Joseph Dosio

The Merchant and Ivory Foundation's Red Mills

The crisis in any movement occurs when it becomes obvious that no new territory can be claimed by it; at that moment the artist whose energy demands to be expressed in the extension of the vector will have to move on or internalize the vector. American society at large affords endless examples of this process, and it seems, quite often, that we are a nation composed of adventurers and victims, with a spotlight now on one group, now on the other. (It is inevitable in this situation that two subcategories would emerge: adventurers as victims, victims as adventurers.)

The work of Joseph Dosio takes place outside this dialectic. His work does not show any new boundaries; rather he tells us that the boundaries already set are ample enough. There is a gentle acceptance of chaos in all his work. At times it seems unadventurous, as though a responsibility had been put to one side. There is a bucolic aspect to his method and his life. He lives in a house which was once a chicken coop, and his work is most at home in a gentle landscape. But his strongest work is radical, in a way. His material is the found object, but there is no implicit criticism of the unfound object; the objects he favors are things thrown away or neglected, but there is no comment on the “throwaway society”; much of his work has the texture of industry, but of industry gentled. This is radical. It says that we are living in the era after remembering and have accepted that. Dosio’s esthetic is that of beach glass—the piece of Coca-Cola bottle turned by time and abrasion into an object that does not seem inferior to the vanished whole. An old Roman coin that does not lead to a meditation about history but that gets saved for its own sake. Dosio is the magpie freed; Joseph Cornell-objects breathing fresh air outside the Cornell-box. There is nothing vast or intimidating; he does not seek to evoke the massiveness of industry (sixty years ago an artist taking his inspiration from American industrial life was likely to be fascinated by its scale—its ability to dominate the individual); nor does he try to locate the emotion aroused by its decline and fall. His reaction to material is natural and perhaps childlike. His walk in the ruins may be of particular interest precisely because he does not react much to the history of what he is walkingamong. What this means is that there is room for wit; his strongest pieces are about juxtaposition. The references are not to familiar ideas in the mental landscapes but to something else.

The outstanding piece in this recent show is probably Mask, 1991, which presents a facade rather like a boy’s sled as constructed by Piet Mondrian. Facade, because one piece of this modernist composition may be removed, and when turned over reveals another composition which frames a discarded piece of computer circuitry. The idea that classic Modernism can be a facade behind which one can hide another modernism: witty, quiet, accepting, and ready to move through this current era (in which we look on the computer with awe and dread just as we once looked upon the now vanished Industrial Complex with awe and dread), is an amusing one; perhaps profoundly amusing. There is an even subtler wittiness in the three strong, sleek pieces The King, The Queen, The Prince, 1992, which stood outside the main exhibition space. As elsewhere with Dosio, the material has come off the discard pile; here he effaces that origin and presents the viewer with impenetrable surfaces and elevates the Found into the Archetypal.

G.S. Trow