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Features / September 1, 1989

Tom Dean: The World As I Saw It

Tom Dean’s Girl looks like a skirt, or, as its creator describes it, like “a body cut off at the waist.” Others might see it as a strangely funereal flower. An upended vessel. An exotic essay in stillness and motion (its prow-shaped crown cuts through space). A mourning of maidenhead in which, says Dean, “the object of desire is both elevated and concealed” under soft folds of form.

The objects stands at the beginning of Dean’s new body of work, and in the aftermath of his extraordinary Excerpts from a Description of the Universe, the sequential sculptural project that was the artist’s sole creative preoccupation from 1984 to 1987. If the Excerpts were words, fragments, then the new fabric pieces, like Girl, are the artist’s first attempts at whole sentences. In all, the Excerpts include some 300 objects designed to be laid out—specimen-like on 40 custom-built tables. Each one is an experiment in Dean’s perennial concerns: stillness and thrust, horizontality and verticality, interior and exterior, sameness and difference, transformation and stasis. These concerns should not be mistaken with the merely formal; what makes them compelling is their closeness to our origins, to the basic currency of consciousness.

So begins our Fall 1989 cover story. To keep reading, view a PDF of the entire article.

Sarah Milroy

Sarah Milroy is chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.