January 11, 2018

York University Station

The exterior view of the brand new York University subway features a graceful, winglike swoop.  It resembles a miniature Kennedy Airport and has the same lightness and fluidity as that iconic structure, which was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962.

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View of York University subway from AGYU on cold and rainy afternoon.

The new station, which is literally right across the street from the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), was a collaborative design effort between Foster + Partners with Arup Canada.  Seen from outside, the station has a lovely, rather modest scale.  It’s when the rider descends, or ascends, that the station reveals majestic curves, plunging light sources, grandly sloping glass walls and dramatic stairways.

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Making an entrance at the new York University subway station.

It’s capacious, filled with light and air and it is beautiful!

Apparently the vision for the new subway line started to take shape more than 30 years ago.  What was happening way back then, in Toronto in the mid 1980s?  One thing: getting to York University was a hassle.

Postcommodity at AGYU

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Postcommodity at AGYU

Because I arrived early  – whisked effortlessly upward, upward on the stunning new Line 1 extension – to AGYU, I was able to join the volunteers for the pre-opening stroll through the exhibition by Postcommodity.

Two of the artists who make up the collective were present, and they spoke about their work, explaining in particular the torturous relationships between the US Federal border patrols, the Mexican and Latin American migrants, and, the drug cartels, and how those relationships play out along the border.  Surprisingly, the artists expressed a stoic optimism about the situation, viewing the land itself as infinitely more powerful than the various frontier guardians and extant border walls.

Video of installation by Postcommodity (similar installation is currently at AGYU)

Looking at the artwork however – and experiencing the audio component, which is a major element of the show – did not exactly inspire optimism but rather evoked sensations of disorientation, uncertainty and dread.

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Artwork by Postcommodity

There is a lot of empty, dark space in the AGYU show.  The central room is filled with sounds – whispers and incantations – that dart about, now on your shoulder and then across the room. There is a sole projected photograph, shown above.

The tour group was asked to think about the symbolism contained within this photograph.  We viewed the  horse carcass, unflinching dogs, fence, bleakness, neglect, loneliness, general ghastliness.  (The horse as “symbol of colonialism” was mentioned but that, to me, is a stretch.  The horse is a symbol of so many things.)  We did not need to think about it too long.  It’s immediately clear.  This is a tough place to survive.

Below is another depiction, unrelated to the Postcommodity show at AGYU, of a border and hostile environment.

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Approaching Canada US border at Emerson, Manitoba

July 4, 2015

I am elated to be recovered from at least a month of labyrinthitis and to stroll up the Rail Path to Miller Street, in the intoxicating heat of this Saturday afternoon in July.

Katzman Contemporary

Part Time, Deep Time by Meghan Price

First let’s think about textiles (domestic, temporal, decorative, familial, utilitarian and in the realm of craft; the human story told in placemats, dresses and rugs) and now geology (just the opposite, encompassing the study of the Earth, the solar system, nearly incomprehensible time frames, confounding forces, speculative theory; a trail of continents, boulders, pebbles to puzzle over.)  In her exhibition at Katzman Contemporary, titled Part Time, Deep Time Meghan Price investigates this unlikely pairing and comes up with some fresh and unpredictable objects and images that seem to allude to the groping for understanding of some deep questions through the humble, practical arts.

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Metamorphic by Meghan Price

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Detail of Metamorphic by Meghan Price

I really liked looking at Metamorphic, the sculpture shown above.  The artist hand-stitched geological markings onto paper to create an embroidery of a massive boulder.  The manifestation of this eccentric idea is bold and exciting.

Meghan Price takes her knowledge of textile skills into new territory.  She weaves wire, layers and folds it, literally bastes it to rocks.

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Detail of Erratics by Meghan Price

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Detail of Wire by Meghan Price

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Installation view of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

In her piece Stratigraphy Meghan Price creates a sculpture reminiscent of a typical geologists core sample, except this one is made of screen printed fabric, variously patterned and compressed, and looking quite a bit like a towel display at Pottery Barn.

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Detail of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

I recently saw an exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada called Artist Textiles.  A number of the most familiar artists of the twentieth century (Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Matisse) were included.  In every case the artist textiles were images by these extremely famous artists printed onto fabric.  The same images could just as easily been been printed onto bookbags or mousepads.  It was like the gift shop took over the Museum.  Meghan Price, on the other hand, goes so deep into this domain that it becomes abstract, open ended and encompassing all.

