Aleks Danko has an eye – and an ear – for the humour in art and in life. His earliest works, in the 1960s and 70s, toyed with sculpture and its turn towards conceptual art. But his dry wit soon found its target in the social mores of mainstream Australia, a rich vein that Danko has dug into throughout his career.
Having completed a Diploma of Fine Art (Sculpture) at the South Australia School of Art, Adelaide, in 1970, Danko immediately gained attention as one of the new generation of conceptual artists. When art collector and philanthropist John Kaldor invited the ascendant Swiss curator Harald Szeemann to Australia in 1971 to survey contemporary Australian art as the second Kaldor Art Project, Szeemann included Danko in the first major exhibition of conceptual art in the country, I Want to Leave a Nice Well-done Child Here. Kaldor’s first and still best-known Art Project had been Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia 1968–69. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had become famous for wrapping objects and monuments, and swathing a section of Australian coastline in erosion-control fabric was their most ambitious project to that point. A documentary photograph of Wrapped Coast and one of their ‘package’ works represented them in the Mildura Sculpture Triennial in 1970. Aleks Danko was also in the triennial, and his own wrapped sculptures are clearly a humorous take on the international artists’ practice.
There is more to works such as The Danko 1971 Concept of Sculpture. SCULPTURE as being the elusive object HA! than simple pastiche. Danko was influenced by Marcel Duchamp, whose work he had seen in Marcel Duchamp: The Mary Sisler Collection at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1968. Duchamp’s designation of ready-made objects as artworks, beginning with Bicycle Wheel 1913, had an unfolding influence on artists throughout the twentieth century. By the 1960s, the ready-made – exemplifying idea over material form – had taken on a foundational significance to conceptual artists. Danko’s works from 1971 were assembled from prefabricated and found materials. Many of Duchamp’s materials came from the hardware store, but Danko’s found objects appear salvaged, as if they were new at the time Duchamp was shopping for a snow shovel or bottle rack decades earlier. Yet the resemblance of Danko’s works to Duchamp’s is strongest in the wordplay and jest of their titles. As Danko remarked in an interview with critic and surrealist painter James Gleeson, ‘the level of humour in it for me is very important, especially in those earlier works where they were sending up certain aesthetic notions’.
The Danko 1971 Concept of Sculpture. SCULPTURE as being the elusive object HA! is a neatly wrapped rectangular object resting on a weathered sack trolley. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Package on Hand Truck 1973 is strikingly similar. Danko borrowed Duchamp’s methodology of the ready-made and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s trope of concealment to tackle the evaporation of the sculpted object; he managed to have his cake and eat it too by making an object that is effectively exiting the gallery, a ‘post-object’ ready for shipping elsewhere. As the title and knowingly pompous plaque state, this is Danko’s ‘Concept of Sculpture’, an object that is present but wrapped and ready to be carried away. Curator Max Delany suggests that it points to the ‘failure of conceptual and post-object art to dematerialise the object and stem the tide of romantic, figurative sculpture in the expressive tradition’. The title ends with an emphatic ‘HA!’, a syllable that has rippled across Danko’s oeuvre and rings as much with the canned laughter of 1970s’ sit-coms as defiant exclamation. It is a ‘take that!’ from a young artist taking a position in contemporary art at a time of enormous flux.
Francis E. Parker is Curator – Exhibitions, Monash University Museum of Art.
 Aleks Danko interviewed by James Gleeson, 27 August 1979, transcription, James Gleeson oral history collection, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, p.4, nga.gov.au/Research/Gleeson/pdf/Danko.pdf, accessed 3 November 2016.
 Max Delany, ‘Skeletons in the closet: from the monument to the model – sculpture in the collection’, in Jenepher Duncan and Linda Michael (eds), Monash University Collection: Four Decades of Collecting, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 2002, p.48.