August 18, 2018

For me, there is a true sense of luxury in slipping into a museum for a short visit.  The edifice – in this case the AGO – becomes like my local library.  It’s no big deal.  I’m merely popping in.  Two wonderful shows were just waiting for me…

Jack and the Jack Paintings: Jack Goldstein and Ron Terada

Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia is available for purchase on Amazon for CDN 52.94.  Complete pages of the book, which was written by Jack Goldstein and a collaborator, are reproduced as large paintings; white text on black, in Ron Terada‘s show, Jack and the Jack Paintings, at the AGO.

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Jack by Ron Terada

The paintings are fascinating. They contain so much: cringe worthy emotionalism, insight and aspiration, the personal/political dichotomy, and, most importantly, they are powerful objects, flickering between realms of subjective and objective meaning.

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Photograph of Jack Goldstein

CalArts was the so-called “sister” school of NSCAD.  Maybe Jack Goldstein was a visiting artist?  I remember the name but…  Was he dating a friend of mine in the eighties?

The viewer can’t escape the texts, which constitute the paintings.  (I tried looking at them as white marks on black ground but I have not reached that level of enlightenment, yet.)  And these texts are so dense with 80’s art world gossip – all the references to Robert, Cindy and Helene!   All the resentment, whining and profound sadness.  It’s all too much.  Finally, the whole idea of the art world becomes something absurd, tainted and shameful.

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Jack by Ron Terada

Included in the show is one of Jack Goldstein’s paintings.  It is large, about 8 feet long, and solemn.   It adds a lot to the exhibition: it  is a calming force, dark and silent, judgement free, and, pain free.

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Painting by Jack Goldstein

Joseph Beuys

On the AGO’s main floor, at the end of trek through the Ken Thompson knickknacks, is a small room filled with many drawing, and, two sculptures.  These are early works (late 50s and early 60s) by Joseph Beuys; prior to the global fame precipitated by iconoclastic performance artworks such as I Like America And America Likes Me or How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare.

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How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare – photograph of performance by Joseph Beuys

The exhibition notes state that the works on paper “revolve around the theme of death.”  Renderings of the body: truncated, naked and anguished are displayed, images of sunken graves, darkness.  They appear to be made hastily/compulsively, on cardboard, newsprint, office forms, file folders.  Some of the drawings are partially obliterated with opaque black or terra cotta coloured paint, or decorated with the ubiquitous silver or fat substances that Joseph Beuys frequently employed.

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To Saturn by Joseph Beuys

The lights are dim in the exhibition and the delicate, fragile works are framed with excruciating care.   But despite the best attempts by museum preservationists there is a sense that they will not last.  But maybe that’s as it should be, as per the quote from Joseph Beuys below:

That is why the nature of my sculpture is not fixed and finished. Processes continue in most of them: chemical reactions, fermentations, color changes, decay, drying up. Everything is in a state of change.

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Two Women by Joseph Beuys

The sculptures – one: broken and shambolic, the other: mysterious intertwined totems – are displayed in large vitrines.

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Hasengrab  (Hare’s Grave) by Joseph Beuys

 

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Sculpture by Joseph Beuys

During his life Joseph Beuys created the role of Shaman for himself; a figure of healing for modern society.  He engaged in social, political and environmental matters and explored the trauma of his WWII plane crash, and subsequent rescue by nomadic Tartars.  I was grateful to look at this work and to spend some  time thinking about how Joseph Beuys might respond to our current social upheaval and environmental crisis.

 

 

July 18, 2018

Report from Montreal

Life in graceful Montreal moves at a sauntering pace.  The sidewalks feel broad and unhurried.  There is always a table to be had, even at peak time.  The movie is never sold out.  In the hot, white glare of an afternoon in mid-July downtown Montreal feels nearly deserted and the saunter slows to a languid drift.

I am drawn to the churches: hushed, dark, cool, grandly capacious and filled with exquisite objects.  Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral is my favourite.

20180715_160250Narthex of “Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral” in Montreal

The role of the non-cloistered female orders and their leaders, particularly Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, are exalted in this edifice.  There are a number of depictions of her, always looking beatific, in the Cathedral.

20180716_140119Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys teaching her indigenous pupils in 1694 on ground belonging to the Sulpicians. Work by Georges Delfosse.

