Drawer Full of Stuff 1961
Drawer Full of Stuff is an excellent example of Greg Curnoe’s interest in Dada art from early in his career. A “readymade” in the tradition of French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, the work is literally a kitchen drawer acquired from a friend, filled with a collection of the “stuff” of Curnoe’s life. His penchant for list making appears here in the detailed record of the thirty-one items in the drawer. There are disparate items such as a “wallpaper roller left by Grandpa Porter” and a “shaving bomb from the medicine cabinet (still good).” Curnoe valued the “things” of his personal history and used them throughout his life to create his art.
This work was exhibited in An Exhibition of Things, Curnoe’s first solo exhibition in London, Ontario, in 1961 and then immediately afterward in the famous untitled Neo-Dada group exhibition at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto. Commenting on this piece in a review of the exhibition, Dada scholar Michel Sanouillet wrote, “Greg Curnoe displays an exciting genius and freshness of approach. From London, Ontario, a most improbable Dadaistic town, he brought a drawer filled with odds and ends such as we all conceal in the non-public corners of our Gracious Living Homes . . . It indicates a healthy reaction against a lethal form of stuffy conservatism which has pervaded most of this country’s artistic circles.”
One can only imagine the shaking of heads when this work was first exhibited in the art gallery of a library in east-end London.