 2006, de Salvo completed his largest commission, a site-specific work for the Caltrans District 11 Headquarters in San Diego. Entitled Nexus Eucalyptus, the work a collection of massive wood segments, 125 feet long and 50 feet wide, suspended above the courtyard of the headquarters campus. The organic lines of the wooden pieces mimic the winding paths of rivers and roads. De Salvo describes the work as “an organic way to express the freeway as organism. It’s about networks as systems, about the energy systems behind surfaces of built environments.” [Pincus. Robert. [ "Instant Landmark,"] The San Diego Union Tribune 04-02-2006.] Roman de Salvo was a recipient of the San Diego Art Prize 2007/2008. The San Diego Art Prize is awarded to three established artists and three up-and-coming each year, in order to promote art as a cultural value in the San Diego region.

The work of Roman de Salvo is represented by Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla, California.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2008 Group Show, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, La Jolla, California.

2005 High Wire Acts, the Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana.

2005 Main Street Sculpture Project, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut.

2004 Power Maze 3, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, Nevada.

2004 Recent Work with Electrical Conduit, Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, California.

2001 Woods, Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, California.

2000 Hearth Furnishings, Tahoe Gallery, Sierra Nevada College, Incline, Nevada.

1999 Recent Sculpture, Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, California.

1998 Garden Guardians, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

1997 Cactus Arcade, Founder's Gallery, University of San Diego.

1996 Southwestern College Art Gallery, Chula Vista, California.

1995 Furnishings, Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, California.

1993 Tour of Sculptures in Pacific Beach, Visual Arts Facility Gallery, University of California, San Diego.

Selected Group Exhibitions

2008 Childsplay, New Children’s Museum, San Diego.

2008 Research, L Street Gallery, San Diego.

2007 Small Is Beautiful, Klemens Grasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. New York.

2007 Sancta, Steve Turner Contemporary, Beverly Hills, California.

2005 Making It: 10 Years of Artist Commissions at California Center for the Arts, Escondido, California Center for the Arts, Escondido, California.

2003 American Idyll, Public Art Fund, New York. Catalog.

2003 Baja to Vancouver: The West Coast in Contemporary Art, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle. Traveled. Catalog.

2002 California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California. Catalog.

2002 I-5 Resurfacing: Four Decades of California Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Art.

2002 Adjective noun verb., Acuña-Hansen Gallery, Los Angeles.

2001 Lateral Thinking: Art of the 1990s, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Traveled. Catalog.

2001 Relief: Sculpture Negotiating the Wall, Flux, San Diego.

2001 Constellations, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.

2001 Chain Reaction: Rube Goldberg and Contemporary Art, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Traveled. Catalog.

2001 Double Vision: Photographs from the Strauss Collection, University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach. Traveled. Catalog.

2000 inSITE2000, Tijuana, Mexico. Catalog.

2000 Giverny Garden Projects, Musée d'Art Américain, Giverny, France.

2000 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Catalog.

2000 Off Broadway, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

1999 Drip, Blow, Burn: Forces of Nature in Contemporary Art, The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York. Catalog.

1997 Presence: Eighteen Area Sculptors, University Art Gallery, University of California, San Diego.

1997 Pop Goes the Museum, Children's Museum/Museo de los Niños, San Diego.

1996 Inside: the Work of St. Clair Cemin, Joel Otterson and Others, California Center for the Arts Museum, Escondido. Catalog.

1996 96 Containers--Art Across Oceans, Copenhagen, Denmark. Catalog.

1995 Common Ground, a Regional Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

1994 inSITE'94, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego. Catalog.

Public Commissions

2006 Utility Filigree, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

2006 Nexus Eucalyptus, California Department of Transportation District 11 Headquarters, San Diego, State of California.

2005 Alvarado Riddle, Alvarado Medical Center Station, San Diego Trolley, Metropolitan Transit Development Board, San Diego.

2003 Crab Carillon, 25th Street Corridor, City of San Diego.

2001 Liquid Ballistic, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.


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