20180715_155617Portrait of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys

I was thinking way too much about faith, charity, devotion and, becoming hypnotized by the candles burning in the dim light.  It was time to buy a Mother Theresa medal and move on to the Museum.

The Museum of Contemporary Art

Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmons piece titled The Prophets creates the absorbing core to a group exhibition of the same name.  Spread about on high tables, Ibghy and Lemmons’ delicate, petite sculptures relate in a playful, irreverent way to the conceptual and/or formalist artworks, by renowned artists, on the surrounding walls.

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20180718_143407Detail of “The Prophets” by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmons

The succinct transmission of information in charts, graphs and process maps is slightly subverted here.  Drole captions hint at meaning but these are gestural data depictions, not literal.  They use the familiar forms of  the financial pages but have more in common with Russian Constructivist graphics.  Their connection to, for example, the Sol Lewitt prints in the same room is definite but updated.  Whereas the early conceptual artists, like Sol Lewitt, were obliged to create text instructions accompanying their visual production — the formal texts sounding rather like logic statements or algorithms — Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmons experience no such constraints.  They just go for it.

It seems to be a very popular show.  Visitors linger and are compelled to take numerous photographs, intently focused, peering into their smart phones and leaning over the tables of sculptures they wile away the summer afternoon.

20180718_143533Museum goer photographing art work by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmons, while standing in front of a painting by Jack Bush

Also at the Museum of Contemporary Art is a massive exhibition of the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.  The show is called Unstable Presence. 

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is interested in human interaction with systems, benign and otherwise.  Sometimes the work manifests as big, flashy public-type display, something you might see at Nuit Blanche.  For example: A sensor detects a human heartbeat and ignites a dazzling display of glittering bulbs in the museum rotunda.  I guess the “unstable” is the human participant.

20180718_154903   Pulse Spiral by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Other works — for example Zoom Pavilion – suggest sinister forms of control: non-stop surveillance, facial recognition technology, drones, heat-seeking threats and menaces, remote body scans and all the other oppressive technologies the techie geeks have come up with.  In fact, this phone I carry around with me everywhere is a tracking device!  But if I don’t have it…. how am I going to know where the nearest Starbucks is?  I guess its a trade off.

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20180718_151054Installation shots from Zoom by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Walking into the Zoom Pavilion installation is highly unsettling.  Multiple camera immediately focus on the viewer’s face, enlarge the image, then analyze, compare and store it.  There is a strangely disturbing soundtrack of zip lines, clicks, whirs and hums.  The walls are covered with real-time images of the audience, as they tentatively observe. The museum goer becomes a passive participant in a ghostly, black and white world.  A sense of being tracked or hunted is pervasive and the worst kind of corporate/government malfeasance is evoked.

In fact many of the works by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer create a sense of stepping into a reality much bigger than ours.  We can participate but only minimally.   A sinister power that lies elsewhere is amplified and our actions and interactions become trivial.

 

Video of works by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in “Unstable Presence”

And there was more.  The Museum showed art works by some of my favourite artists … so it was a great day in sultry Montreal.

a128p1_in001-1200x1629                              “Earthling (Red Sweater)” by Janet Werner

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                                         “Zombie Dance” by Sarah Anne Johnson

 

July 8, 2018

The Toronto Outdoor Art Fair

2018 constitutes the 57th edition of the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair.   Rain or shine, since 1961, Toronto artists have been hauling their work down to City Hall.  The idea is to connect with a member of the public and make a sale!

TOAF is juried.   750 applicants were whittled down to 360 participants.  Fees are low: $50 per application.  Artists get to keep 100% of sales receipts.

TOAF is intent on getting people in the buying mood.  For example: The organizers set up an apartment tableau so that prospective buyers could test a painting over a generic couch/lamp/coffee table setup and get a sense of how it might look at home.

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“Quite good.  I’ll take it.”

Established artists rarely talk about the connection between money and art.  In art school, the topic of how to make a living as an artist is frequently dismissed with a shrug.  That’s not the case at the TOAF.  This is a place to openly market artwork, figure out a price point that works and be prepared to make change.

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Art work by Ezio Molinari

The global art market grew 12% in 2017, to total $63.7 billion, according to Art Basel.  Market share is largely located in the US (over 40%) with China a distant second, followed by the UK.  Because Donald Trump is in power the US figures are expected to rise again this year.  Why?  Art sales apparently escalate as income inequality increases.   (…)   Changes to US tax law are also favourable to buyers of pricey art.  Note, however, that the recent rise in the art market is confined to the high end galleries and auction houses.  Galleries with more modest prices did less well.  (TOAF does not allow prints or multiples, which interestingly are the one bright spot on the lower end market, according to Bloomberg.)

