On entering the exhibition by Daniel Douke at the Nevada Museum of Art and waiting while we were given a short introduction to the Museum and its curation, my first reaction was irritation. I was surrounded by plinths with consumer products, placed on them, items like IMac boxes, with even more irritating captions calling them “paintings.”
“Seriously? Haven’t “Ready-mades” kind of been done to death by now?” – first thoughts. It was not until about 20 minutes later and I could move around freely that I circled the “boxes” and discovered they really were paintings, impossible paintings.
The piece I choose to write about is “Barricade With Skid Marks” 2014. This piece states it is “Acrylic on canvas with four painted wood inserts.” It appears to be a giant life-size natural concrete road margin segment that has seen better days. We see hundreds of these every time we drive on a Highway. Heavy bottom weighted pieces of concrete road wall to stop us colliding with oncoming traffic. It has pieces of the corners chipped off, with tiny stones inside exposed, and black car tire marks from accidents. At each side it has rusted metal rings cemented into the body of the piece. This sculpture sits alone on concrete floor, which has cracks in a large open space in the Museum. The Barricade itself is a beautiful form in its own right. It is difficult to describe the pyramidal and yet wall shaped triangular shapes that make up the piece, so simple and elegant, forming a segment of a moveable protection barrier.
It is all an illusion, which is still impossible to believe even having looked at the back of the piece, which has the structure and canvas exposed. The piece is utterly convincing, hyper-realism. Douke casts and makes all components of each piece and the frames for the canvas structures, he then painstakingly paints each piece to be the perfect replica, including the imperfections found in all manufactured objects and their labeling. Douke is forcing us to look at everyday objects anew. Like a masterful magician’s act, we go through a range of emotions while assessing each piece, but remain incredulous even after looking into the magician’s top hat.
This could be another reaction and progression of the concept of “Ready-made” introduced by Duchamps. “Fountain” induced outrage” ( D.A.M p61) when Duchamps presented a mass produced manufactured object as art around 1917. Doucke turns this concept upside down, when he presents what appears to be the real thing (a mass produced manufactured object), but it is not.
At the birth of photography, in the early 19th Century, painters were released from their need to produce realism in their paintings, over the last 100 years, however the tide is turning as a number of painters return to the genre of figurative and realistic work on canvas. Douke’s works take several genres and concepts and blend them. He displays an exquisite painting technique, almost impossible to discern, on constructed frames, as sculptural pieces in an installation of apparently everyday objects. There is an element of the antique European “trompe l’oeil” genre, something that appears real but is not. The introduction at the entrance states he makes a “critique of contemporary society and our unquenchable desire for consumer products,” while poking fun at the pop art movement where even the inexpensive Brillo pad or the soup can screen printed and produced many of times becomes a desirable piece of art. He seems to ask us “what is real and what is artifice?” (Robertson)
I chose “Barricade With Skid Marks” 2014 as the piece that I responded to the most. We forget that everything we use in everyday life, has in fact been carefully designed, often by an artist, with great regard to form and its function. This piece with its simplicity of line, its functionality and the horror of the skid marks, reminders of mortality, peril and human weakness struck me the most. I always love the game of suspension of disbelief, but in this instance if I stood on the front of this piece I was entirely convinced, even having circled the barricade and seen its artifice. It still exists as the thing, it is only with difficulty I acknowledge it is not.
Exhibition review by Frances Melhop