Maria Anna Dewes

Galerie Meert Rihoux

The gallery is empty, except for a small table placed in the center of the space. Ten plaster-of-paris heads are arranged in an oval, facing inward toward each other. At first glance they seem to be exactly alike. In fact, their faces are exactly alike, made from the same mold. The only difference between the ten heads are their haircuts. Each face is topped by an individual coiffure: parted down the middle, on the side, Julius Caesar-style, mop-cut, etc.

Maria Anna Dewes is a young German artist, currently living in Düsseldorf. In one sense, her piece, entitled Eine Arbeit (A work, 1990), can be viewed in the context of traditional sculpture. Through the use of displacement, it conditions our perception of the space in which it is exhibited. Situating this table in the center of the gallery, with nothing else to distract our gaze from the sculptural objects, makes us that much more aware of the gallery’s remaining empty space. This single-minded concentration of the spectator’s gaze puts an additional emphasis on the work itself and on its ability to hold our attention.

In this case, Dewes’ risk pays off. Ultimately, we can see the work as a symbol of the relationships among autonomy, independence, and loss of identity. It speaks also about the attempt to maintain these factors in a fragile balance. Deceptively simple in their arrangement, the ten heads are assembled for a bodiless conference. The manner in which their places are assigned; the mathematical exactitude of the space separating each head; the deadpan looks—each element connotes a formal occasion that will proceed despite its ludicrous context.

The viewer’s response, like the anticipation of the action in a Beckett play, is heightened by repetition of the facial characteristics: all possibilities of betraying emotion, of individualization, are closed except for the figures’ hair, unobtrusively revealed during the course of our examination for distinguishing marks. This one touch of personality becomes the only adjective, the only qualifying mark or embellishment, that one can decipher.

These characteristics function as a background element that we must seek out, that we desire as a mark of completion. When the features are thus assimilated into the work, the sense of funereal symmetry that reigns at the table is upset. Dewes’ denial and inclusion of signatory elements and her presentation of that choice for the spectator’s examination is what makes this work both more and less than it seems.

Michael Tarantino