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But the buying habits of the 1% are not really relevant here on this stretch of hot cement.   The TOAF is bootstrap capitalism: refreshing, raw and often surprising.

I was happy to see this big, pink foam thing, made by Michelle Cieloszczyk.  She said it doesn’t really need  to be suspended.  It can be shown leaning against a wall or just laying down on the floor or somewhere.  I like the way this piece flips between a kind of fuzzy feeling, like flannelette, and then suddenly evokes hanging meat or something equally ghastly.

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Michelle Cieloszczyk with her sculpture Flat Can

I saw ceramics at the TOAF that were inspired, fresh and beautiful.  Water jugs by Jordan Scott appear so effortless and loose.  Joon Hee Kim creates complex narratives, bizarrely detailed and imaginative, using fired clay.

 

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Ceramics by Jordan Scott

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Ceramics by Joon Hee Kim

There were hand printed scarves, home decor and lots of jewelry but the bulk of the TOAF is painting and photography.  It was a lot of fun wander through the blazing heat and peak into a unique sensibility created within each 10 x 10 foot white tent.

 

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Beverley Hawksley created a glamorous, business girl mood.

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Parveen Dhatt dressed appropriately.

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Clare Allin came up with a sixties counter-culture vibe.

I came home with a pocket full of festive business cards, reminding me to shell out and buy some original art.

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January 9, 2016

It’s great to go to openings for the social aspect.  But for looking at art, openings are not the best.  I dropped in at a Clint Roenisch gallery opening last week and could not really get a beat on the art shown.

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It was so cold in the gallery that people stood outside, around a fire, to warm up.

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There was a small display referencing the work of On Kawara, who died on July 10th 2014.

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At one point I dropped my phone.

 

Division Gallery

(Viewed in daylight hours.)

Svea FergusonSelf Exposures

I particularly liked looking at this artist’s sculptures.  Vinyl flooring, that generally banal substance, is the material Svea Ferguson uses to create these expressively nuanced three dimensional pieces. (You can almost feel the matte knife slicing through the buttery vinyl!)

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“Black Sigh” by Svea Ferguson

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“Untitled” by Svea Ferguson

The sculptures swoop, furl and drape with apparently effortless grace.  It’s like we are programmed to respond to those elegant curves.  It must be in our DNA.  The bland beige and industrial black and white add a mood of detached sophistication.

Jillian Kay RossMost Dogs Go To Heaven

Jillian Kay Ross tells us that these paintings “function together as a collection of reassurances.”  The paintings, composed of simple, spare line drawings on a white ground, do create a sense of naivete. Maybe what the artist is getting at is the trusting faith that exists only in childhood?  The somewhat primitive renderings of buckled up ponies, nails, dogs and various ambiguous objects – which may or may not be related to childhood – definitely have a fey appeal.

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“Like this in West Lodge” by Jillian Kay Ross

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“Bent clay 2” by Jillian Kay Ross

Some of the images made me think of those few last “Lucky Charms” slowly dissolving in a bowl of milk.   It does takes real faith to blow these fragments up and know that they will hold together as paintings, and they do.

Mythology – Wesley Martin Berg, Bryce Zackery and Daniel Boccato

Concurrent to the exhibitions by Svea Ferguson and Jillian Kay Ross is three artist show called Mythology.   It’s a big space!

The three-dimensional pieces by Daniel Boccato look like giant, colorful, plastic inflatable toys that have lost a bit of their air and been dragged in from a deserted beach somewhere.  I really liked these pieces.  They have a joyful eccentricity and bravado that gives a playful feeling to the entire show.

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Installation view of Mythology Exhibition

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Artwork by Daniel Boccato

63f948d0c5fdb506b864d242974f494fArtwork by Daniel Boccato

Wesley Martin Berg creates large monochromatic silver or black paintings over relief imagery, and a strange recurring “hobo” sculpture.

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Detail of artwork by Wesley Martin Berg

Bryce Zackery must be a fan of heavy metal.  His dense black sculptures are encrusted in with nails, chains, found objects and taxidermied creatures.

