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Roland Reiss


The Dancing Lessons: From Ignorance to Understanding

Wood and plastic
14 x 24.25 x 24.25 in. (35.56 x 61.595 x 61.595 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

Throughout most of his career, Roland Reiss has worked in series. The Dancing Lessons is the series that brought him his first and, to this day, most notable success. As the subtitle for this work suggests, it, like all the works in the series, is about much more than just dancing.

Each plastic box in The Dancing Lessons contains a hermetically sealed little universe, a stage for a human drama that has recently occurred. As viewers we are compelled to become sleuths, studying the clues and constructing them into a narrative. Even though the clues never make the what and why of the scene explicit, Reiss always had precise ideas in mind. In general, his Dancing Lessons are allegories for the lessons we learn in life.

At the heart of From Ignorance to Understanding is a contemplation of the process by which American youths are taught to function as part of society. Reiss imagined an iconic place and time: a dance hall above a hardware store in small-town America (California in this case, as the state fl indicates) in the mid-twentieth century. The chairs here are surrogates for students, attentively arranged around the blackboard. The teacher’s pointer is perched on a stool, directing attention to chalk-written lessons. Lunchboxes, books, and other accoutrements are strewn around the room, reinforcing the sense of recently present impressionable young minds.

Nothing in this, or any other Reiss artwork, is accidental. Each object in his sculptures is carefully placed and considered. The view through each pane of his clear plastic boxes reads like a meticulously composed painting. The initial impetus for the tableaux came from Reiss’s rigorous drawing practice. For years, he would draw for one hour each night before he went to bed. One evening, as he was looking at one of the drawings, he imagined it as a window looking into a stagelike scene. And thus this fertile genre was born.

Mike McGee

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