Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Saturday I visited two exhibitions: Roy Arden at Monte Clarke Gallery and Damian Moppett at Bob Rennie and Carey Fouks’s Wing Sang. Both feature mobiles (sort of).

Although best-known as a photo-based artist, Arden’s recent outing, like last year’s voluminous “Against the Day" exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, is comprised of drawings, paintings, sculpture and collage. As he has demonstrated with his “landscape of the economy” photos, and his long-running blog, Arden is a thoughtful composer, a master of paranoiac association, something that takes years to achieve, in any medium.

Aside from his collages, Arden has given us two large painted reproductions of 1950s country music posters -- one black-on-white, the other white-on-black. Why these surfaces are hand-painted and not screen-printed (a la Warhol) is really what’s playing at the Opry tonight. Another question concerns the juxtaposition of these reproductions: white-on-black (like the photo-negative, like Kosuth’s definitions) requires more time and resources than black-on-white. So: same concert, two opposing (yet unequal) performances.

At the centre of Arden’s exhibition is a "mobile" constructed of rusted rebar, wire and old pop cans, a kind of Terminator version of his “landscape of the economy” project. At the bottom of the mobile is a rubber sole that presses gently against a low-rise plinth -- a “touching” work of sculpture that knows exactly what it isn’t. Bravo!

Moppett’s mobile is closer to Calder’s definition, a monumental work of red-painted aluminum that carries within it a series of weigh scales, while on the ground below what looks like a fallen element. I say “looks like” because the element in no way detracts from the mobile above, a delicate balancing act that has justice (and aesthetics) served. What is Moppett saying with this fallen piece, particularly when there is no evidence (apart from its colour and form) that it belongs to the mobile above? Does it lie there in advance of a broken element, or despite it? An apocryphal element, or a gesture in search of an idea?

In the adjoining room, over 150 of the artist’s “autobiographical” drawings that date from the early-1990s to the present. Moppett has always been a skilled draftsman and colourist, comfortable in any style, yet an artist whose content, ranging from redrawn covers of Artforum to caryatid still-lifes, never strays far from the studio in which it is rendered. Downstairs, as you enter, eight large black ink figures, not unlike those found in the pre-Alfred E. Neuman Mad Magazines of the 1950s, float against their white paper fields.

In a 1969 artscanada essay, Kurt von Meier writes how the experiments of the 1960s have given way to questions not about the art but the artist and who s/he is, questions that relate to the “roles and styles rather than the goals of wealth and power or even just ‘making it.’” We know who Roy Arden is. But who is Damian Moppett?

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