Scott Redford: Introducing Reinhardt Dammn, ex. cat. (Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 2010).
In June 2008, the new Sydney gallery Breenspace opened Reinhardt Dammn: Cold War, a solo exhibition by Scott Redford. Two works dominated the stark, stylish show. A mighty wedge-shaped canvas on a deep stretcher jutted out from the wall, low to the floor. It was as much a sculpture as a painting. Deep black, it recalled Kubrick’s monolith, or that talismanic object on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1976 album Presence. It resonated with the other big work, a sheet of aluminium folded to resemble a giant paper dart and defaced with punkish graffiti. Its proximity made the wedge seem even more militaristic … like a stealth bomber.1
As dramatic as they were, the objects in the show were not quite as surprising—or significant—as the conceit that Redford wrapped around them. Redford explained that viewers were to approach the show not as his work, but as the work of fictional artist Reinhardt Dammn. If Sally Breen had wanted a Redford show, the artist both accepted and sidestepped her desire, presenting the work of another artist—albeit fictional—in his place. Redford described Dammn as: ‘a twenty-two-year-old who surfs, makes art, and sings in a band. Reinhardt is cocky and always the showman, but his bravado masks vulnerability. Spurned by the official art world because of his youth, Reinhardt is also rejected because he refuses to ignore the obvious: a canvas painted one colour is not a “monochrome signalling art’s autonomy”, it is a one-colour canvas; a soup tin is a soup tin; an installation is just objects placed in a room. Daring to speak with the innocence of a wild child, Reinhardt challenges the complacency of art’s powers-that-be.’2 The Dammn story sounds familiar. Dammn may be a critic of the establishment, but he already has the aura of an art star, awaiting his own glossy-magazine personality profile. His very name suggests a Faustian pact with the devil.
Dammn was not only Redford’s invention; he was also his own invention. As Redford has explained: ‘Reinhardt Dammn is not his real name. He changed it by deed poll when he turned eighteen. His name is part-Dickens, part-punk. He renamed himself in the manner of Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Billy Idol, conflating the name of American painter Ad Reinhardt and the word “damn”.’3 For Redford, it was all about a movie he wanted to make: ‘I’m working on the proposed film of Reinhardt’s life as a scriptwriter and set designer, maybe also as co-director if it comes off … I make new art works for him, often based on styles of my work from the 1980s.’4 Indeed, the black wedge at Breenspace was a direct remake of a lost and long forgotten Redford work, Cold War Unit (1988).
Dammn was not entirely new. Redford first dropped his name in 1996, when he produced the collage portrait Untitled (Reinhardt Dammn). In 1997, with artist-curator Chris Chapman, he staged an out-of-the-way show at Melbourne’s Stripp Gallery—Screentests for Reinhardt Dammn Starring Matt White (Matt White being another fictional character and Chapman’s invention). In 2000, Redford’s popular ceramic multiple My Beautiful Polar Bear was developed as promotional merchandise for Dammn’s ‘new single’ of the same name—although this concept largely went over its audience’s heads. At the 2007 ARC Biennale at QUT Art Museum, Redford displayed further ceramics, as ‘props’ for the movie. Despite all this, however, it was only with the Breenspace show that Redford really ‘went public’ with Dammn. Ever since, Dammn has been Redford’s focus.
The Dammn works have proved to be a mixed bag. In 2008, at Brisbane’s Jan Manton Gallery, Redford unveiled Dammn’s Instant Paintings. With their non-existentialist colours—and randomly peppered with skate-punk decals—these pastiches of abstract expressionism suggested breaking waves and excellent surf. At that year’s Melbourne Art Fair, Gould Galleries showcased Dammn paintings, which were based on sheets of transfers for plastic model racing-car kit sets. Reinhardt Dammn + Honey Pump: New Single Out Now, at Hobart’s Criterion Gallery in 2009, resembled an elegant record-shop promo appropriating Jamie Reid’s iconic 1976 Sex Pistols sleeve design.5 The joyously overhung Reinhardt Dammn: Ruined in a Day, at Brisbane’s Heiser Gallery in 2010, suggested a precocious ‘student show’, with paintings and sculptures in miscellaneous styles—figurative and abstract, pop and expressionist, slick and grungy—moving in all directions at once. And, here, at the Queensland Art Gallery, Scott Redford: Introducing Reinhardt Dammn offers more new Dammns: the iconic monument Reinhardt Dammn: Surfer Clown (2010), with Dammn perched atop a huge pyramid, ‘as high as a kite’; and an installation representing Dammn’s studio/brain.
