Simon Denny

Paltry Motion

31 March 2007 - 4 June 2007

In 1967, the American sculptor Richard Serra began to compile a famous list of verbs. An artist renowned for daunting sculptures created from propped slabs of steel, Serra filled his list with aggressive, heavy words: ‘to roll, to crease, to fold … to split, to cut, to sever.’

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s first Visiting Artist for 2007, Simon Denny shares Serra’s liking for precariously propped and leaning forms, but a list of words derived from his art would have a very different character. Evoking the chain store and stationery shop more than the mill or foundry, it might include, ‘to rumple, to Blu-Tack, to rest upon, to sellotape, to lighten, to lean.’

In Paltry Motion, Denny replays some of modern sculpture’s most famous forms – the column, the prop, the grid, the floor-piece – in a provocatively humble key. Recombining plain and ‘poor’ materials to poetic effect, his works extend a tradition that runs from Picasso and Kurt Schwitters forward through the American Richard Tuttle. Within New Zealand they echo, across almost four decades, some of the most casual and challenging works of veteran assemblage artist Don Driver. Nearer to the present, he’s one of a group of emerging artists who favour casual gestures and frail arrangements over grand statements and high-finish objects.

Making room for such unexpected objects as earrings and a sharpening stone, Denny also gives prominence to materials that usually contain and support art – from gib-board to packing paper to cardboard. The show even includes posters found in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s storerooms – remnants of art’s recent past. The sculptures that result invite speculation – are they placards, or shelters, or storage devices, or eccentric items of interior design? – but the ‘meaning’ of the works, like their physical structure, is emphatically a work in progress. Thwarting or confusing the original functions of his chosen objects, Denny also rumples and upends our expectations about where and what sculpture is – often to gently comic effect. Paintings come down from the wall and stand up like sculptures. Sculptural objects are pressed through a laminator and turned into readymade paintings. Large objects balance on spindly ones.

The idea of balance achieved against the odds is central to Denny’s exhibition. For a start, the artworks are all held in place by nothing more than gravity and friction (and occasionally a little Blu-Tack). But they are also acts of balance in a larger sense – poised between sculpture and sheer stuff, between finding and making, between the former uses of the objects and new lives Denny nudges them into.


Simon Denny’s work is currently on show as part of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery touring exhibition Reboot at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu and Prospect 2007 at City Gallery Wellington. He has recently appeared in the exhibitions Don’t Misbehave: Scape 2006 in Christchurch, Break: Construct at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, and After the Situation: Moment-making at Artspace Auckland.  He is soon to show at Sprűth Magers gallery in Cologne as part of the exhibition ...what will be told of today tomorrow: KölnShow2. He is a founding member of Auckland gallery Gambia Castle.

The Visiting Artists Programme is supported by Creative NZ.


Works in the exhibition.

Laminated newsprint, Blu-Tack

Kitset ‘Banker’s box’, plastic ball, wooden dowel

And still faster
Blackboard paint and spray paint on polystyrene, dressed pine, dowel

Plastic bag and oil on canvas, laminated plastic bag, acrylic and spray paint on newsprint, MDF, Dunedin Public Art Gallery poster for the exhibition ‘Now Showing’

Close not attached
Plastic ball, laminated gloves, misprinted wrapping paper, packaging paper, kitset shelves, sellotape, earrings

Sharpening stone, found printed material, rough-sawn pine

And this only
Plastic tablecloth, gib board, fabric, spray paint, packaging paper, sellotape, pinex

Gib board, sellotape, packaging paper, laminated acrylic spray paint on canvas

MDF, pine, laminated newsprint, spray paint on packaging paper, cardboard, Blu-Tack

All works are 2007 and appear courtesy the artist and Michael Lett.


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