Artist of the Week 07/11/05
Consider his latest show-stopper, Project for a New American Century (2004, graphite on paper, 80 inches x 65 feet...here are a few details). This massive, two-sided curving piece, more of an environment that envelopes you in spots than the two dimensional plane we normally think of with "drawings," takes as its subject late 20th century history, starting with the bombing of Hiroshima and ending with a path into the woods. In between are images and text referencing everything from Sputnik to Sid Vicious, race riots to the Jonestown Massacre, Watergate, Chernobyl, Zionism, Halliburton, and on and on and on. As the New York Times put it, "Mr. McGill's erudite chronicle does more than line up facts. It knits them together so that cause-and-effect relationships between historical developments across the world become clear."
Born in England, but living in New York now, Dominic (represented by Derek Eller Gallery) seems an unlikely personality for such work. He's clearly brilliant and knows his politics, but he's such an easy going sort and great to party with (we got to know him and his lovely wife Penelope in Madrid a few years ago). In talking with him, there's no hint of the angry young man you'd expect to find behind such work.
The first piece I saw by Dominic (that I knew was by him...I had seen other work, but not known it was his) was this sculpture:
Dominic McGill, Dead End World in Favor of the Domesticated Poodle (Detail), 2002, mixed media, 8' x 4' x 30"
At the time, it prompted a bit of a political awakening for me. The ferocity of the landscaped pooch matching (if not topping) that of the "wild" wolf shook me out of my complacent pocket of ideas about civilization and violence (here's another view of the same piece). Who is that creature...the pampered pet turned vicious? In all seriousness, this piece launched a whole new line of thinking for me about everything from who I am to what I'm capable of doing (not that I see myself as a poodle, mind you, just that I always assumed I was a nonviolent person by nature, rather than choice...now I'm not so sure).
The piece by Dominic I had seen before this, but not connected the name to the work, was this sculpture:
Dominic McGill, Model for a Death Wish Generation, 2002, mixed media, 86" diameter
A full scale replica of the hydrogen bomb, its insides have been replaced with a seascape diorama. The painted concave upper section has a brilliant blue sky. The bottom section holds a minature replica of the Bikini Islands, which were vaporized by US testing of nuclear bombs. (As Bob Hope once said of the operations there, "As soon as the war ended, we located the one spot on earth that hadn't been touched by the war and blew it to hell.") A review in Art in America, described the piece this way:
A translucent plastic surface covers the lower section and displays a mesmerizing three-dimensional panorama of Bikini Island. Flanked by painted coral reefs in a shallow aquamarine lagoon of real water, the idyllic sandy beaches are marred by charred tree trunks and a detonation crater alluding to the devastating nuclear tests from which this island has never recovered. The water is intermittently disturbed by sprays of steam and wavelike patterns caused by the vibrations of rhythmic humming sounds emanating from speakers hidden below the surface.To be honest, this piece is a bit heavy handed for me. It doesn't hold the subtle punch to the psyche the poodle piece does. With the Project for a New American Century piece, though, Dominic demonstrated that he's no where near through commenting yet, and his critique is only getting stronger. Keep your eyes on this one.