Even accepting the fiction, it’s hard to extricate Dammn and Redford. Some Dammn works are clearly intended to be read as being by Redford, and refer to Dammn as his creation; for instance, the ‘screen tests’ for actors auditioning to play Dammn, or the wallpaper comprised of headshots of a ‘Reinhardt-like’ boy. Some works are ‘props’ for the feature film, and may not even represent art works as such. The project is deliberately confusing. Made up as Redford goes along, the Dammn works may be clues to a missing story, but, rather than fill it in, they open it up wider. Like teasers or trailers, they raise more questions than they answer. And who knows if the promised movie will ever materialise? Redford has always stressed that Dammn is not an alter ego but simply ‘a character’; he remains adamant about this. But perhaps he protests too much. Dammn is partly like Redford, partly like someone Redford might like to be—younger, prettier, cooler, cockier. Certainly a potential ego ideal, Dammn is a vehicle for much of what Redford wants to say, and gives him an alibi to re-present works made when he was, like Dammn, in his twenties.6 On the other hand, Redford wants to get other people involved, contributing ideas to Dammn’s development, fleshing him out. He gets excited by the prospect that others may have uses for Dammn, granting him a life beyond Redford’s own.
Redford’s relationship with his invisible friend is complex. Sometimes Redford seems captured by the creation he channels; at other times, Dammn becomes his ultimate enabler and excuse, his get-out-of-jail-free card. Dammn allows Redford to do as he pleases, because Dammn is not him; Redford is not burdened by having to make decisions ‘for himself’. For instance, when questioned about the unusuallyslap-dash quality of the ‘Instant paintings’, Redford admitted that the entire suite had been knocked off in a single session, and blamed their appearance on Dammn’s punk attitude: ‘Reinhardt’s only twenty-two. He never went to art school, and never learnt to paint properly’. Then he added, ‘I never said he was a good artist’.7 Nevertheless, in pointed contradiction, many of the works in Dammn’s subsequent outings were professionally fabricated, and could not have been slicker.
While pseudonyms and fictional personas are often used to conceal an author’s identity, Redford is not concealed by Dammn. Dammn and Redford are simultaneously present. We must understand the work as framed by both identities real and fictional, and by the interplay between them. Also, as Dammn has reprised earlier works by Redford, the project prompts us to consider what it might mean for any of Redford’s other works to have been made instead by Dammn. When asked what it meant for Dammn to be remaking his works twenty years later, Redford said, ‘But it may not be twenty years later. Actually, I still haven’t worked out when the film will be set. It might predate my own work’.8 In creating Dammn, Redford opened up a productive rift in his oeuvre multiplying the ways we can read it. The question of Dammn’s identity—and its relation to Redford’s—is like a shell game. If you’re worrying about where the pea really is, rather than enjoying the deft theatre of it all, you’re missing the point. Dammn is a disorganising principle.
The Dammn project sits alongside other recent art projects that play on invented identities, such as Bernadette Corporation (with Reena Spaulings) and Claire Fontaine, and, closer to home, John Citizen and the New Zealand collective Et Al.9 But it is no new thing. Artists have always concocted elaborate back stories in order to ground and brand their work—fictions, more or less. The classic example must be German artist Joseph Beuys. The Luftwaffe rear gunner may have been shot down over the Crimea during World War II, but he was never rescued by Tatars and was never wrapped in healing fat and felt. His originating myth and the messianic schtick that flowed from it were bogus, but compelling. Dammn named his band Honey Pump, after a Beuys work;10 however, Redford owes more to the formative example of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, another contrived, self-made man. After studying art under Richard Hamilton, Ferry—a coalminer’s son—cultivated a classy, faux-suave, faux-sophisticate persona, exemplified by his posing in a white tuxedo in front of an LA pool on the cover of his 1974 solo album, Another Time, Another Place.
Designer Nicky Haslam once said Ferry was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than to trash one,11 and Redford is similarly drawn to the idea of art as decor, prop or mise en scène. In approaching his work as a stylist, Redford has much in common with Swiss artist John Armleder, famous for his ‘looks-like-decor’ furniture sculptures and wall paintings. But, Redford also has a soft spot for ‘looks-like-art’ decor. He adores the art savvy stylings of LA interior decorator (and former Playmate) Kelly Wearstler. ‘But she’s really good’, he insists.12 Redford says the Dammn project developed out of a personal crisis over the state of art. He felt he no longer wanted to make his own work, so he made someone else’s. Anyone who knows Redford knows he has ‘issues’ with the art scene. He bemoans, in turn, its woeful lack of criticality and its tedious insistence upon it. He wants recognition, but also independence. He’s an intellectual artist, but is utterly seduced by the spectacle. He condemns ‘identity art’ in all forms, but can’t stop making it. And, everything is an insult to his intelligence. Redford’s internal conflicts are symptomatic of tensions in the wider art business.
