The plastic narration found in this work from 1994 by George Condo represents a reassertion of a type of compositional structure not found since the late works of Cézanne. Like the French master, and his concern with the structuring of advances made by the more formal impressionists, for example, the de-materialization of subject matter and broken surface tension, Condo reformulates and codifies similar concerns, a type of metaphysical space that one is allowed to access, a place of possible dramatic interpretation similarly found in the work of De’Chirico, Magritte and more recently Guston.
Just as Cézanne’s bathers push space around in tightly knit compositional formats, Condo, in the painting “Lamentation of the Drinker,” allows a grouping of faceless humanoid’s to control and manipulate the residual of geometric and architectural space, while acting out odd histrionic episodes.
Approximately thirty figures occupy this canvas where great tragedy has just taken place, or is about to. The size of the canvas (65 x 81 inches) and the overall composition used represents the format of an eyeball shaped oval. This cycloptic orifice stares out toward the viewer. Dead center, figuratively and literally is the main group of figures witnessing the last (?) moments of “The Drinker.”
Imaginatively thought out, these groups of figures, three “beings”: hovering in space, seven others in severe panic and dressed in black observe or are reacting to the unfolding drama. Unlike Christian exegesis, where Christ, descending from the cross, his mother weeping uncontrollably or even losing consciousness is the main focus of meditation, Condo’s lamentation is a situation suspended between certainty and doubt, where many possibly scenarios could happen. Unless Condo’s main protagonist is experiencing rigor mortis (his arm being outstretched), or dead drunk, he could be alive. A strange group of robed figures look on in wonder and disbelief, others gesture in misunderstanding. If this work is not seen as an elaborately concealed study of certainty and doubt, or the ambiguous nature of perception and belief itself, how else can we decipher the gestures, groupings and interaction between these faceless figures?
Kenneth Rexroth, in a short essay about the artist Morris Graves mentions “deliberate formal mysteriousness…analogous to that found in primitive cult objects,” there is much of that found in this painting, a visually complex riddle. It could be seen as a strange cinematic reflection projected on our memory, always needing to be re-deciphered, its meaning re-established. Therefore, it should not be so strange that the figures that occupy Condo’s “Lamination of the Drinker” have no distinguishing facial features.
Like Cézanne’s bathers they exist within themselves, purely in the space of painting.
When Mark Dagley arrived in New York City on the cusp of the Eighties, a social transformation was underway. Economic change in the United States had been foreseen by Daniel Bell as bringing passage to a ‘postindustrial’ era, where the remote management of electronic information and creative agency would come to supplant the production of actual things.
By the end of the decade, following Bell’s assertion, the realm of analytical finance had become a massive space. It was built out of scratch, designed to facilitate ease of relegation and speed of transfer. Exchange-traded derivatives, collateralized loan obligations, credit default swaps, options on indices, mortgage-backed securities, and other concocted instruments were devised to orchestrate flows which mere convention couldn’t conduct. As risk increased, debt expunged the past and precluded the imagination of a future. Its tally constituted a foundational claim on which enterprise rested. Hypothetical imperatives were disregarded in pursuit of leveraged prerogatives.
With infinite growth an intrinsic paradox, this was, and still is, an untenable long-term gambit. It’s also something to keep in mind when facing the purported end of history, a vexed condition of fractured deferral noted as ‘hauntological’. Mark Dagley’s work mirrors this spirit in its restless manufacture and tactful movement, but more precisely it does so as an analogue of memory, uniquely struck in real time.
And / Or “ – – ”
It would be a mistake to call the devices Mark Dagley has fashioned something they aren’t. How they appear may not be what they are. Each stratagem, intended to disclose a particular mood, warrants recognition of the purpose and ideation gone into it, the attitude and care the effort of its construction entails. Similarities to estimable precedents may cease there. Nonetheless, what Dagley does is interesting. Using the most matter-of-fact means, he drafts a layered diagram of symbol, icon, and index brought forth all as one, one as all, and all at once. This is a radical activity, fixing structure as its cynosure.
When abstraction is considered less as a term of positive value, more as one signifier among many, and prone to scrutiny as a contradiction which models economic goals, differential pressure is brought to bear upon how art is shaped. For instance, is it possible to address the proposition of Google as an object, or as a picture, with meaning communicated through the coupling of medium and form? Conversely, is Google but an idea? How would questions like these be answered? How would the answers look? Digitalization makes representation dispensable above the support of its logic and below the stretch of its surface. In this respect, what you see isn’t what you see. Mark Dagley’s work alludes to this binary order, without being of it as such.
Query By Example
Technical processes never actually banish gesture or intuition. Instead, computation imbues tactile characters with fresh clarity. In its most profound exposition, Mark Dagley’s work resists programmed limits, where output is nominally grasped as metaphoric rendering. In turn, the metonymic displacement initiated by software, which is usually bundled as a written service enabling visualization, access, and delivery, produces a subject in excess of itself. In refuting the status of common resource, this new subject migrates to the trans- disciplinary field of cybernetics, which is likely the true refuge of the avant-garde. Perspective and resolution become factors of quality, if not ethics.
Accordingly, an object that’s not an object isn’t nothing. As Jean Baudrillard noted, it’s the pure object, the object that is none, which doesn’t cease to beset us with its immanence. The apprehension of wood, cotton, brass, copper, enamel, cardboard, and resin, which are materials of commerce and also Dagley’s own, hazards the predicament of viewer and viewed bound in myopic obsession with one another. The subject mistakes the profile of the object for the object itself. In turn, the profile registers the trace of a fallacy, the image of a subject self-satisfied with its own reflection.