Didi Dunphy transforms galleries into grown-up playgrounds with her
colorful skateboards and adult-sized swings. BY GARTH JOHNSON
Didi Dunphy wants you to play with art. She that referenced quilts and contained zippers, hems,
blurs the lines between craft, art, and design and other trappings of domesticity.
with her candy-colored vinyl swings, teeter- “I sat down in my studio and tried to self-evaluate
totters, rockers, and indoor skateboards. the role of a female studio artist,” said Dunphy.
Her artwork bristles with stored energy that can Rather than deny the existence of gender roles
only be unleashed when viewers leave their adult and inequities, her work probes the sore spots
inhibitions behind and climb aboard. The objets d’art with a humorous bedside manner.
that Dunphy creates for her Modern Convenience The geometric works were followed by a series
line aren’t merely inviting — they defy spectators of tie-dyed paintings that ranged from minimal and
not to participate. monochromatic to canvases that looked like Jerry
For her recent solo exhibition called Recess Garcia exploded on them. As a finishing touch, the
Playscape, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, tie-dyed pieces were covered with a layer of shiny
Dunphy transformed a stark white gallery into a varnish to lend an air of art-world authority.
literal playground, complete with playground moni- Dunphy also created a massive body of cross-tors armed with whistles. Crowds of teenagers vied stitch samplers based on the stark, geometric
with middle-aged museum-goers for a turn in the paintings of Piet Mondrian, Ad Reinhardt, Frank
Skate area, where various Inside Skateboards deco- Stella, and others. Rather than copy the paintings
rated with padded vinyl and embroidered automo- directly, she created her own patterns based on
tive pinstriping were lined up. The white wall of the their styles. As a true pioneer of the DIY movement,
gallery was blank except for one instruction: skate. she then offered the patterns for free on her web-
The main gallery area was reserved for Modern site, so crafty fans of modern art could make their
Convenience’s line of adult-sized swings. Nine own Ellsworth Kelly aprons and Kenneth Noland
padded swings hung from industrial steel beams on placemats. Never before has the modernist grid
plastic-covered chains. The swings were the focus been so … huggable!
of the room, which was accented with minimal vinyl Abstract artist Barnett Newman said that sculp-polka dots on the floor. The tassels that hung from ture is what you bump into when you back away
each swing added to the decadence, making them from a painting to get a better look. Dunphy decided
a hybrid of modern and rococo. A third gallery to create upholstered sculpture that would be a
contained mysterious rockers that allowed riders pleasure to bump into. Her oversized vinyl building
to shimmy, twist, and invent their own movements. blocks were sent to galleries, where curators and
Every project Dunphy undertakes is accomplished installers got to decide how they’d be set up, thus
with her signature design sensibility, combining a becoming artistic collaborators.
minimalist aesthetic with an abundance of charm, These sculptures spawned her current body of
warmth, and wit. In graduate school, she rebelled work: Modern Convenience’s skateboards are pieces
against the orthodoxy of male-dominated modernist of sculpture you can ride. The genius of Modern
painting by creating hard-edged geometric canvases Convenience is that the objects are equally at home