DAVID NOONANUntitled, 2007, silkscreen on stretched linen, 213.4 × 305 cm. Courtesy Foxy Productions, New York.

David Noonan

Palais de Tokyo
France Australia

This spring, Australian artist David Noonan had his first showing in France at Palais de Tokyo, a cavernous, open and fluid espace brut in the center of Paris. Noonan’s large, somber images—fragmented compositions of faces in make-up or masks, unbound flowers floating in the dark, statues and graphic line patterns—awaited visitors and seduced them through mysterious, illogical obscurity.

Seven of Noonan’s monochrome silk-screens, made by layering found 1970s era editorial photos of stage-performers, dance classes, graphic fragments and theater props, filled a 300-square-meter gallery. Mounted on large wood panels placed to obstruct traditional viewing conventions, the silk-screens are intended to act as “architectural interruptions” according to the official statement. The placements give the impression of a grouping of stand-alone pieces, nearly an oxymoron, and further toy with audience expectations.

In one image, actors stretch on a studio floor, their bodies forming patterns like a row of cut-paper dolls, both accentuated and obscured by Noonan’s overlay of circular and thatched graphic patterns. Another image shows only the head and face of someone completely wrapped in tissue or bandage. In a third, an actor gestures dramatically to an unseen audience, while a puffy dandelion, gone to seed, floats over his head. Noonan seems to be deconstructing known traditions of storytelling, always with a nod to drama, ritual and role-playing from the past.

A separate series of small collages on paper lines the sides of the walls and the backs of the wall supports, showing images of children and adults in arts and crafts classes. In some we see children pondering the white page, in others they hang newspaper from a clothesline or scribble on the floor. The odd juxtapositions play with the imagination, insinuating doubt about the presence of the adults: are they teachers or observers of some bizarre experiment?

Noonan’s use of dated, sepia-toned images suggests a concern with artifice and memory, while the way his subjects float up from dark grounds accentuates the obscure and emotional process of recalling the past. Offering no narrative or explanation, this fragmented layering mimics memory’s fickle nature, and needles our own impulse to seek meaning in observed phenomena.