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Gordon Wagner


Carbojolic Calculator

Assemblage of wood, metal, and paint
19 x 18 x 10 in. (48.26 x 45.72 x 25.4 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

As I view the elegant symmetry of the Carbojolic Calculator, it conjures a range of sequential questions: is it a mysterious mechanical process? A phallic totem? An imagined railroad engine? A bit of Palladian facade topped with a grand dome? The associations are endless. It is the stuff of dreams made manifest by the artist’s insatiable curiosity and keen eye.

The Carbojolic Calculator is a new congress of old parts collected and combined by an artist who was a visual poet. Wagner, who observed and gathered disparate elements over decades of travel throughout the territories of the twentieth century, once stated, “The only place where you really understand civilization is in a dump.” The power of this work is evident through the way he reclaimed, selected, and arranged these abandoned objects. Out of the recombination rises a hyperreality of new associations and meditations on existence and meaning. The assemblage artists, and Gordon in particular, confront us with an existential point of view.

Many years ago, Gordon gave me a curio he had retrieved from the Mojave Desert on one of his many journeys there. It was an object of glass and rubber he had picked up from the dump of a now-vanished mining town, a hauntingly beatnik object, with the dry, cracked alligator “skin” of a rubber bulb and the exposure-induced iridescent surface of a glass funnel.

It was an antique breast pump. Once new and shiny, now desiccated and brittle, it was the alpha and omega of life in one object, a readymade found and appreciated by the searching artist. Similarly, the Carbojolic Calculator, with its balanced composition, iron wheels, and once-painted wood finial, invites our musing upon the culture represented by these orphaned elements. Like a cipher, it beckons us to wonder.

Michael C. McMillen

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