Dean Dass: Passenger Manifest

4 May – 30 June 2024

Dean Dass received his B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa, where he studied art, philosophy and anthropology, and his M.F.A. from The Tyler School of Art at Temple University. For 35 years, Dass taught studio art at the University of Virginia (1985-2020), receiving the All-University Teaching Award in 2003, for which he was nominated by students.

Dass’s works have been exhibited and collected by important institutions nationally and internationally. Among others, these include the Brooklyn Museum, where he has been invited to participate in three National Print Invitational Exhibitions, and the international triennial exhibition, Graphica Creativa, Jyväskylä, where he was the recipient of a Juror’s Prize. His works have been included in important juried and invitational exhibitions at museums in Poland, Brazil, England, Finland, the Netherlands, and Egypt, as well as in many university and private galleries in the US and abroad. He was the recipient of the State of Pennsylvania Arts Council Individual Fellowship, the State of Virginia Commission for the Arts Printmaking Prize, the State of Virginia Commission for the Arts Individual Fellowship, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Individual Fellowship, and multiple research grants and fellowships from the University of Virginia.

 

About this exhibition, art historian Victoria Beck Newman writes:

 ‘Passenger Manifest,’ the title of Dean Dass’s new exhibition at Les Yeux du Monde, provides an important key to the artist’s entire body of work. There are grand landscapes transfigured by glowing orbs of light, works on paper depicting delicate, gilded outlines of nude figures floating within stained clouds of soft colors and glittering air, and collages featuring symbolic entities such as birds, tents, fireflies, and helmets, which appear in invented but strangely familiar sky spaces. Assembled books in which ancient narratives of human history are retold on handmade pages bearing storied imagery and cribbed ciphers add another powerful component to the exhibition. To look at Dass’s art in this show is to find your name on that list of voyagers.

Every aspect of Dass’s inspiration and process – what he calls his “constellation of factors” – is present in these new pieces, which collectively represent the cosmic expedition in which we all participate. His unorthodox practice yields work which queries many and diverse realms of knowledge through natural base components such as plants, dirt, water, oils, and minerals – materials that are proximate in the world. Where these investigations often lead, however, is not near to us, at least not in a physical way. Glimmerings of something beyond the material present – an interior space of self, the mysterious sublime, and other distant worlds – the space of Dass’s “eternal” – manifest through fragile figures depicted in vulnerable contexts, sudden, startling flares of orange light in a deeply blue oil field, and the inexorable spread of animate clouds across a large, layered ground of wax, paint, paper, and board.

‘Passenger Manifest,’ the show’s title piece, is characterized by soft color washes and elegant figuration transposed over rich layers of handmade paper. Yet the lyrical beauty of floating bodies and clouds is belied by a dark and epic dissonance. The pervasive sense of the miraculous and sublime is countered by an undercurrent of chaos, yearning, confusion, and loss. In this work, a collective of figures and forms emerge across what the artist recognizes as “the dispersed field,” a space of fragments and parts where, as Dass has said, “nothing adds up anymore.” These cosmic wanderers (we) are related to drawn images of a young pilot based on a tiny action figure toy who is not in control of his ship and whose trajectory is unknown. The birds, helmets, and clouds of other works suggest the poignant and perhaps incompatible juxtaposition of human aspiration and vulnerability with the need for protection from what we and the universe at large are manifesting in the present time. As Dass notes, “Even the idea of looking, looking up, into the future, as it were… that’s the human predicament, and we’re all just passengers.”

 

Dass began working with LYDM founder Lyn Bolen Warren in 1985 and has been an integral part of Les Yeux du Monde’s program for nearly forty years. It would be impossible to overestimate his contributions to our gallery, the Charlottesville art community, the University of Virginia, and the broader mid-Atlantic cultural scene. It is an honor and privilege to host this twelfth solo exhibition of his work at LYDM.