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Number Please? scarf by Salvador Dali


Thin Air, Bright Light by Yi Xin Tong

While walking around the gallery I learned that Yi Xin Tong was born in Antarctica.   I couldn’t help wondering if his short films (stop action GIFs), made from found imagery of various situations playing out in a dramatically barren, snow and ice landscape, were related to this fact in some way.  Do these silent, dreamlike tableau equate to memories of early years in the deepest south?

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Installation view of short films by Yi Xin Tong

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How to Capture Penguins by Yi Xin Tong

The films, some only a second or two in length, some with a single image which flickers slightly, read as mysterious messages from another time and a stark realm.  I like the efficiency at work here, the way so much content and formal nuance is packed into these succinct artworks.

Yi Xin Tong’s carved inkjet prints on paperboard share that sense of ‘less is more.’  Quite literally, in this case, since the artist excavates the boards, tearing out the former depictions to create mysterious and playful new images upon an expressive and unifying ground of swirling striations and gouges.

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Piano Factory II by Xi Yin Tong

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Arwork by Yi Xin Tong

February 28, 2015

The Dufferin bus was suddenly drenched in a unfamiliar phenomenon: Sunshine!  We looked around, stunned, and blinked weakly.

MKG127 – Liza Eurich

What initially attracted me to drop by MKG127 and take in an exhibition by Liza Eurich was the appealing artist’s statement on the Gallery website. See below (reproduced in its entirety):

Eurich will be presenting work that: emphasizes negative space, is hollow, has a faceted surface, contains other work(s), is concealed, is layered, has multiple components, is not a multiple, is like a drawing, incorporates text, is stationary, has reticent characteristics, is monochromatic, uses straight lines only, references Agnes Martin, is fragile, consists of more than three materials, is made of ceramic, was built, is freestanding, requires a plinth, uses keyholes, uses a French cleat, is in its third iteration, is in a series of three, is positioned adjacently, is architectural, references something from an Ikea catalogue, is functional, is recognizable, does not resemble an animal, was almost omitted.

Based on this text I anticipated hardcore post-conceptual, neo-minimalist works but something about the slightly off-kilter, cannily understated writing assured me it would be fresh, distinctive and droll.

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Installation view of Liza Eurich exhibition

Just as the writing suggests, the exhibition, titled Either a New or Existing Character, is a collection of unique items with various attributes: is wood, is thin, is freestanding, hangs on the wall, painted white, stained and…. so on.  The art works are diverse but nearly all could be described as spare, restrained, subtle, precise and strangely reminiscent of some carefully crafted maquette or fragment of a maddening Ikea puzzle that just will not fit together.

The delicate piece below is fitted with what could possibly be a tantalizing scrap from an instruction manual.

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Eeeee: not for placing by Liza Eurich

I really liked the cool, deadpan industrial look of Liza Eurich’s larger sculptures.  They are so perfectly suited for some mysterious function.  Are they a tribute to the Scandanavian juggernaut on the Queensway?

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Freestanding two sided rack by Liza Eurich

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Shelving: six additions by Liza Eurich

Occasionally Liza Eurich adheres some murky graphics to her sculptures.  Apparently these images are from a single book found by the artist.  Possibly medical or antique technological illustrations, these random bits of imagery, placed with such constraint and exactitude, add to the sense of an architectural model but one that references time and atmosphere as well as structure.

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3 levels, pedestal base by Liza Eurich

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Two components, layered rectangle by Liza Eurich

Resting on a pedestal is an artpiece initally reminiscent of a vessel of some kind.  It’s made of deep black broken tiles which dip and swerve to encase a naturalistic form.  Mishapen, gnarly, almost expressive, the soft black tiles absorb and reflect light like a big lump of bitumen.

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Facets by Liza Eurich

Liza Eurich keeps her ideas on simmer and doesn’t give away too much.  I left the gallery with an appreciation for the subtle feeling of hesitancy and tension that was created.

February 20, 2015

How about those grimy ice hillocks that are lining the streets of Toronto?

I have to keep reminding myself that civilization is not breaking down.  It’s just winter.

