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The American art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the expression anxious object for the type of contemporary art which makes the viewer feel uncertain about the nature of the art experience.  An anxious object has a certain subversive quality which undermines our expectations of what constitutes a genuine work of art. It evokes a feeling of uncertainty as to how we should react; it provokes a response but never dictates the nature of the response.

Arthur Wicks is the great master of the anxious object in the context of Australian art.  His fantastic functionless machines, bizarre structures and solemn performances relate directly to the machines constructed by Dada and Surrealist artists earlier this century which made us question the belief in a rational technological future.

The Armoured Car (No.1) which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, like its predecessor the Survival Boat, is a complex structure which reverses the last century of automation creating a machine which maximises the effort and minimises the mobility.  It is constructed out of simple, natural objects with wooden spokes for wheels, which inevitably causes one to question the ideas of locomotion, the environment, progress and man's impact on a finely balanced ecology.  There is also a questioning on a much more personal level concerning the vanity of human ambition; the desire to become an alchemist and to defy the natural laws.

Although Arthur Wicks was born in Sydney, he has chosen to live in Wagga, away from the big urban centres.  Much of his art has an ecological approach and is constructed with items from his immediate environment; yet he uses these materials to make comments about flying machines or Solstice Voyeurs.  His Landing Strip (No.2) consists of a constructed stage with oil on linen to which branches have been attached which are literally being used as landing strips by tiny toy aircraft. The concept is funny and absurd, in a sense a pun on  landing strip , but implied in the work is a whole series of questions which each of us has to face individually.

Arthur Wicks's Proposals is a series of provocations designed to make us stop and question where we are going.  His series of witnesses and guardians alert us to an approaching chaos, but there is no easy panacea suggested except the need for courage, humour and a personal quest.

Sasha Grishin
Extract, The Canberra Times, Monday, August 26, 1991,


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