Brisbane

Scott Redford, Surf Painting/Black Palms, 2001, resin, decal, fiberglass, and acrylic on foam, 48 1/4 x 73 1/8".

Scott Redford, Surf Painting/Black Palms, 2001, resin, decal, fiberglass, and acrylic on foam, 48 1/4 x 73 1/8".

Scott Redford

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Scott Redford, Surf Painting/Black Palms, 2001, resin, decal, fiberglass, and acrylic on foam, 48 1/4 x 73 1/8".

It was hard to know in the end how to take “Scott Redford: Introducing Reinhardt Dammn,” the Queensland Art Gallery’s 2010 summer exhibition. Although the gallery undoubtedly intended to mount a retrospective of the work of Scott Redford, this Gold Coast–born gay Pop bricoleur had for his part decided to devote half the show to the work of his recently invented heteronym, Reinhardt Dammn, “a 22-year-old surfer/artist/singer who lives at Tugun.” (For the Gold Coast, think Miami Beach; for Tugun, the least stylish suburb in Florida.)

Dammn allows Redford to play dumb, or at least to avoid the endless art-world second-guessing of this most narcissistic or, let’s say, self-involved of artists. Thus, on one side of the huge open-plan room in which the show was installed, we had some of Redford’s “Surf Paintings,” 2000–, with an emphasis on a group from 2000–2001: broadly brushed, mostly pink cityscapes on fiberglass panels similar to surfboards—some of the most beautiful works made in Australia in the past twenty years. On the other side, we had Dammn’s “Instant Paintings,” 2008, clumsily gestural abstractions that perhaps mimicked waves and were said to be a way to “lock out those art curators.” Elsewhere in the show we witnessed a face-off between Redford’s “Proposals for a Surfers Paradise Public Sculpture,” 2006, elegiac homages to kitsch tourist motels of the 1950s and ’60s, and Dammn’s Braincave, 2010, purportedly the imaginary artist’s bedroom, broken surfboards leaning on its outside walls, adorned inside with surf decals and a revolving record projected overhead with an audio track whose mixture of music and half-audible monologue suggested we were eavesdropping on Dammn’s most intimate thoughts.

Of course, for anybody even vaguely literate in contemporary art, Dammn’s gridlike series of rapidly turned-out canvases cannot help but recall Gerhard Richter’s endgame abstractions, and Redford barely bothers to inhabit or make real to the spectator his fictional alter ego—what, for example, is an empty bottle of Moët champagne doing on Dammn’s bedside table, juxtaposed with the Kurt Cobain–style flannelette shirt? (And as for the bedroom itself, Tracey Emin, anyone?)

In a rather grandiose interview for the catalogue, conducted by Julie Ewington, who curated the exhibition, Redford speaks of the way that, having redone modernism and challenged heterosexuality, he is now ready to explore the merging of art into popular culture. This leads him to the question: “Why is an artist’s unmade bed seen as better than another’s?” Redford is right that popular culture does increasingly overwhelm high art with its creativity as well as its reach, but the question is naive. It is simply a performative contradiction—of the kind art loves—to ask this question in a canonizing state-run art institution.

There are some terrific things in this show, but they are all either by Scott Redford or are the kinds of works originally done under his own name: the surfboard crosses hung high up in the corners like Tatlin reliefs; or the Nauman-like “Dead Board” performances, 1996–, shown as projected videos, such as one particularly witty short (Dead Board 3, 2003) showing surfer chicks sawing up surfboards that no longer work. Reinhardt Dammn is like the cool indie band T-shirt an aging art history lecturer wears to his first class to impress his students. It’s not the sort of thing anyone approaching fifty with the hint of a paunch ought to attempt. Art, despite what they say, is not a young person’s game.

Rex Butler