Goethe's Girlfriend

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Installation view © Courtesy of the artist & Brennan & Griffin
Goethe's Girlfriend

122 Norfolk Street
New York, NY 10002
March 8th, 2014 - April 13th, 2014
Opening: March 8th, 2014 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

east village/lower east side
Wed-Sun 11-6

Dave McDermott <>
to Kathryn, James


So the title of the show is a reference to a footnoted passage from Goethe's autobiography (From My Life: Poetry and Truth, 1811-1830). He refers to a young woman as his first love, but there is a footnote for this passage. The footnote, rather hilariously, reads "Here Goethe was mistaken. His first love was actually..." To me it's a rather fantastic (albeit unintentional) absurdist take on the relationship between reality and representation, and how they constantly redefine one another. 

To back up for a minute -  I see art, and specifically for me, painting, as a line of inquiry. This is closely related but different than purely reactionary painting, where one is just trying to represent or record what's there. It's way different than sociological or politically based art, that presents itself with an external agenda that wants to teach something or plead some case to us. I'm not really interested in either of those things. I'm vitally interested in trying to define some sense of order out of the chaos that is human nature, and that gets back to the relationship between what we call reality and the representation of that so-called reality. I'm asserting that representation and reality are so linked that they confuse us. There is no objective real, but a whole host of realities that we see reflected back to us through art, advertising, literature, music,science, etc. They come from everywhere, really. We mix them up and base our lives on a hodge-podge of fictions that are trying to tell individual truths. It's a bit of a mess. And it is so convoluted that it becomes opaque and impenetrable, and goes beyond seeing and into feeling. We can't objectively identify every signifier that makes us who we are, but we can instantly identify the feelings they instill in us. But what makes this specific kind of opacity compelling is that it's formed by the layering of an infinite number of things that we do know how to experience and understand on an individual level. So that's what I'm trying to capture in my painting - a sense of this feeling of opacity formed by so many layers of meaning and references. This gets back to what I've talked about before, creating a sense of order in the work while having the overall meaning remain distant, but palpable as a vibe of some sort, most often in my work as sense of intentional in-betweenness. 

Ok, back to the show. This opacity I spoke of results in making life, in my opinion, rather absurd. I thought this sentiment was echoed really nicely in that footnote. The idea of, centuries after the fact, correcting someone's feeling of love is hilarious to me. So I took that idea and ran with it, and created a kind of fantasy narrative where this character of Goethe is running around trying to find his first true love. It's a metaphor for the circular lunacy of human nature, and how we complicate it, and then try to sort it out, over and over. There are, as usual, tons of references to the history of image making in all forms. There's also a running theme of duality in the show - as truth:fiction, self:other, reality:representation, image:object. For example Goethe is represented simultaneously as two people - as a Santa Claus character and also as a Fellini-esque director/impresario character in a top hat and mustache, each of these characters representing a different aspect of the psyche. And this duality is mirrored in the work itself, as the paintings emphasize their construction and presence as objects as much as they do their presence as images.

Ok, that's a long winded start for you. Feel free to ask my help in whittling it down. Most of this is just to give you an idea of where the work is coming from. Probably way too complicated for a PR.




Dave McDermott was born in 1974 and lives and works in Brooklyn. He received his MFA from the Parsons School of Design in 2007.  Previous Solo and Two-person exhibitions include: The Power and Influence of Joseph Wiseman (2013) and A Rake's Progress (2011), Grimm - Amsterdam, NL; Pleasure Centre, Twig - Brussels, BE (2012); Black Medicine (w/ Nick van Woert), Room East - New York, NY (2012);  Tot (2012) and The Modern Temper (2011), Duve Berlin - Berlin, DE.  McDermott has been awarded residencies at the Zabludowicz Collection in Sarvisalo, Finland (2010) and Frans Masareel Centrum in Belgium (2008).  This is McDermott's first Solo Exhibition with Brennan & Griffin.