May 9, 2015

….More Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

There are CONTACT exhibitions everywhere in Toronto this month; a coffee shop around the corner from me on Dundas West, the local organic supermarket even!  Hard to get a good look at them through the vegetable misters, but they are there.

Bau-Xi Photo – Chris Shepherd

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Kennedy Station Platform by Chris Shepherd

Is the essential character of a city reflected in its transportation systems or do the systems help to create the character?  Think of the glamour of Montreal’s metro; its bold graphic styling and silently approaching trains, or the romance of New York’s subway, permanently embedded like its famous black and white, art deco tiles.  Relatively, Toronto’s underground transportation has seemed somewhat mundane, workaday and all about function.

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Pape Exit by Chris Shepherd

Chris Shepherd gets at the heart of the form and function connection in his exhibition at Bau Xi Photo.  (I am actually the owner of some subway shots Chris Shepherd and I think it is because of looking at these photographs that I began to appreciate the aesthetic of Toronto’s subway.)  Sadly, it is not glamour or romance that is at the core of Toronto; it is work.  And the Toronto subway is in total harmony.  The photographs of Chris Shepherd show us the modest pathways to our daily grind and reveal their perfection.

From BlogTO I learned the following:

The colours were chosen to discourage rowdy behaviour and loitering rather than for aesthetic reasons.  Consequently, they have that institutional quality of hospital or penitentiary walls.  For many years, Torontonians grumbled that their subway stations looked like public washrooms.  But now, decades later, the remaining designs have become Modernist classics.

There has been a recent flurry of TTC projects to improve and concurrently embellish the existing underground system.  It’s exciting to see a little civic preening going on in this city so focused on dogged achievement.

At Dufferin Station, Winnipeg artists Eduardo Aquino and Karen Shaski (of spmb) add blooms of pure colour, and big pixilated images to transform one of the most heavily used and rundown station of the Bloor line.  Chris Shepherd documents this unrestrained use of colour so well.  We can only hope it does not lead to loitering or rowdiness.

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Dufferin Station by Chris Shepherd

And finally the hoardings have come down at Union Station.  Big, messy,  sketchbook style line drawings by Stuart Reid are revealed.  The drawings, depicting TTC riders, have been blown up and transposed onto glass panels.  They are fresh, unexpected, thoughtful, sensitive and kind of a shock relative to the relentless TTC grids and tiles.

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Union Station panels by Stuart Reid

My current work address is near the Ferry terminal at the bottom of Bay Street.  Wandering around the area at lunch time gives me the feeling the plastic wrap is coming off.  Everything is shiny, clean and has that new car smell.

Across the street from me, draping the exterior of the Westin Harbour Castle Conference Center at 11 Bay Street is a public installation (also part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival) titled Best Beach by Sarah Anne Johnson.  The piece is particularly stunning when seen from within the Waterpark food court at mid-day.  At that time the whole place is flooded with light and Sarah Anne Johnson’s piece looms over the oblivious diners, glowing and shimmering in the daylight.

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Views of Sarah Anne Johnson’s piece Best Beach from the Waterpark food court at 10 Bay Street

It is a huge photograph and it sweeps across the entire end of the food court’s massive plane of windows like some giant playground graffiti, messy, dripping, flourescent and joyful.

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Best Beach by Sarah Anne Johnson

MOCCA  – Part Picture

The exhibition at MOCCA, called Part Picture, is also associated with the Scotiabank CONTACT event.  On entering the show there is a statement clarifying the curatorial rationale for the pieces included.  The artists in this exhibition, declares the statement, must be:

  1. young
  2. reacting against digital photography, and,
  3. combining photographs with another creative medium, like painting or sculpture

Why Jan Groover is included I do not know?  She was born in 1943 and became well known in the 1970s for close up, vaguely feminist, domestic interiors.  Maybe its because they are truly painterly and reminiscent of a Braque still life in purples, greens and reds?  In any case I appreciated seeing these beautiful photos.

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Untitled by Jan Groover

Painterly too are the photos by James Welling.  It’s interesting that James Welling has worked for Brioni (the Italian fashion conglomerate) because these prints resemble nothing so much as pretty dress fabric.

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14Y by James Welling

Works by Ryan Foerster are more in line with the stated intentions of the show and truly take photography into another realm.  Eschewing the tradition of pristine craftsmanship in a dust free darkroom, Ryan Foerester uses mangled photo plates, chance and accidents of light, dirt and debris to create wonderfully expressionist pieces with a particular Petri-dish gore appeal that reads as post apocalyptic.

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Artwork by Ryan Foerster

Ellen Carey’s Mourning Wall is composed of spent Polaroid plates.  They have a dreary, grey, funerary look and are arranged in the finest tradition of minimalist sculpture.  This piece made me think about the brief flowering of unique technologies.  (How exciting Polaroid once was!  Why did I throw my Commodore 64 in the trash?!)  Ellen Carey extends the metaphor of obsolescence, death and decay with the Rust Belt aesthetic of this work.

