Griffins World, 2007. Wood and wire armature, resin-reinforced fabric, celluclay, and acrlic paint, 31 x 16.25 x 14.5 in.

The Emblematic World of Joan Danziger

Joan Danziger’s uncanny sculptures do not fit into today’s fashionable art scene. Conjuring mythic, almost romantic worlds, they are the exception that proves the rule of the spiritual crisis that Donald Kuspit sees in contemporary art.1 Robert Rosenblum’s argument in Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition (1975) also comes to mind.2 In his alternative history of modern art, an important northern European mystical tradition greatly influenced artists in both Europe and America. This pioneering work opened up a line of thinking that now allows us to take for granted the landscape allusions and spirituality of Rothko and Newman.

Danziger’s work fits readily within this family of influence. But, unlike the Romantics of an earlier period, who aspired to discover secreted certainty behind the illusion of life, Danziger transports viewers into zones of ambiguity. Her strange characters refuse a unitary resolution and instead function as symbolic depictions of emotions and experiences. Her oeuvre reveals an artist awed by the power of nature and fascinated by mythology. Despite the fantastic qualities evident in these puzzling works, her inspiration, in part, stems from a knowledge of tree species from around the world. The tree is a distinct symbol in Jewish and Christian mythology, placed at the center of both the divine and the earthly Eden. Both a feminine symbol, bearing sustenance, and a masculine one, visibly phallic, trees embody longevity and endurance and are often identified with strength. Their formal structure has long captured the human imagination, the monumental vertical thrust toward the sky linking heaven and earth, while the mirroring root network reaches all that is hidden beneath the earth’s surface. More prosaically, they are places of shelter and sources of nutrition and useful materials.

Each of Danziger’s assemblages contains familiar forms as well as impenetrable tales. Recognizing the supremacy of nature and time’s inevitable effect on all matter, her magical constructions evince a poetic innocence. Before turning to three-dimensional work, she was an abstract painter, and she believes that her knowledge of abstraction’s formal language persists regardless of her current realism. Balance and order remain the foundation for works that hint at chaos and urgency. Themes of temporality, natural imbalance, and life’s majestic power inform Danziger’s recent sculptural series. An indistinct silence veils each self-contained and symbol-filled metaphorical world. Each organic arrangement contains an enigmatic language of abstraction and representation inspired by nature, allegory, and private reflection.