wood, galvanised steel and synthetic polymer paint and varnish
28 × 27.5 × 2.5cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with the assistance of stART, MCA Young Patrons, 1993
Aleks Danko describes the face in this painting as that of an idiot. This brainless, disembodied head is a recurring motif in his work, first appearing in Taste in 1988 and again in the installation Taste: the DUH-HEADS in 2013. With its staring eyes and foolish grin it could register any emotion, from surprise to terror to embarrassment. Danko uses it to signify a kind of mindlessness, clustering a number of the vacantly staring faces in his installations to create a sense of a mob mentality; the unthinking and unblinking conformity of the crowd.
The face itself has an important historical precursor: it is based on a child-like drawing in Plate 1, ‘The sculptors yard’, from the book The Analysis of Beauty (1753) by the English artist William Hogarth. Hogarth’s analysis centred on what he called ‘the line of beauty’ – a serpentine S-shaped curve that created elegance, grace and variety in composition. That line is entirely absent from Hogarth/Danko’s simple red face, originally used by Hogarth to demonstrate the artistic simplicity of a naive style, ‘composed merely of such plain lines as children make’ and displaying ‘the most contemptible meanness that lines can be formed into’.
These kinds of aesthetic judgments and pronunciations on beauty made by satirists like Hogarth are precisely what Danko embraces and employs in his art practice. Danko reprises the simple drawing as a wood and steel sculpture that refers to the history of his own use of the motif, and also to its longer history as an example of the ‘unartistic’, to continually critique any imposed idea of ‘good’, ‘bad’ or constructed taste. The recurrence of this face in Danko’s work is a reminder of the importance of independent thought, outside the bounds of convention and conformity.
Updated and approved August 2016.
 William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty. Written with a View of Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas of Taste, J. Reeves, London, 1753, p.124.
The original taste installation consisted of 34 cousins that form rows of diminishing stick-like figures looking at a fluorescent red, topiary-like structure. The work is a form of theatre whereupon the viewer is being watched by a sculptural audience. Aleks Danko, 2015.
Born 1950, Adelaide, South Australia. Lives and works Daylesford, Victoria
Aleks Danko’s career spans over three decades and encompasses diverse media – from sculpture and installation to text and language-based works. Drawing actively on Australia’s political and cultural history, his work is infused with satirical humour and a subtle critique of contemporary social values.
Danko studied sculpture at the South Australian School of Art in 1967–70 and began exhibiting in 1970 in Adelaide. Since then he has held over 40 solo exhibitions and his work has been selected for a number of national and international exhibitions and collections. His solo exhibitions include the survey show My Fellow Aus-tra-aliens at the MCA, Sydney and Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2015); Pointless (more or less), Milani Gallery, Brisbane (2013); illy-dally/so-so/shippy-shoppy?/ho-ho/hanky-panky?/bye-bye … shopping for and with the un-dead (yu-ah-tish-yu-ah remix), Sutton Projects, Melbourne (2012); Chatter … and more chatter upstairs, Milani Gallery, Brisbane (2009); and Some cultural meditations 1949–2006 (just a little bit of ethnic folk art), Sutton Gallery, Melbourne (2006).
Danko’s group exhibitions include Maria, The Alderman, Melbourne (2015); Impressions 2014, Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne (2014); Art Museum, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney (2013–14); Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2013); Trams: Moving Pictures, The Old Treasury Building, Melbourne (2012); Born to Concrete: The Heide Collection, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2011); The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010); Mortality, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2010); Contemporary Australia: Optimism, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2008–09); and International 04, Liverpool Biennial, UK (2004). Danko’s work is held in many public collections, including the British Museum, London; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Australia’s major state and regional galleries; and university and private collections.Learn more