Andrea Dezsö: Dreamtime

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Dec 1, 2015 5:32PM

This fall, Virginia MOCA presents the stunning exhibition entitled, Andrea Dezsö: Dreamtime. As an artist, her childhood interests and adult investigations have met and intersected. Dezsö honors the wonder and awe that accompanies new ideas and discovery. She creates visionary, detailed work across a broad spectrum of media. This includes embroidery, drawing, ceramics, mosaic glass, and animated short films. Traditions of Hungarian folk art have left their mark on Dezsö’s work. Embroidery and ceramics often used botanical motifs, intricate and abstracted, float on monochromatic backgrounds.  Dezsö often refers to folk craftwork with flattened silhouettes echoing the flora from her heritage. Her interpretation tightens and contemporizes.  At MOCA, the plants live underwater, or perhaps in space, the small figures are dancing cuttlefish or slippery strange aliens. Her pieces range from witty, sly critique to grand homage to nature, color and the suggestion that magic dwells within the deep recesses of our minds.  

Andrea Dezsö: Dreamtime. Photograph by Adam Gurvitch 

Dezsö spent her childhood in Transylvania, Romania, which was part of the Communist Bloc. Communist regimes are for shortages of basic necessities and deprivation. Dezsö’s creative mind found self-created outlets of expression. Her focus centered on books. They expanded on subjects that captured her imagination like space travel, entomology and folk tales. She found full freedom by exploring her infinite internal landscape.

Belief systems and ideas are subject to erosion when placed new environs and contexts. As such, she creates her own enclosed environments from which her ideas, thoughts and creations can incubate and thrive. Very subtlety, she investigates societal structures erected to maintain power imbalances.  In this context, Dezsö’s tunnel book, Woman in Red by Power Lines, makes a bold assertion.  The woman, a tiny figure among the transmission towers, frolics barefoot, her hair free and her red dress flying.  Against their phallic, static forms she exudes movement and life, defying the structures that set the boundaries of her world. She interacts with a small swing hung from powerlines above.  Given a moment of pause we may wonder if the freedom of self-expression is worth the risk of personal safety and can only conclude that it is.

Andrea Dezsö: Dreamtime. Installation view at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Photograph by Glen McClure

Both Hieronymus Bosch and the self-taught Henry Darger are obvious artists to compare to Dezsö. But, there is an element of joy that perhaps speaks more to others in art history. Their stage-like presence allows for an easy connection to early French filmmaker Georges Méliès and his film A Trip to the Moon (1902).  Both Méliès and Dezsö’s work inspire awe and push the boundaries of the fantastic. However, Dezsö’s flights of fancy are clearly self-referential and contain critique of society rather than mere alternatives to it.   

MOCA’s exhibition presents both Dezsö’s small tunnel sculptures and large-scale tunnel installation. The smaller tunnel books begin as two dimensional drawings. Dezsö cuts, stacks and sews the layers together. Each piece is reminiscent of a theater stage and hints at a unique story. The resulting structure stands open like an accordion to create a three dimensional scene.  Tunnel books themselves have a long history that begins as early as the 18th century. They are sometimes called peepshow books.  When we see one, it offers only a small peek into another world. 

Andrea Dezsö. Gentle Beast Hiding behind Molten Lava, 2009. Tunnel book with cotton rag paper, linen thread and acrylic paint. Courtesy of Pucker Gallery, Boston. 

It is easy to focus on the figures and not spend time on the backgrounds. But, the glimpse of each world relies on the physical structure or scenery that Dezsö has provided. For example, in Face Hiding Among Ferns, the plants serve to obscure and redefine, changing a simple portrait into a mystery. Why are the faces camouflaged? What happens if they are discovered?  In Gentle Beast Hiding Behind Molten Lava, dark red lava flows surround a large-eyed, soft-furred creature. Many questions spring to mind: Is it trapped or is it in its native habitat, is it lonely or hiding? Better still, if these images are metaphors, who are these quiet creatures that need to hide to be safe?

These questions only continue upon viewing the large-scale installation. The structures suggest a subterranean cave found hidden in the briny depths. New species of sea life wiggle and fan out within a great, yawning mouth. They serve as structure and support for the bizarre characters that frolic within their realm. They invoke a desire to delve in to be part of the fantastic world and an instinctive need to save and protect its fragile beauty.

Andrea Dezsö: Dreamtime. Installation view at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Photograph by Glen McClure

Andrea Dezsö is an artist and illustrator who exhibits in museums and galleries around the world. She has created permanent public art installations for the New York City subway system, the US Embassy in Bucharest, Romania and at CUNY BMCC Fiterman Hall in Lower Manhattan. She illustrated the recently published The Complete First Edition Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes. Dezsö is represented by the Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York and Pucker Gallery in Boston.

By Heather Hakimzadeh, Curator. Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art