Damian Moppett, Collected Works 

Kathleen Ritter
Rennie Collection, Vancouver,
November 26, 2011 – April 21, 2012
Damian Moppett Broken Fall, detail, 2011.
photo : SITE Photography, Vancouver, courtesy of Rennie Collection, Vancouver
The work of Damian Moppett subjects the history of art to a precarious balancing act, a suspension of belief, and a number of catastrophic falls. His survey exhibition at the Rennie Collection is testament to this, bring-ing together work from the last fifteen years, spanning the breadth of his practice in its sweeping range of painting, drawing, sculpture, and video. The collected works represent an intensely thoughtful and self-reflexive investigation of the practice of making art, characterized by an effacing monumentality and deadpan wit. 

A gigantic Alexander Calder-like mobile, more than twenty-five feet tall, is suspended from the ceiling, high above viewers’ heads. Bright red aluminum disks branch out like tentacles, each piece carefully balanced on the other in a play of levity and movement, as if in spite of their massive scale and weight. One piece, however, appears to have fallen and lies hap-hazardly on the ground. Is it a prank? A trap? Moppett’s most recent work, Broken Fall — both an homage and an irreverent doubling — is a culmination of his interests to date.

Throughout the exhibition a series of “stabiles,” or floor-based mobiles, appropriate the form of modernist sculpture as a base for amateur ceramics. Apparent tensions — between craft and high art, amateurism and expertise, manufactured and handmade — rest in careful balance in these works, often literally. In a similar vein is Studio at Dawn, a fifteen-foot long steel form modeled after Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning. Instead of Caro’s original red, Moppett has painted it matte white (camouflaging it within the framing devices of the gallery: walls, plinths, etc.) and placed handmade pottery on its surface. The pottery is a lure, drawing one into the space of the sculpture, whose massive size, long bars, and sharp edges suspended high in the air, appear subtly threatening.

Moppett’s work is often described through its referentiality. Indeed, this work is hyper-aware of its historical contexts and draws on a notable cast from the history of art — from Calder and Caro to Constantin Brâncusi and Lygia Clark — appropriating iconic works in an interrogation of authorship. Looking closer, Moppett’s references are more eclectic than predictable, and refuse to chart a singular trajectory through the canon by giving equal weight to the everyday.

What is most impressive in its quiet and insistent monumentality, is Moppett’s Watercolour Drawing Project, an omnibus of the artist’s personal archive, over 100 drawings that together comprise one work, created over nine years. It seems that everything that passes before his eyes becomes the subject of drawings, from studio ephemera to iconic artworks, the covers of art magazines to the Gulf Islands. Clustered in thematic group-ings, the work forms a comprehensive index to Moppett’s complex oeuvre and underscores the idea that art is not just the practice of making but the practice of looking. 

Damian Moppett, Kathleen Ritter
This article also appears in the issue 75 - Living Things

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