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Detail of sculpture installation by Bryce Zackery

March 28, 2015

March marches on: cold, windy, glare, barren.

Clint Roenisch Gallery – Eli Langer and Jennifer Murphy

Caravansary Of Joy is the title of a joint exhibition by Eli Langer and Jennifer Murphy at the capacious Clint Roenisch Gallery on St. Helen’s Avenue. The two artists are a couple.  Other than that fact, the exhibition is composed of two separate and distinct shows.

The paintings by Eli Langer, occupying the front of the gallery, are a pleasure to look at mainly because they are so uncomplicated.  This artist is pushing paint around in a serious way but anything external to that activity is irrelevant.  There is no agenda, narrative, political pitch, intellectual or iconoclastic posture.  I like this feeling of having nothing between the paintings and me; nothing I have to sort out or disagree or agree with.  Its relaxing and calming to look at these paintings and there is a crystalline lightness to them that makes it hard to look away.

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Winter Flowers by Eli Langer

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The Three Sisters by Eli Langer

Eli Langer did provide a sheet of notes available for viewers of the paintings.  They reinforce the calm, open, meditative qualities the art works possess.  A few lines from the notes are excerpted below:

Painting is experimental.  I want to get lost.  Turn off the logocentric mind.  Trip up purposeful reflex that seeks     familiarity in recognizances.

I work without plans.  I want the painting to surprise me with its directness.

Painting is truly free of its history in 2015.

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Her Cabinet by Eli Langer

Eli Langer is talking about getting into the zone where creativity is effortless and assured.  It’s exciting and mysterious to see how that Zen-like stillness comes through in the work.  Also in the notes Eli Langer writes about the idyllic, creative period he recently experienced, in a supportive relationship with his partner, Jennifer Murphy.

Jennifer Murphy’s work occupies the back of the gallery space.

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Installation of art work by Jennifer Murphy

A polished granite platform holds sculptural works in the center of the room and around the walls the artist’s collage pieces are pinned, at varying heights.

Who among us has not, at one time or another, cut pictures out of a magazine and glued them down to make something new?  Jennifer Murphy has the uncanny ability to create art works using this technique.  Suspended on long pins, like insect specimens, a parade of beast portraits, interspersed with somewhat more conventional portraits of women, are displayed.

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Art works by Jennifer Murphy

As varied as the animal kingdom itself the pieces share a fragile spindly-ness and jewel-like allure.  I recall certain aunts of mine wearing brooches like this: a leopard with an “emerald” eye for instance.  The frankencat, shown below, has such a coquettish pose, but maybe that’s just something about cats.

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Art work by Jennifer Murphy

The sculptural pieces in the exhibition have the look of  a surrealist’s garden: weird, ungainly, texturally patchworked and  punctuated with fizzing colour.

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Sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

One of the tiniest pieces has a wonderful “Twilight Zone” sensibility.  It’s as if the doe-eyed ingenue is trapped in another dimension.

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Detail of sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

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Details of sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

In fact all the objects by Jennifer Murphy – composed of humble materials, found objects, scraps of fabric and various castoff print media – evoke an alternate universe.  It’s similar to this universe, but adjusted a bit, for private aesthetic purposes.


Daniel Faria Gallery – Valerie Blass

Just next door, at the Daniel Faria Gallery: A glittering arm holds aloft a crack pipe, miniature figures melt together in lurid sexual embrace, whacked together scrap wood has an anthropomorphic expressiveness, a life-size sculpture of cliched female desirability studies “herself” in a distorting mirror.  These are some of the pieces constituting an exhibition by Valerie Blass.  Exploring notions of identity, objectification and self-delusion, Valerie Blass adds an ambiguous overlay of autobiography by titling the exhibition My Life.

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Art work by Valerie Blass

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Art work by Valerie Blass

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Detail of Sois gentille by Valerie Blass

The technical virtuosity and versitility of the artist is impressive.  She boldly takes on all media to trawl the phsycosexual depths.

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Dr. Marbuse Psychanalyste by Valerie Blass

Dr. Marbuse was a fictional hypnotist and criminal who featured in Fritz Lang movies.   Is the artist suggesting that hypnotic self absorption is implicated in the fracturing of identify?

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Details of Dr. Marbuse Psychoanalyst by Valerie Blass

A grinning homunculus, looking like something out of a medieval relief, inhabits the “face” of the mirror gazer above.

