Toronto

Gerard Päs

Mercer Union

Gerard Päs’ sculptures and watercolors are a fusion of pure form within a self-sustaining vision of purgatory. Päs uses the utopian vision of the Russian Constructivist and De Stijl movements, adopting their clean precise lines, stark geometry, and the latter’s primary-color combinations. This is not to suggest, though, that the exhibition serves as a sweeping homage; rather, it sets the ideals of purity and order against the artist’s personal backdrop of physical disability. At a very early age, Päs was stricken with the polio virus, which resulted in physical impairment. Since 1977 his disability has served as a point of departure and scrutiny. With all of this said, Päs is not creating “handicapped art.” Instead, by drawing upon his experience of being singled out and ostracized, he creates memorable reflections on the ways difference forms our understanding of uniformity and integration.

Päs’ Red-Blue Wheel Chair, 1987, looks like something from the pages of a European design magazine. His knockoff of Gerrit Rietveld’s seminal Red-Blue Chair, 1919, highlights the discomfort inherent in the original design. In Red-Blue Crutches #1–12, 1986–87, Päs mounts single crutches on small platforms, creating a semi-circle on the gallery floor. Each crutch has been modified slightly, with joints and bends added to the original design. The first crutch is only marginally changed by the discrete addition of red and blue. By the last crutch, however, what started out as an object of standard proportions is now bent into a completely non-functional shape, relating more closely to sculpture than to the utilitarian object it once was. In this work as in others, the artist has twisted the De Stijl ideal of art forms that could be applied to all aspects of life. In Päs’ scenario, the functional object becomes the nonfunctional art form.

In the watercolor triptych Aaron’s Rod, 1988–89, he presents us with a kind of greening of De Stijl. A rendering of an architectural model of Rietveld’s Schröder House, 1924, is presented three times, each in a differing form. In the first, a crutch rises out of the center of the structure; in the second, the crutch is transformed into a tree; and in the third, the transformation is complete, with the tree fully integrated into the interior structure. Pas has humanized the hallmark of De Stijl by taking what is abhorrent, the crutch, and transforming it into something that is beautiful and in harmony with nature.

Linda Genereux