Impact, New Works by Dan Devine, Thompson Giroux Gallery
Enter Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, New York from now until May 5 and you are walking into Impact, the latest body of work by Dan Devine. Chalky white plaster sculptures cast from the metal remains from collisions and crashes are installed throughout the space. On the walls hang rubbings on creamy white paper, from ruined remains of motors, a melting icicle, a toy assault rifle, and the skeleton of a lamb. The immediate sensation is you have wandered into an anthropological museum, situated on some newly settled planet, circa 2100, dedicated to treasures recovered from the demise of Earth and the empire where we now reside.
The sculptures are exquisite. The smooth white surfaces, ripples and curves documenting the original full force blow of an accident are transformed into a sensual, seductive mirror image of the original event. There is never any doubt that machines are gorgeous, and cars and motorcycles have always had the character of a potent aphrodisiac due to rigid metal, control, and speed, but by removing all familiar elements, these pieces transcend their genesis and act as metaphor not only for a literal impact, but the impact we as humans have on the environment, philosophies, cultures and economic conditions.
The largest piece in the exhibit, Calf, is named after massive chunks of ice that break off from glaciers due to global warming. The fossilized bits of residue on the surface of the plaster, combined with the deep impressions of the vehicle, simultaneously create the sense of intensity upon impact and the awareness that this work is recognizing that motor vehicles — and our way of life, as we know it — are already relics.
Calf is but one example of the duality of each sculpture that inhabits the gallery as both statues from antiquity and contemporary, conceptual three-dimensional works that embody the reality that motors, and specifically vehicles, are major contributors to global warming. The most abstract piece, Kettle, is homage to kettles. Not the kitchen ware, but large depressions formed from melting detached glacial ice that become partially or completely embedded in a plain, usually found at the edges of a larger glacial formation. Kettle is elegant and minimalistic, verging from some views like a creased, fresh piece of white paper. The sharp edges of the sculpture against the round smooth surfaces also mimic the mammoth icebergs heaving from glaciers. Its volume and weight is enhanced by the cast shadows, thanks to the precise lighting in the gallery.
Like the sculptures, the rubbings on the wall are traces of impacts, both accidental and deliberate and carry an ominous feeling. Some reach beyond the primary focus of environmental issues and address gun violence and our relationship to the land. The splayed rubbing of Toy Assault Rifle, offers no indication that this is a toy until you are confronted by the title. Lamb Skeleton is a delicate arrangement of bones, all that remains of an animal that evokes grace and innocence. It conjures up the attachment we, as humans have to not only pets, but also, animals that inhabit our surroundings. Icicle, is memento mori. Slender and ethereal in its execution, it sounds a siren that nothing lasts forever. We know it is melting, we know it no longer exists, and situated near images of muscular machines it imbues the entire exhibition with a sense of mortality, not necessarily sad, but a sense that the death of one thing could mean the progress of something so much better.
Dan Devine was a motorcycle racer, is a master of machines, a professor, but most of all, Dan Devine is an artist. His work has successfully conquered the artistic conundrum of creating beautiful work while addressing contemporary issues fundamental to our survival as a species. You leave not with a sense of doom, but with questions about legacy, progress and change. What more can you ask from an exhibition?
Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, New York is snuggly ensconced amongst several small bustling independent shops and food emporiums on the main street in this peaceful, bucolic, upstate town.
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for more things to do in Chatham, or adjacent Ghent, have a look at our recent piece on these two towns, “A View from the Tracks: Day Tripping in Chatham & Ghent, New York,” by Robin Catalano.