With images of historic galleons and frigates in full sail—steered by swashbuckling pirates in colorful costumes, their flags flying high in the wind—these three related solo exhibitions entice the viewer to go on imaginary journeys to faraway places. Linked by an iconography of maritime themes, the paintings, paper cutouts, and collages by Don Doe, Dylan Graham, and Sally Smart signal a new romantic current in contemporary art. Including the deliberate provocation that one can again use beauty and craftsmanship in art, the artists featured in Dangerous Waters revisit the classic genre of Romanticism, giving it a distinctly contemporary flavor by engaging popular culture to address current issues.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Romantics attempted to escape the horrors of war and industrialization by championing a new link between humans and nature. Unlike Classicism, Romanticism did not propagate absolute ideals, but created a utopian haven for the formation of a new self. Two centuries later, a whole generation of contemporary artists has taken up the Romantic spirit, similarly wanting to leave the mundane behind. While their return to an art historical movement that emphasized the mythical and the spiritual might initially seem escapist, these artists are not interested in apolitical nostalgia and kitsch. Instead, they are concerned with a different world, expressing a new individual sensibility in works that are shaped by a passion for the indefinite, the remote, and the ambiguous.
All three artists included in Dangerous Waters refer to popular culture, be it by culling imagery from folk traditions from around the world like Graham and Smart, or by fusing classical painting with photographs from contemporary fashion catalogues like Doe. Each of these artists has his or her own technique of historical and intellectual sampling, in which high art and pop culture interact on a level playing field.
Sharing sensibilities and strategies with many international contemporaries, the artists in Dangerous Waters address issues of great artistic and political currency, such as identity, globalization, nomadism, immigration and migration, diaspora, and cultural difference. The exhibition brings together the work of one Australian, one European, and one North American artist who work within divergent styles and media. In this way, Dangerous Waters not only reflects the peripatetic lifestyle of contemporary artists in the global age but also represents individualized expressions communicating universal concerns.
This exhibition has been funded in part by the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, the Cornell Council for the Arts, and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art