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Ted Rettig: The Gift

By Gil McElroy November 11, 2002

} Ted Rettig: The Gift September 29 - November 25, 2002 Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, Canada Ontario-based artist Ted Rettig is renowned for his limestone sculptures, works in which relief carvings of botanical imagery figure prominently. Less known are his wall-mounted assemblages, but it was ten years worth of these gaunt, ascetic works -six pieces in total-which comprised this exhibition at Queen's University, where he teaches. Rettig is sparing in his sculptural palette, combining and recombining the same elements in different works so that a resonant echo is set up within an exhibition environment. Black cord, tin cans, and white bricks all factor directly in a number of assemblages. Unknowing, shifting slightly in specifics, for example, comprises a large tin can run vertically through with a black cord suspended from the wall above it. Below the can a white building brick hangs from the cord courtesy an eye hook screwed into its corner. Atop one side of the brick is a small carved wooden bowl. In nothing doing, nothing known, gone fishing, gone home, a work in three parts spread horizontally across a wall, two pine cones hang from one line of black cord looped over two nails, a white brick protrudes from the wall with fine branches stripped of bark seemingly growing from its surface, and the ubiquitous tin can provides, in this instance, a spot for a wooden carving of the Buddha's head to sit. Image courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery Toronto, Ontario sleight of hand overtly links these assemblages with Rettig's earlier stone sculpture. Four wooden print blocks, each carved with the kind of stylized botanical imagery that distinguished his limestone pieces, are set in a horizontal row along a wall. From them hang identical solar calculators, suspended at the end of short lengths of black cord. The most complex piece here was also the single exception to the wall-hung rule. For Another construct, clear and not here, Rettig leaned two denuded trees trunks, each about five feet high and with all their branches cut back to short stubs, against a gallery wall. Each trunk functioned as an armature upon which objects were suspended, attached, or propped. The trunk on the left was adorned with a small bowtie television antenna, an old metal flashlight, metal drinking cup hung from the end of a short cord with small carved wooden figurine inside, a rock at the end of another cord, and several oyster shells screwed near the base of the trunk. Beside it, the other trunk sported (among other things) a small metal loop forming the symbol for infinity symbol and which echoed the shape of the tv antenna on the tree opposite, a carved wooden snake devouring its own tail, spiral sea shell dangling at the end of yet another cord, and a china plate screwed through the middle and into the tree trunk near its base. Though lacking the tactile, massive immediacy of his limestone sculptures, the lean mix of the natural and artefactual, the raw and the cooked, in Rettig's recent assemblages has an eloquence that reverberates and lingers like aftershocks long after the work has passed from view. This review originally appeared in Sculpture, April 2002. ___________________________________________ Gil McElroy is a critic, independent curator, artist, and poet currently living in Colborne, Ontario. His latest books are Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art (Gaspereau Press), and a book of poetry, Dream Pool Essays (Talonbooks). View Gil's curriculum vitae.