Koffler Gallery – Kriistina Lahde

The Koffler Gallery, located in Artscape Youngplace, is the site of an exhibition by Kriistina Lahde titled ULTRA-PARALLEL.

I arrived to see the show in a completely winterized getup. The young woman at the desk immediately sprang into action and rushed up to meet me as I entered the gallery space. It took me a few minutes to figure out why this woman – charming and erudite – was so intent on guiding me around the show. The fact is that much of the work is delicately balanced and perishable. It could be easily destroyed by an unruly toddler ….or a viewer with fogged up dark glasses and a puffer coat. She didn’t want me to accidently wreck something.

It’s always so satisfying to see an art piece right in the middle of a gallery space. This show has a spectacular sculpture front and center. As light and airy as a dandelion puff ball the work is also structurally engrossing and culturally loaded.

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From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

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Details of From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

Geodesic domes must have been around forever but for me they are associated with Buckminster Fuller. He discovered that triangles arranged into a sphere create structures of incomparable strength. He tried to market geodesic domes as dwellings but they did not catch on.  (Civilization is not breaking down!)

The sculpture is made of vintage yardsticks.  Each has a glowing patina and is emblazoned with the name of a long gone hardware store or house paint purveyor.  Even the name “yardstick” is an anachronism and the use of these appealing objects, once so common as to be nearly invisible, softens the piece and adds a melancholy dimension.

Yardsticks are the raw material for another sculpture in the exhibition.  This one, depicted below, glows in a delicious curve as the wooden sticks are arrayed according to hue and balanced in a swoop.

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Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

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Detail of Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

In fact, most of the pieces in the show are created from measuring devices: A chalk reel, surveyors tape measure, vellum, sewer’s measuring tape, and the yardsticks.  Routine, utilitarian, mundane could all be used to describe these objects.  Kriistina Ladhe uses them with grace and wit not so much to transform them as to allow their brilliant versatility and simplicity to be evident in a new context.

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Detail of Parallel Lines by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of String and a Box by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of Tool for Making by Kriistina Lahde

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Greater than, less than by Kriistina Lahde

Near the entrance to the exhibition is a mysterious circular piece of steel.  It is a depiction of a meter.   The phrase “Meter: one forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth” is etched along the bottom rim of the object.  This piece has all the marks of serious tool but it is delightfully useless.

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One forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth by Kriistina Lahde

The concept of the meter goes back to the 18th century.  After the French Revolution the French Academy of Science selected this as the standard measurement unit in the new Republic.  It was believed to be one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator.  Actually they were a bit off, which is explained in an essay accompanying the exhibition.  Currently, somewhere in Geneva, the meter is defined as “the distance light travels, in a vacuum, in 1/299,792,458 seconds with time measured by a cesium-133 atomic clock which emits pulses of radiation at very rapid, regular intervals.”  Progress, not perfection.

January 15, 2015

I walked north from Dupont on Osler and then veered left to take in some of the desolate, windswept beauty of the Junction. All was bathed in a high contrast glare on this bright afternoon in deep January.

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Jessica Bradley Gallery

It was such a relief to be in the warm, friendly gallery space, filled with laconic poetry, as a succession of trains rumbled by outside.  The show at Jessica Bradley is called Signs & Symbols.

Work by a dozen artists is on display. The delivery methods are diverse but there is a definite coherence to the show: high Concept Art, detached and cool.

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Installation view of Signs & Symbols

The show got me thinking about the material manifestation of ideas and how far ranging that could be among the original Conceptual Artists: From the notion that “if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing,” (for example, Robert Smithson literally creating a new landscape) to instances whereby the object part of the art became less and less important until finally, poof!, it was gone (as in Sol LeWitt handing out some instructions).

In this exhibition, one end of the spectrum (the “less is more” end) might be occupied by Jason McLean who jots some practically illegible notes on nice thick paper and then frames them. It’s so deft and effortless, the way these particular text fragments powerfully capture some of the chaos and unmanageability of contemporary life.

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Jan 2112 by Jason McLean

(Since it is a bit hard to read I’ve excerpted a particularly appealing section below:)

loose nuts in bowl
  with kiwi &
    log on log off
      computer
         manual

Jason McLean’s poetry/sign works really well with a photograph by Geoffrey James which is hung next to it. The photograph documents a bit of signage on the exterior of The Matador. The bizarre concoction of letters on dense green paint is like a faint missive from another world, emphasizing the divide between the dull staid society where mail is delivered and the after hours parallel universe where vice and mayhem rule.