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Mourning Wall by Ellen Carey

Slick reams of photo paper tumble in heaps; snapshots sprout cables or have little blanket covers attached; but more typically, in this show, photographs take on a more painterly look, moving away from documentation, the traditional province of photography, and closer to objecthood, and marketability.

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68 by Mariah Robertson

November 19, 2014

We are suddenly plunged into Polar Vortex hell, again.

I hurried through the steady snow in mild panic.

Vera Frenkel at MOCCA

Ways of Telling is the name of the MOCCA exhibition of Vera Frenkel’s work. The entirety of the MOCCA plant is packed to overflowing with Vera Frankel art pieces: There’s an early video piece in the lobby, curtained off with black drapes; two different books on Vera Frenkel’s art are prominently displayed and on sale at the reception desk; both of the large exhibition spaces are filled with Vera Frankel’s video projections, installations, numerous large collages and documentation of art pieces from the past.  Here and there holes are punched right through walls so the viewer doesn’t have to miss anything.

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Installation shots from Ways of Telling

An entire functioning “piano bar”, where you can actually get a drink and which contains everything (and more) that constitutes a real bar, has been constructed in one of the main rooms at MOCCA.

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 …from the Transit Bar

The hallway is a site for her work and if you leave through the rear exit you are obliged to pass through yet another Vera Frenkel piece.

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Installation shot of “The National Art Institute”

Even the bathroom contains an installation by Vera Frenkel.

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The most obvious constant in this plethora of output is Vera Frenkel’s voice. Throughout the galleries she can be heard everywhere. Refined, pleasant and carefully modulated this voice tells stories with an almost hypnotic quality. With uncanny intimacy and assurance the voice confides. You the listener and she the teller are well acquainted. She has definitely got your ear and she is going to tell you the whole story.

For me, coming from the West, her voice has a particular Ontario cadence, a certain lilt that is present only east of Kenora. But beneath all this self possessed Upper Canadian palaver there is determination, sometimes sorrow and often a growing rage.

In the large video projection called Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive Vera Frenkel explores long-standing anger directed at the greed that has defined the waterfront landscape in Toronto.  Through a complicated shaggy dog narrative she artfully discloses the facts.  Money and power win.  The lake disappears behind a grid of scaffolding.

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Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive

A piece entitled The National Art Institute, Or what we do for love is largely virtual.  The posters about the National Art Institute in the exhibition baffled me so I checked it out on the web.  The piece seems to have no beginning or end.  Like some bureaucratic nightmare it has its own smug logic and lots of deadends.  Looking through the website is quite fascinating but maddening in its elusiveness.  In trying to get a grip on the dystopic near future Vera Frenkel seems to be asking the viewer to share her anger and start a revolution.  Her ambivalence is not so much toward technology as it is toward the gatekeepers of technology.  As in Once Near Water, she objects to being cut off.

In The Blue Train – a multi-channel photo-text-video installation – recollections and imaginings are woven together as a fateful journey unfolds.  The images and sound have a wistful dreaminess and evoke the disorienting feelings that can overtake the traveller.

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The Blue Train

Travel and other kinds of dislocation are also the focus of …from the Transit Bar, originally created in 1992.  The lights are low.  The piano tinkles softly.  There is reading material and video, both in numerous languages.  It’s a haven for conversation or solitary reflection and the viewer is invited to indulge on their own terms.  …from the Transit Bar gets to the heart of Vera Frenkel’s work which is sometimes trenchant and always warm, human, generous and open to all.

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…from the Transit Bar

September 6, 2014

The purpose of this blog is to write about Art in Toronto.  What’s going on in art in Toronto right now?  I intend to start this project by taking a walk every Saturday, visiting some galleries, taking a few pictures and recording my impressions and thoughts here.  I am not sure where this project will take me. Galleries might be just the beginning.  I admit I don’t know where the art scene is at this time.  One thing I definitely want to do is to get some dialogue going and invite others to write about art in Toronto.

On Saturday, September 6th, I walked down Ossington Street.  It felt like the last breath of a short, cool summer.   The street was lively and colorful.

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First stop: O’Born Contemporary

Callum Schuster’s exhibition is all about limits: He uses only the sphere and only in black and white.  Any evidence of the human hand has been expunged from the work.  Numerous spheres were created in various media.  Each sphere is divided in half: one half a dense matte black and the other half dazzling matte white.  The sphere’s were twirling, white sphere’s becoming black spheres, they were lined up, tilted, embedded in frosted plexiglass, some larger, some smaller, all extremely controlled, modulated, calm.  The artist made animated films and sculptures of black and white spheres spinning in the same steady, controlled way.  The work had the feel of an architectural or maybe mathematical model; pristine, artfully constructed, and indeed, the artist has stated he is interested in measurement.  It is dry, cool, extremely clean – bordering on obsessively clean – work.

