The Canadian Art Database

Deirdre Hanna

Dan Reid
at Kingston Artists' Association, Kingston, October 4 - 27

Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985
[ 924 words ]

As I walk into the Kingston Artists' Association I am struck by an image that faces the entrance: a simplified outline of a man's hand poised in what I discover to be the Italian gesture of inquiry. I glance around the gallery, see other dismembered body parts — hands, head, torso, groin, heart — and other simplified outlines. I think of . . .Toronto. This should not be surprisiing, for Dan Reid is a Toronto sculptor. Beniston, Celistino, Clarkson, McNealy, Paquette, Schwartz, Trent and Weins, to name only those Toronto sculptors who both treat similar motifs and exhibited works in the recent New City of Sculpture, are as much Reid's contemporaries as they are each other's.

Reid's work is not 'merely derivative', but rather part of a distinctive style emergent in Toronto, the identification of which could, theoretically, have been the curatorial rationale behind the New City of Sculpture. Indeed Reid's work is quite strong, well thought out and crafted, thematically provocative and coherent. To see Reid's sculpture outside the confines of Toronto helped me put the city's style into a context — a context in which the style could be compared to sixteenth century Italian Mannerism.

Just as the art of the Mannerists made constant references to artists of the High Renaissance, Reid also refers to Modernist masters. How I Look, for example, is a tuxedo pattern cut from oxidized lead and arranged on the gallery floor. The resultant study in positive and negative space recalls and reworks Matisse's paper cuts (floor / read / grey: ceiling / paper / colour). The mottled grey (oxidization) on grey (lead) on grey (floor) evokes Monet's late lily ponds, and thus one work alludes to both a great formalist and a great colourist. Reid's pervasive use of objets trouvés (mannequin hands, coat hanger, decoys . . .) acknowledges Duchampian conceptualism.

These art-historical references form only part of an interpretational puzzle, the solution of which forms an integral part of the viewer's perception of this work. The show is unified by a series of thematic axes. For example, Reid has inscribed a limestone entablature with Hippocrates' statement that 'Art is Long, Life Short. He has then broken the entablature between the words and rearranged them, a la Tristan Tzara, thus: ARS VITAE LONGA BREVIS. If we will accept that Art is Life, will we also accept that Long is Short? If we deny one, do we deny the other? This piece establishes a time-relativity axis.

An electric clock with an unmarked dial, when placed on the floor, becomes useless as a timepiece; the time may be right, but do we know the right way to look at it? A ceramic child's head grins up at us, his forehead marked 'Right' — a mindless affirmative. Beside the head is a cat's cradle, entitled Cradle. The right hand side is drawn as a simplified outline in white pastel on prepared black paper; the left hand side is the mirror image projected from a slide. Even reality is relative. Across the room, facing the projector, sits a wooden desk chair; in its seat is carved a single word: ARS. A nice pun, and, in conjunction with the projection, a comment on the state of the arts-viewing public, artists not excepted.

The ceramic head picks up on an appearances-can-deceive axis, which also includes a pair of stag horns as female genitals, and an enamel kitchen spoon. Drawing, with 'holes' hastily drawn on in grease pencil, so that the hasty observer will see it as a slotted spoon. A drawing of marionette strings further develops the theme of the viewer's malleability. Ducks and Drakes, on the same axis consists of a bedspring duck pond with plastic decoys painted to resemble unglazed terra cotta. They are meant to fool us until we look closely, and only then realize that we are the sitting ducks. Is it better to not look, and not know? 'Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20:29). But this is the late twentieth century. Who among us has faith left to shatter?

A piece entitled Inner Beauty links the appearance axis with one of decadence. Inner Beauty consists of a dress-form wrapped in cellophane, with a gold leaf rectangle applied over the heart. The torso is grossly deformed, hunchbacked and contorted into an incongruously elegant contrapposto. Elegance even unto distortion is, of course, a primary characteristic of Mannerism. The fin de siècle elegance axis includes a paper doll's tuxedo, the ceramic head, a globe — sphere painted black — and the lead tux — an indispensable item for post atomic cocktail parties. With its apocalyptic references, the imagery is not only fin de siècle but also fin de millennium.

The references to apathy, past masters and the nineteenth century fin de siècle aesthetic are all manifestations of self-conscious decadence, the key to an inherent Mannerism. If sixteenth century Mannerism developed in response to an artistic crisis — the idiom that central Italian artists had been developing since Giotto exhausted with the realization of the full potential of monumental realism — then the alternate route (or so it was thought) was decadence, self-conscious decadence. But decadent art is not synonymous with bad art. If the Modern idiom has been exhausted with the realization of its formal and conceptual limits, then decadence (and mannerism) is again an alternative.

Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985

Text: © Deirdre Hanna. All rights reserved.

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