a.d.s. donaldson

A.D.S. Donaldson is a contemporary Australian Modernist, whose practice engages with the geometric and the abstract. His work is free of ironic quotation and pastiche and cautiously, respectfully continues a tradition of Modernism. In some sense this may be accepted as a refreshing alternative to a saturation of installation and new media art. However, as some art critics have been keen to suggest, Donaldson's art may be viewed also as just another gaup of abstract geometric works in a style where the combinations of colours and shapes are limited. lt is consequently a fine line upon which Donaldson's artistic practice seems hinged, and one that inevitably makes his work quite difficult to sell. This small recent exhibition, at Pestorius's Hamilton house, highlighted such art market issues. The primary focus of the exhibition was a series of offset prints entitled Oranges (2001 ). The series included four square-format prints each composed of a differently sized orange circle set against varying backgrounds of yellow, pink, red and purple. Oranges is suggestive of previous works by the artist which explore the relative effects of two high key colours: a play of colours, highlighted also by Modernists such as Matisse and Cezanne, in which the same colour is not always perceived in exactly the same shade, depending upon how much of it there is and its adjacent colour. 

Donaldson's practice belongs to a long modernist tradition of medium specificity, production, and formal experimentation-a tradition that may appear retrograde in this postmodern era of installation and inter-media art. Yet in light of Rosalind Krauss's notion that modernism exists (now and always) through a repetition of itself, and continues by paradoxically reflecting upon its end, the problem for 'modern' artists today is not so much that their works may appear outdated but rather how they might create a modern medium-specific artwork in a post-modern environment.

Nowadays when we enter a gallery we are trained not only to consider the objects present but also to consider the surrounding space. lt is this attuned space perception that prevents a painting simply being a painting, a sculpture being a sculpture- a problem, so it would seem, for the artist who wishes to make art that is medium-specific. Their question would be: how to 'overcome' the space and rearticulate the medium?

This recent exhibition seemed to exemplify this issue. Upon entering the space it was almost impossible not to compare elements of the modernist architecture of Pestorius Sweeney House with elements of Donaldson's work. For example, the two large rectangular glass paintings also included in the exhibition, mirrored the dimensions of the gallery's glass windows. This appeared contradictory to the medium-specificity to which Donaldson's work would seem to aspire. Not only did the framing by the gallery space alter this sense of medium but also the large painting's wooden frame. Donaldson's paintings are usually left unframed thus foregrounding the process and materiality of the work. However when framed, the process becomes obscured and the materiality muted. The modernist sensibility that these works seemed to posses in their unframed state is in part lost.

So, why were these glass paintings framed? The most likely reason would be related to 'market viability'. Though the framing of the glass paintings may have forfeited some of the work's sense, it did secure a greater market potential. The unframed glass works are perhaps too unspecific to have a nominal value and by framing the works a certain preciousness is acquired. This artistic compromise to match art market realities may also be considered in relation to the print series, Oranges.

Though Donaldson 's work is indebted to modernism in its broadest sense, it is also specifically influenced by the Russian Constructivists. These artists were also highly committed to socialist ideals of bringing art to the people. To the Constructivists, the printing process was frequently used as it allowed an unlimited number of reproductions to be circulated, thus giving the masses greater access to art. Again we see with this work Oranges, with only ten sets of prints produced, a certain compromise between an artistic ideology and the realities of the art market.

This exhibition was essentially concerned with market profits rather than artistic gain. As a result this show was not, by any means, the most enlightening in Donaldson's artistic career. Though this market conscious exhibition may present some discord in particular facets of the art world, it is a reality. Artistic ideologies are not really part of this 'real ' world rather, as in the modernist sense, they are something to aspire towards.