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The entrance to the Matador by Geoffrey James

Some of the work seems to be getting at the ineffable. Like a thick black, manufactured oval with glowing white letters by Kelly Mark.  It effectively reminds the viewer that life is short and eternity awaits.

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Nothing is Larger than Everything by Kelly Mark

Yes, yes….there is no time like now! I should buy a Hyundai and some cheap gas!

A piece by Robert Fones, similarly manufactured and glowing, elevates a strangely awkward command.

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What You Don’t See Displayed by Robert Fones

Tricia Middleton’s piece, painted in watery blues, is a quote from Nietzche.  It has a plaintive tone and makes a link between the courage to live life deeply and the by-product of that, which is intense suffering.

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The most spiritual human beings (Nietzshe) by Tricia Middleton

The artist Karl Holmqvist creates an ambitious installation work.  Typewritten sheets completely cover one wall and climb over a platform.  The texts share a visual similarity to the “typings” of Christopher Knowles but unlike that famous autistic artist whose pieces never waver from a single idea, this installation offers a roving commentary on such disparate topics as celebrity culture, advertising, politics, history, religion and so on.  It’s not clear if these are found texts or compositions by the author.  There are a couple of sets of headphone included as part of the installation where one can listen to what sounds like a computer with a deep, male, German accented voice reciting random words.

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Untitled (MOMA) by Karl Holmqvist

Walking back down Miller Street I had a new appreciation of the workaday announcements plastered on plateglass all around me.  What were the considerations that resulted in the final form?

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January 3, 2015

The festive torpor has come to an end and the galleries along Tecumseh Street are now open.

Sleet.

Birch Contemporary – Janice Gurney, Renee Van Halm

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Punctuation in Translation, (Marcus Aurelius meditation 10.17 translation by Meric Casaubon, 1634) by Janice Gurney

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Artwork by Janice Gurney

The snapshot above actually functions as a continuation of the conceptual art piece, called Translations & Alliances, by Janice Gurney, on display at the Birch Gallery.

And now for the explanation:

Janice Gurney begins with an ancient text by Marcus Aurelius. She isolates the punctuation in various English translation of the text.   She literally makes paintings of the punctuation marks. Then she lends the paintings, framed and under glass, to colleagues. The colleagues place the paintings in offices somewhere and Janice Gurney photographs the original paintings in their new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects. Then the photograph of one of the paintings is included in a show and Janice Gurney photographs the photograph of the original painting in a new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects…..and on and on, like a hall of mirrors.


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Reflection: Production Still (ArtLAB Gallery, 2009) by Janice Gurney

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Meditation in Your Office, (M. C.’s office, University of Toronto, 2006) by Janice Gurney

This piece is initially mystifying and would remain rather opaque without an understanding of the back story.  For example, what are the numbers near the floor, beneath the paintings (and photographs of paintings)?

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In fact 1634 is the date of the translation, the punctuation of which is depicted in the painting.

I found that putting the effort into figuring out this work is worthwhile. Through all the commotion with the photographs, punctuation marks, reflective glass and whatnot a real sense of this haunting piece of poetry and its journey through history emerges. The delicate idea of how a translator hundreds of years ago decides to place a comma stays with me. The words – a meditation – are about the brief and fleeting nature of any one thing. Paradoxically this one thing, an intangible idea, has endured.

The original 1634 translation of the Marcus Aurelius text is below:

XIX. Ever to represent unto thyself; and to set before thee, both the general age and time of the world, and the whole substance of it. And how all things particular in respect of these are for their substance, as one of the least seeds that is: and for their duration, as the turning of the pestle in the mortar once about.

In the handout that accompanies the show Janice Gurney provides complete texts of the subsequent translations through time. Excerpted below are a few examples of various translations of the original “turning of the pestle in the mortar” phrase:

1701 “turning of a Wimble”

1747 ‘”twinkling of an eye”

1862 “turning of a gimlet”

2002 “twist of a tendril”

2009 “one brief turning in air”

I wonder if the band Kansas was thinking about Marcus Aurelius when they wrote their 1978 hit “Dust in the Wind”?