The tall, elegant co-director of O’Born Contemporary, Rachel Anne Farquharson, was very gracious.  I scanned the artist’s statement and asked her what is the meaning of “praxis.”  (The context was the “praxis of painting.”)  She told me it means “practice” in Greek.  I didn’t know what to make of that and she looked a little sheepish.  She mentioned the artist’s cleanliness, obsessiveness, tidyness etc. and has also been quite taken with his intelligence. 20140906_131835More dots

The overwhelming sense of this show is how removed the work is from the anything that’s going on just outside the white gallery cube.  I can relate to that specific focus and can understand that someone might not want to even read a newspaper in the ghastly summer of 2014.

Next up: Angell Gallery

I really like Jamie Angell.  He is truly an art enthusiast, and noone can work a room like him.

Jamie’s main artist, i.e. the one that keeps the gallery financially solvent, is Kim Dorland but Jamie takes risks on all kinds of other artists and always has something unusual to look at.  The current show in the large gallery is by Daniel Hutchinson.  What do you know?  This artist is all about limits and is extremely intelligent!  This is what the lovely young gallery assistant told me.  I’m detecting a trend.

Daniel uses only black, although he underpaints in color. The color sometimes bleeds through but the viewer is not quite sure if its a hallucination or some kind of afterglow that occurs from staring at the profoundly black paintings.  From my perspective they were hard to look at.  The black was so shiny and sticky looking, like old liquorice, tar or pumped up rubber industrial stair treads.  The artist added glare by strategically placed neon tubes next to the paintings

.jamie angell

Daniel is interested in cosmology, dark matter and various themes from contemporary physics.  In the statement heavy hitters like Malevich and Ad Reinhardt are referenced.  Clearly Daniel Hutchinson is a serious and ambitious painter.

Incidently, this morning on CBC a scientist was talking about the Higgs boson particle.  I knew it was a big deal to find this particle but I was not really sure why.  According to the scientist this is a happy story because it means we are not surrounded by a lonely vacuum as was previously surmised.  We are in a soup of matter and the discovery of the Higgs boson proves it.  This particle is the building block of everything, hence, it is called the “God Particle.”  The details are a little hazy for me but as Daniel Hutchinson seems to suggest aspects of physics such as the Higgs boson are mysterious and compelling and provide rich inspiration for visual art.

Onward… to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA)

MOCCA

What would we do without MOCCA?  Who would provide a venue for STAG Library’s mugwort recipes and eloquent documentation on “relanding.”  (“Relanding” is the word used by Gina Badger and cheyanne turions, the two individuals who make up STAG Library,  to describe an attempt to reconcile the violent past of original European settlement in North America.)

Also in the main space was an exhibition called TBD which is focused on reimaging the Museum.  It consisted of numerous ideas for exploding the conventional museum and dispersing the contents in inventive, original ways.  The ideas are so amusing: Think of the possibility of a temporary museum in the construction hoardings around new buildings.

mocca big show

There was lots of standing around reading at MOCCA, which doesn’t really work for me.  A certain amount of reading is okay but maybe this exhibition should have been a magazine or a book?

The prints of Museum floorplans were stylish objects and they would definitely look good in a corporate boardroom.

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Sometimes MOCCA’s installations are so subtle that I just miss them totally.  Apparently there is a sound installation by Mark Soo currently on display.  It’s called “House is a Feeling” but  I couldn’t really get a beat on it even though I was wandering in the main gallery for 10 minutes or so.  How I missed it I do not know.  Maybe that installation had something to do with the intermittent drilling that finally drove me out of there and into the adjoining exhibition.

The highlight of the MOCCA visit for me was the 2013 film entitled “Provenance” by Amie Siegel.

The piece explores the fetishism around certain mid-century modernist furniture.  In this case, chairs and other items designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret are documented being packed up, travelling across the ocean, expertly marketed and sold for hefty prices, eventually to take their places in a succession of glamorous contemporary settings.  These objects turn up in all the right places and they seem to become more beautiful and desirable as the film progresses, invariably captured in slow tracking shots in a muted palette as the context screams Understatement! Taste! Money!

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The back story on these chairs is so interesting.  Chandigarh is a city in India designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jenneret in the middle of the last century.  This furniture is apparently the everyday office chairs and desks that the inhabitants of this dreamed up city would use.

And finally: Paul Petro Contemporary Art

The downstairs gallery features an exhibition by Morley Shayuk.  I would like to get to know this artist and ask him to accompany me to Home Depot or Rona sometime.  He seems to really know his way around hardware and building materials.  He creates massive wall reliefs incorporating all the latest polymer variants.  They have a kind of off-hand grandeur and would have looked great in the (now bulldozed) former Winnipeg International Airport.

Paul Petro

Upstairs was an arresting show by Shelagh Keeley.  What I really liked about her paintings (on mylar) was their uncomplicated sophistication.  No handout required: It is all there in the paintings.  They are lush, meditative, succinct and that works for me.

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Clotilda was texting me to meet her at Starbucks.  I concluded my first Toronto art blog walk with a good feeling of calm and optimism.