Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with the assistance of stART, MCA Young Patrons, 1993
wood, galvanised steel and synthetic polymer paint and varnish
H 28 W 27.5 D 2.5cm
Aleks Danko describes the face in this painting as that of an idiot. This brainless, disembodied head is a recurring motif in his work, first appearing in Taste in 1988 and again in the installation Taste: the DUH-HEADS in 2013. With its staring eyes and foolish grin it could register any emotion from surprise to terror to embarrassment. Danko uses it to signify a kind of mindlessness, clustering a number of the vacantly staring faces in his installations to create a sense of a mob mentality; the unthinking and unblinking conformity of the crowd.
The face itself has an important historical precursor: it is based on a child-like drawing in Plate 1, ‘The Sculptors Yard’ from the book The Analysis of Beauty (1753) by the English artist William Hogarth. Hogarth’s analysis centred on what he called ‘the line of beauty’ – a serpentine S-shaped curve that created elegance, grace and variety in composition. That line is entirely absent from Hogarth/Danko’s simple red face, originally used by Hogarth to demonstrate the artistic simplicity of a naive style: ‘composed merely of such plain lines as children make’ and displaying ‘the most contemptible meanness that lines can be formed into’.
These kinds of aesthetic judgements and pronunciations on beauty made by satirists like Hogarth are precisely what Danko embraces and employs in his art practice. Danko reprises the simple drawing as a wood and steel sculpture that refers to the history of his own use of the motif, and also to its longer history as an example of the ‘unartistic’, to continually critique any imposed idea of ‘good’, ‘bad’, or constructed taste. The recurrence of this face in Danko’s work is a reminder of the importance of independent thought, outside the bounds of convention and conformity.
The original taste installation consisted of thirty-four cousins that form rows of diminishing stick-like figures looking at a fluorescent red, topiary-like structure. The work is a form of theatre whereupon the viewer is being watched by a sculptural audience. Aleks Danko, 2015