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Kansas, in the seventies


Concurrently on display at Birch Contemporary is a show of paintings, called Depth of Field, by Renee Van Halm.

It’s an interesting pairing of artists:  Whereas Janice Gurney’s show explores elusive concepts of past and present Renee Van Halm’s paintings are all about the visual  “now.”

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Complex Curves by Renee Van Halm

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Tongue & Groove by Renee Van Halm

The paintings consist of pure, intense swaths of colour enclosed in sensuous curves on a background of fragmented depictions of interiors.  Renee Van Halm is on top of the language of desirable objects and she plays with the fracturing and recombining of those conventions with delicious success.  In fact, I immediately wanted to take one home, hang it over a white Carrara marble fireplace…maybe there would be an Italian greyhound slumbering in front….I’d be wearing Prada and a vintage Jaguar would be parked out front…

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Rose by Rene Van Halm

October 8, 2014

Hart House

Nestled in the U of T campus, just off University Circle, is Hart House, a student activity center which contains a gym and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, among other facilities.

John G. Hampton, the curator of the current exhibition at Hart House, titled “Why Can’t Minimal,” for some reason decided to illuminate the lighter side of the Sixties art movement known as Minimalism. (Incidently, when searching for a good Minimalism site I stumbled upon a whole new meaning of the term. Yes, there is, in fact, a second type of Minimalism: it’s an entirely contemporary social movement which advises people on how to get rid of the excess stuff in their lives in order to make room for the essentials.)

Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella (for his minimalist Black Paintings) are a few of the artists associated with Minimalism. Carl Andre, the ultimate American Minimalist sculptor, likes to say “It’s all the materials… there are no ideas hidden under those plates. You can lift them up but there is nothing there.” No hidden ideas and therefore nothing funny… about zinc plates or a pile of bricks or massive oak cubes.

Rather than actually finding the humour in Minimalism what the curator did was round up some Conceptual artists who commented on utterly humourless Minimalist standards. The result has a particular off-key, dry wit (verging on absurdity) so close to the heart of the Conceptual artist.

Some of the works in this show are delightful: John Boyle-Singfield’s Untitled (Coke Zero) references the Hans Haacke Condensation Cube of 1962, replacing water with Coke Zero. The Coke Zero does create condensation but it has also undergone a gross transformation, breaking down into its elemental components: On top, an evil looking red liquid and below, a suspicious powdery substance.

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Ken Nicol created Carl Andre Drawer Piece and got into the spirit of “truth to materials” by typing the Carl Andre quote “If a thing is worth doing once, it’s worth doing again” on 1611 index cards.

File piece

I always associate John Baldessari with Cal Arts and a particular brand of flat humour that came out of that school. In his video Baldessari “sings” each of Sol LeWitt’s 35 “Sentences on Conceptual Art” to the tune of popular songs. It must have been Christmas when he made this video because the tune sounds distinctly like a holiday carol.

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There is a certain slyness to John Marriott’s various sized cubes surfaced with pigeon-proofing strips. They also achieve a cool elegance in an incidental, i.e. Minimalist, manner.

See below for an installation view and a close up of the pigeon-proofing strips.

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University of Toronto Art Center (UTAC)

A few steps from Hart House is UTAC and an exhibition of the photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) called “We are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death.” This is a fascinating show for anyone with an interest in the Beat Generation.

A recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his 1955 poem “Howl” can be heard throughout the gallery’s rooms.

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It is, of course, primarily as a poet that Allen Ginsberg is known. These photographs however attest to his skill as a photographer (he was mentored in this ability by Robert Frank) and moreover they document a life profoundly rich in relationships, friendships and experiences.

Below, William Burroughs in 1953:

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Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles and Burroughs in 1961.

From Gary Snyder, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and Paul Bowles to Kathy Acker, Rene Ricard, and Michael McLure the pictures in this show depict so many of the literary and intellectual luminaries of the past four of five decades. Each picture includes a description, hand-written by Allen Ginsberg, identifying the subject, the date, the place and the circumstances.

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An essay by Louis Kaplan in the exhibition catalogue quotes Ginsberg as follows: “The poignancy of the photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world.” Captured here in black and white, the humble New York diners and living rooms of the fifties have disappeared forever. This show provides a glimpse of this vanished world and its inhabitants.