The scene has long been defined by a torrid custody battle—a cold war—between the brainiacs and the beautiful people, the critics and the collectors, those who see art as productive provocation (like the editors and readers of journal October), and those who want it to be a glittering backdrop (such as Dasha Zhukova and her coterie).13 One could say it’s the revolutionaries versus the conservatives, although both factions are conservative in their own ways. In exerting their rights, each marginalises (and legitimises) the other. They are caught in a symbiotic dance and, somehow, art needs them both. Like the scene, Redford is torn. He likes his critique and tires of his fashion; then he tires of his critique and likes his fashion. The Dammn project reflects his ambivalence. Dammn is a critic of the scene yet circumscribed by its clichés. He’s an outsider, but also the aspiring ‘next big thing’. He is his own man, but a product of how others see him. He’s a contradiction in terms: a punk pin-up. By playing with his fictional artist like a doll, vitalising him with his own dramas, Redford plays out issues real and fictional, he has with the art world at arm’s length. Consequently, rather than indulge in a Lee Lozano-like retreat from the art world following his ‘crisis’, Redford remains more visible than ever.
The Queensland Art Gallery is a big dollhouse, one which affords Redford a loaded and resonant context. It is a particularly apt stage for the Dammn project, not only because it is Redford’s and Dammn’s local gallery, but because it is just as conflicted as they are. It can pay homage to the avant-garde tradition by branding its new space the Gallery of Modern Art, but then use it to showcase Valentino gowns. Redford has been waiting a long time to get a big show in his local museum. However, now that his moment has arrived, his response seems perverse. Instead of hogging the limelight, Redford takes the opportunity to selflessly promote a twenty-two-year-old ‘emerging artist’ who hasn’t yet paid his dues. What’s in it for Redford? Is he standing back or hitching himself to a rising star? Is he being generous or presumptuous? Is he tarting up his brand or just confusing the market? Is he playing the game or scrambling it? Is he attacking the art system or basking in it?
Actually, you could argue he’s doing all the above—simultaneously. Always in two minds, Redford is energised and empowered by his conflicts; indeed, it is only through these conflicts that he can totally identify with ‘Art’. The great thing about a cold war is that neither side wants ultimate victory, because they don’t ever want the war to end.
- These works are now in the Queensland Art Gallery Collection. They are Reinhardt Dammn/Cold War Unit (1988–2008) and Reinhardt Dammn/Paper Plane Made Solid, Huge, Invincible, Strong/Milking Adam Cullen (2008).
- Scott Redford, email to the author, 11 June, 2008.
- Scott Redford, interviewed by Malcolm Smith, ‘Reinhardt Dammn’s Cold War’, in Reinhardt Damn Cold War (Sydney and Brisbane: Breenspace and Institute of Modern Art, 2008), np.
- Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, 1976.
- Actually, Redford quickly abandoned the idea that Dammn would largely make works based on his styles from the 1980s.
- Scott Redford, in conversation with the author, Brisbane, July, 2010.
- Scott Redford, in conversation with the author.
- Reena Spaulings is a fictional artist, performer, and gallerist. She began as the subject of a collectively authored novel by the art collective Bernadette Corporation (Paris/New York, est. 1994), which was published by Semiotext(e) in 2005. Spaulings had her first show at her own gallery, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York, in 2005. Claire Fontaine is a collective artist (Paris, est. 2004). Lifting her name from a popular brand of school notebooks, she declared herself a ‘readymade artist’ and began to produce neo-conceptual works that often looked like other artists’ works. John Citizen is the invention of Australian artist Gordon Bennett (Australia, b.1955). Bennett exhibits under his own name and as Citizen, in an attempt to ‘escape the reductive logic of identity politics’. The New Zealand collective Et Al. has subsumed a number of fictitious artists, including Lillian Budd, C.J. (Arthur) Craig and Sons, Constance Strange, Merit Groting, Blanche Readymade, and P. Mule.
- Joseph Beuys’s work Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz (Honey Pump in the Workplace) (1977) is in the collection of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark.
- A legend, widely repeated.
- Redford, in conversation with the author. Redford recommends Wearstler’s book Hue (Pasadena: AMMO Books, 2009).
- Dasha Zhukova, the twenty-nine-year-old daughter of Russian oligarch Alexander Radkin Zhukov, is a fabulously wealthy socialite, fashion maven, art patron, and ‘it’ girl. She created Moscow’s Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, sits on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art board, and is Editor-in-Chief of the British fashion magazine Pop. She lives in London with her boyfriend, Russian oil-magnate Roman Abramovich. Abramovich owns the Chelsea Football Club and a Francis Bacon triptych (for which he paid the record price of 44.2 million pounds). He is reputed to be the second richest person in Britain.