Mark Webb

Bellas Gallery, Brisbane
30 August - 17 September, 1988

Seduction of the senses, an essential element in the visual arts, is exploited and manipulated in Mark Webb's latest exhibition. His paintings invite one into grandiose architectural interiors, loaded with the weight of our Great Cutural Heritage. Through these images, Webb emphasizes the rhetoric so entrenched in these "public" presentations, together with the inherent power invested there. He uses the illusion of painting, its visual tricks, and the materiality of its surfaces, to attract - and then subvert.

Using a deconstructive critical discourse which hinges upon a conflation of Classicism and Modernism, Webb uses iconic and formal devices to analyse some of the conditions of artistic practice, and in doing so he pursues the postmodernist notion that reality is essentially emphemeral phenomena - open to continual redefinition and reinscription.

Webb employs "structures of identification" - stereotypes such as the Medici statue, classical interiors and fa├žades - that have become spectacles of power. He holds these images up for contemplation, not so much for their glory, as for the ideological connotations attached to them, particularly in relation to the institution of art.

In Dump Webb reveals the equestrian Medici statue alongside Romano's Fall of the Giants; a comment upon the ruin and dissolution of the Classical order which has degenerated into grandiose spectacle. He then conjoins these images with the ascetic forms of Modernism - forms which express the ultimate subject matter, the Idea - and in doing so emphasises the ultimate degeneration of all absolutes.

Direct references are also made to the absurdly terminal modernist vocabulary of Minimalism: Carl Andre's bricks, and many other works in the show reiterate the terminal modernism of Minimalist motifs. The irony is that modernism tried to purify a Classicism which had degenerated into spectacle, but in the end it only succeeded in revealing the Classical Ideal as a hollow and empty dream.

Webb shows how the Classical ideal is blown into nothingness, and in doing so he reveals the foundations upon which modern culture and power is based. And while he deals with the Classical/Modernist predicament, he simultaneously destroys the seductiveness of such familiar icons, supplanting them with his own. The intention is to subvert the existing power structure through the establishment of a dichotomy between these two opposing worlds. Nevertheless, in the very act of playing with the boundaries of these hallowed relics of art, Webb incorporates the various myths and preconceptions in a layering process that maintains its own mystery.

In Terminal a mirror image of a Baroque Hall of Mirrors is pervaded with a decadent red, exhibiting itself as a whore, as a simulated beauty. Superimposed over this luxurious interior are the words "Confess/Conceal", words which attempt to expose the illusion and exploitation underlying these images of power. In works like this Webb confronts us with the realisation that these are merely models of an ideal/real, images of authority/history, set up for posterity. Webb seeks to break down the myth of these signs, reinscribing them with a new mythical nature - in a sense playing their game.

It seems that his intention is to parody these conceptions of the "real", revealing them as mere stage-sets. Webb applies himself to images and structures - models of the Ideal - which have long occupied our collective consciousness, in order to rearrange, disarrange, and undo them, so that an energy is able to fragment their false totality and challenge their privileged status.