Glass visits Robert Therrien’s enchanting exhibition of works from 1975-1995 at Parasol Unit

Through The Looking Glass – Glass visits Robert Therrien’s enchanting exhibition of works from 1975-1995 at Parasol Unit


Blue Oval 1983

No title (blue oval), 1983. Photograph: Douglas M Parker Studio

A PAINTED wood mirror, an oversized, protruding and impenetrable keyhole, butterflies frozen in metal and wood and a snowman cast in bronze populate Robert Therrien’s exhibition of works from 1975-1995, currently on display at Parasol Unit.

Butterfly Post 1990

No title (butterfly post), 1990. Photograph: Alessandro Zambianchi

Therrien’s works present a charming contrariness with their exploration and appropriation of material and form, playfully challenging our recognition of quotidian objects that are often derived from the domestic, abstracted and morphed through the artist’s process into storybook silhouettes. On this Therrien has said, “I try to stay with themes or objects or sources I can trace back to my personal history. The further back I can trace something as being meaningful to me in some way or another…the more I am attracted to it.”

Robert Therrien Snowman 1985
No title (snowman), 1985. Photograph: Douglas M Parker Studio

A toppling wooden bowl stacked on two columns in a sculpture dated 1986 prefigures Therrien’s works from the mid-nineties: iconic stacks of oversized ceramic epoxy fibreglass saucers and seminal work, Under the Table (1994), which consists of a giant kitchen table and chairs. Such works transport viewers into fantastical landscapes, placing the participant within scenes reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland through their disruption of scale, prompting notions of childhood nostalgia, youthful wonderment and psychological displacement with their exaggerated dimensions which dwarf the viewer.

Saucer Cubes 1986No title (saucer cubes), 1986. Photograph: Douglas M Parker Studio

Often placed within the movement of Minimalism alongside contemporaries such as Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and David Smith, the exhibition illustrates Therrien’s inexhaustible exploration of form, with iterations of motifs such as a water pitcher evolving through various media, scales and colour, or the outline of a simple house morphing into a chapel and eventually a church with steeple. Similarly, a snowman motif from the early 1980s comprised of three vertically stacked circles by the late 1980s alchemises into horizontal black clouds, eventually culminating in a quietly humorous steel sculpture of a cloud replete with tap faucets by the early 1990s.

Robert Therrien Yellow Spout 1990No title (pitcher with yellow spout), 1990. Photograph: Gene Ogami

Blue Snowman 1985No title (blue snowman), 1985. Photograph: Thomas Lannes

Robert Therrien Cloud with Faucets 1991No title (cloud with faucets), 1991. Photograph: Douglas M. Parker Studio

The enchantment that Therrien derives from this alchemical process is evident throughout the exhibition, in which works are tied together by their painterliness, each work recording the hand of the artist. This consistency of gesture lacks the apparent detachment of the majority of Minimalists, though Therrien’s similarity to the movement is apparent in his forms’ economy of means and inexhaustible iterations as he strives to capture the metaphysical essence of each object. The works appear to share the rigorous and simultaneously charming sensibility of artists such as Fischli / Weiss, retaining a degree of accessibility with forms that often suggest anthropomorphic qualities, perhaps best illustrated in the exhibition by ‘No title (bent cone)’, 1986.

Installation view oct 2016

Installation view, October 2016

The surreal element of Therrien’s work can be seen in his large wall-mounted works, such as ‘No title’ (1976) which is mounted close to the ground, as though it were a porthole into another world.  Through Therrien’s singular voice and practice which defies easy categorisation, visitors to this exhibition of early works are transported into a refreshingly analogue universe that elevates the ordinary into the joyous.

Purple Arch 1976No title (purple arch), 1976. Photograph: Alessandro Zambianchi

by Rowena Chiu

Robert Therrien: Works 1975–1995 is on display at Parasol Unit until  December 11. With thanks to Kirsteen Cairns and Parasol Unit

Leave a Reply