Brooklyn exhibitions. The Idiot by Dave McDermott

Brooklyn exhibitions. The Idiot by Dave McDermott
Yareah Magazine

Brooklyn exhibitions. Brennan & Griffin is pleased to present The Idiot an exhibition of new work by Dave McDermott at the gallery’s Red Hook, Brooklyn location.

Dave McDermott, The Idiot, Installation view at Brennan & Griffin: Red Hook

Dave McDermott, The Idiot, Installation view at Brennan & Griffin: Red Hook

In his new work, Dave McDermott continues his ongoing allegorical examination of the complexities of human nature and the societies we build to house them, the isolation inherent in those structures, and how we represent those ideas through art itself. Double profiles, bust-like heads, pointing hands, female breasts—all are pulled from both distant and recent histories and reorganized as totems within McDermott’s lexicon to impart new meaning.

The exhibition takes its name from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. The novel’s protagonist, a young prince returning after a long absence to society and its machinations, is seen alternately and sometimes even simultaneously as an idiot and an “intelligent fellow.” Loved and scorned, sought after and shunned, his mind is eventually torn apart by the inability to reconcile his own nature with that of the world and its other inhabitants. McDermott finds in the complexities of Dostoevsky’s tale a fitting armature upon which to build his paintings. For McDermott, The Idiot acts as a symbol (or perhaps a mantra) for “the idiot” both as artists, a group who in Santayana’s words are “unfit for the world into which they were born”*, and, by extension, art itself, in the contradictions inherent in representing a common world through a private language.

McDermott’s work presupposes an insurmountable opacity in all forms of language—verbal, visual and physical—which results in an ongoing sense of disconnection and isolation. But instead of taking this state of affairs as an excuse for ennui or weariness, McDermott’s paintings depict characters seemingly locked in a frantically optimistic effort to overcome it. There is something grand in the refusal to give in, however doomed to failure the endeavor may be.

Like Dostoyevsky’s characters, McDermott’s figures exist in a tentative state, their narrative being occasionally suspended in order to question their very invention. They are grouped together on crowded stages—sets on which they reach, gape, fumble and stare, but without ever connecting to one another, seeming to assume the closest of connections by mere proximity. In paintings like “The European Arrangement” the figures on the panel seem locked in a static moment of importance. In the four large yarn paintings in the gallery, we see reference to psychological moments referred to in Dostoyevsky’s novel. There is the discomfort of a new meeting and a jagged sense of Modern graphic design in “The Introduction,” and an ebullient joy in “The Fit” that calls Matisse to mind. In “Heroin and Karate,” on the other hand, the artist has stepped completely out of Dostoyevsky’s narrative, and given form and proximity to two pursuits that he has found to be humorously linked in the lives of his contemporaries, often self-described idiots of their own making.

Awkwardness and how it is addressed also play out in both novel and painting. Where Dostoyevsky uses his prince as a crux to hold together disparate and seemingly unrelated personalities and segments of society, so does McDermott use his paintings to bring together various histories, textures and methods of working. Seemingly quick, expressive brushwork is paired with the labor-intensive application of yarn or sharp edges of overlaid color. Variations in speed within each painting call time into question, as the fast and the slow are both locked permanently into the same shared space on the panels. And here, too, on this material level we see the particulate whole take on the appearance of unity, while still remaining at its core a collection of diverse elements. Each collaged section of canvas, each strand of yarn, works with the others to form a unified whole, while still refusing to let us forget their singularity and separateness. The effect is one that never entirely lets us drop our guard, or default to a single quick categorization. As usual, McDermott’s blending of image and materiality confers an enigmatic sense of wonder, rather than a didactic lesson in morality or theory.

* George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (Being the outline of Aesthetic Theory), (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896), 41.

Dave McDermott was born in 1974 in Santa Cruz, CA and currently lives and works in New York. Recent exhibitions include Passing Leap, organized by Yuta Nakajima and Madeline Warren, Hauser & Wirth, New York, NY; Goethe’s Girlfriend, Brennan & Griffin, New York, NY; The Power and Influence of Joseph Wiseman, Grimm, Amsterdam, NL; and others. McDermott is the subject of a new monograph being published by Snoeck and Grimm in Spring 2016, with an introduction by Katy Seigel.


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