The Canadian Art Database

Deirdre Hanna

Chapel, Bell, Andreas Gehr
at The Toronto Sculpture Garden & The Ydessa Gallery, Toronto.

C Magazine # 10, Summer 1986
[ 725 words ]

The Toronto Sculpture Garden is enclosed by a neo art-nouveau cast iron gate and is 'landscaped' with a pathway, some stairs and several small cement platforms presumably set there in anticipation of their use as bases for sculptures. The landscaping is absurd: absurd enough to use to advantage and it is here that, last winter, Andreas Gehr constructed Found Foundation.

The piece plays of course on the notion of 'found' (to establish / to have discovered). Gehr takes his cue not only from the Found Foundation of the concrete stairs, but also from the environment found surrounding the space of the garden. The piece has been constructed with peaked gables echoing the neogothic spires of St. James Cathedral across the street as well as the colour and proportions of the town houses that line King Street. Open at one end, the Found Foundation also provides welcome shelter for the local transient population, as the accumulation of empties inside the sculpture attests. Gehr has carved out and defined a space with this serpentine structure, the strength of which lies in its clean and simple lines.

Across the city at the Ydessa Gallery, a quartered bell-clapper lies on the floor. It is constructed from sheets of enamelled steel originally manufactured for the assembly of fluorescent light fixtures. Welded, then buffed smooth, the finish is like melon rind. Proportionally, these clapper segments recall the shape of a mandolin, retaining a musical reference. Their hollow construction, although ineffectual as a proper clapper, rings when gently tapped and their presence in the gallery space seems larger than the actual volume they occupy.

Huge, silenced, ponderous, one nevertheless is drawn to walk over or around them to reach a podium across the room which bears a book with a plain white cover and no title but with a frontpiece photograph of a bell-clapper in action. A series of 96 metalurgical projections follow, circles filled with numbered points in ordered arrangements. To the right, on the wall, is a rectangular arrangement of small square frescoes. One-two-three-four-five-six-by sixteen; ninety-six in all. These metalurgical projections function as a foundation, a 'text' upon which the mural cycle is based. The bell clapper, in turn, functions as a generative source of the 'text'.

The 'found' notion, is carried through both sites in that the frescoes are framed with discarded crib-slats found abandoned in Gehr's studio, a former bed factory. The precut, arbitrary lengths of wood determine the dimensions, and indeed they first inspired Gehr — a sculptor — to work in fresco.

That Gehr is a sculptor is abundantly clear in his disjointed paintings, which lack the eloquence of his sculpture. Pastiches of neo-expressionism, the colours range from brilliant, even strident oranges, reds and yellows through murky greys and blacks. Stylistically they allude to artists of the twentieth century avant-garde: Klee (Gehr is Swiss), Franz Marc, de Chirico, Matisse, Malevich and many more.

Gehr has established a frame of reference wherein it is impossible to ignore the art historical antecedents of his 'original' works of art. Thus the wooden frames are readable as giornate, separating each day's work; the sequence of discrete but related fresco images recalls narrative mural cycles, and artists are openly referenced. Yet the quotations, although evocative, are never exact. We look at new art and see old images, visual sources catalogued in memory.

Disjointed within themselves, the frescoes fail to illuminate or coexist with the sculpture and Gehr's Wagnerian orchestration falls short as an example of an gesamkunstwerk. Although the three components of the Ydessa installation seem intrinsically related, they never quite cohere as a unit. Viewed from the vantage point of the bell-clapper, the frescoes read as a cacophony of illegible information, whereas the bell-clapper vanishes as one examines the mediating text, no longer powerful in its silence, but silenced.

Back in the garden, the Found Foundation resonates with the antecedents of the surroundings. Even the blonde wood — chemically treated to remain butter yellow — echoes the scrubbed Georgian brick of the cathedral and row houses that surround the site.

C Magazine # 10, Summer 1986

Text: © Deirdre Hanna. All rights reserved.

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