VAN HOUT, Ronnie;

Dimensions Variable

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Spray paint on board
Dimensions variable

Ronnie van Hout originally designed Dimensions Variable, a frieze of spray-enamelled hard board shapes, to hang horizontally in a band across a wall, but it can in fact be configured in many different ways, as the title implies. The artist has written of the work:

‘The individual shapes are based on the floor plan of the famous modernist house in Utrecht, Holland, designed in 1923 by architect Gerrit Rietveld. The idea is to show a relationship between differently shaped pieces and to the whole work within any environment in which it is placed. The sprayed surfaces make the individual pieces look as though they are made of either rock or metal. They are in fact a type of camouflage and create a sense of artificiality because the shapes are not what they seem to be. The fragmented nature of the work conveys the idea of an unfinished project which is perhaps completed only when the viewer attempts to find a unity within its structure.’

Stephen Cain has likened the shapes to ‘impersonal writing read by an electronic information processing system’. The work has resemblances to the New York neo-geo movement, which parodies formalist abstraction, finding worldly references in what was meant to transcend the world. Instead of hard edges and pure squares of colour, the viewer is presented with designs for prisons or plans for electronic circuitry. Van Hout’s work is playing with modernist shapes (their pedigree in Rietveld is impeccable). Dislodged from their original architectural context, however, they become mute. The integrity of modernism is lost in a smart joke.

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Exhibition History

A Very Peculiar Practice: Aspects of Recent New Zealand Painting, curated by Allan Smith, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, 10 June to 3 September 1995