JAN 16, 2009 – FEB 1, 2009
“Integral efficiency is as lofty an ideal as any, and perhaps more real than any other. Its unfavorable associations are the vulgar ones. But only in art as yet, because art does not have to determine and can so well refuse to serve ends outside itself, has an appropriate vision of efficiency as an ideal been bodied forth, a vision of that complete and positive rationality which seems to me the only remedy for our present confusions.”
[Clement Greenberg, “Our Period Style”, Partisan Review, November 1949.]
In two senses can Ryan McCourt’s most recent sculptures be thought of as brazen assemblages. He literally brazes together the cheapest, weakest and brassiest flea market metals; and he disregards the preciousness of your grandma’s favourite shiny metal knickknacks, brashly joining them stem to stern. Mass-produced and long-forgotten bronze ducks and brass serving trays that could at one time have rested ornamentally side by side on a mantel are given new relation one to the other. Though they had lost significant value as collectables, in McCourt’s reconstructions such tired memorabilia regain their former distinction, but dramatically reoriented.
A decorative copper fan perched on the edge of spittoon shies up to the neck and bill of an upside-down egret all set off by an industrial bronze ring and a wee electroplated froggy. There is, admittedly, some small satisfaction to be had playing “I Spy” with these sculptures but, also likewise, this approach is sentimental and short-lived. By ignoring the subject matter long enough to consider the fundamental form of each bauble’s vice-grip relationship to its trinket neighbours, however, it becomes evident that each and every element has been repurposed for no other reason than to serve a qualitative good.
The five brass helms recall McCourt’s earlier interest in the modeled-steel portrait head, an ancient artistic preoccupation; these are a light-hearted/-touched try at encasing in brass the personalities of their subjects. Their final forms were only arrived at after much putting on and taking off – constituent parts on helmet and helmet on head.
The other sculptures, though, defy all but the most general classifications: horizontal things, thin things, static things, e.g. Obviously, these brass sculptures are whole things assembled from disparate, nearly incompatible parts, but in unexpected ways they find each their own holism. Like small-town orchestras that are dominated by certain instruments and missing certain others, each sculpture is utterly unique and strikes a peculiar mood. As such, it seems, no element could be removed from its larger body without upsetting the tuning of the whole.
By simply brazing curios together, Ryan McCourt bonds representational ingredients into an abstract whole, and in some measure reaches the heady peak of “integral efficiency” that Clement Greenberg pointed to sixty years ago.
(The exhibit title is borrowed off the puissant pen of Clement Greenberg, circa 1958.)