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Artwork by Valerie Blass

In another piece, the same curtain of silky blond hair is present.  This time the hair is out of context, set in a provocative display with a hand, a foot and pale pink panties.  Parts only, no woman required.  It’s the definition of fetish.

Something about the piece made me think of Andrea Dworkin and the feminist sexual wars of the eighties.  At that time feminists defined themselves as either sex-positive or sex-negative.  This was mainly because of the theories of Andrea Dworkin which condemmed all objectification of women and all pornographic imagery.  She was truly a crusader and was famous for saying things like “Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior [and is] the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women.”  That kind of talk turned a lot of her feminist, lefty allies against her.  Today, pornography has won.  It’s everywhere. Andrea Dworkin was the hardest of the hard-line feminists and the strange upshot of her ideas is that the Christian Right championed them and they still do today.

March 21, 2014

Knots of people loitered on the street like teenagers as the sun started to have some real meaning.  It was an afternoon to saunter.

Trinity Square Video

The work on display at Trinity Square Video, called The Cloud of Unknowing, by Ho Tzu Neyen, put me off lunch.   The camera lingered over plates of rotting food and maggots, appalling skin diseases, obese half naked people, fetid water and a heavy set man wearing a Depend.

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Still from The Cloud of Unknowing by Ho Tzu Neyen

The soundtrack could be described as ambient metal or dark ambient with an overlay of heavy breathing and occasional bursts of quite good drumming.  There is no dialogue.   A collection of vaguely surrealistic and improbable tableau vivant were linked with a cloud/steam/fog image.  At the conclusion of the presentation a fan switches on somewhere and a  steamy vaporous cloud wafts into the dark viewing room as the screen fades to a blinding white. It’s disorienting.

Showing video in art galleries has always been challenging.  On this Saturday afternoon I became aware of an apparent new trend in the medium: a material manifestation (literal fog or cloud in this case) of the onscreen work.

(Fog was one of the key components of a memorable art piece I saw in London by Olaf Elliason called The Weather Project.  In that case viewers in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall became so spaced out they lay on the floor, staring up at the fog shrouding a dim sun in the mirrored ceiling far above.  The fog created a dreamlike atmosphere and seemed to release all kinds of inhibitions. )

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The Weather Project by Olaf Elliason

Ten minutes away from Trinity Square Video, at the Georgia Scherman Project, there is an anything goes atmosphere as an art installation/perfume launch is underway.  The space is very dark and very fragrant.  A short black and white video loop is playing is which a model clomps up a circular stairway in what appears to be a dank cave or grotto of some sort.  The soundtrack is ambient metal.  No dialogue.  The floor is littered with black confetti which has been heavily doused in the fragrance.  The artist wants to create a particular atmosphere.  At the counter – I mean desk – sachets of Andrea Maack’s upcoming fragrance “Dual” are handed out.

The gallery staff mentioned the plan for the video to go viral.  You never know what’s going to catch on.  More than 40 million people have watched: Double Rainbow.

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Samples of the fragrance “Dual” by Andrea Maacke

The idea for the black confetti underfoot – more material manifestation – is that the public will inadvertently track it out into the neighbourhood and disperse the olfactory offering up and down Techumsah Street and beyond.

Susan Hobbs Krista Buecking

Next door at Susan Hobbs I thought I was in more conventional terrain.  Big, beautiful framed art pieces hung on the walls.  But at the moment of entering the gallery a soundtrack is triggered: swelling violins and “This Magic Moment’ by the Drifters spills into the space.

In the exhibition, titled Matters of Fact, Krista Buecking creates equisitely subdued atmospheric fades and then suspends hard edged graphics above them on the encasing glass.

For me, although the music was an endearing touch, the art pieces could totally stand alone.  It did strike as me as amusing that whereas the media artists want some ambient element scattered about the painter selects an old school emotional torch song to create an atmosphere.

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codified form B by Krista Buecking

Mist, fog, dreaminess, atmosphere.  Those seems to be the themes for this beautiful sunny afternoon.

March 7, 2014

Today a 25 year old man was rescued by the authorities as he tried to walk from Detroit to Toronto on the ice of Lake St. Claire.  He had been on the ice for a couple of days when found, improperly dressed and without a cell phone or life jacket.  “He was in the beginning stages of hypothermia,”  said the commander of the Coast Guard cutter who spotted him, “It took him a long time to formulate his thoughts.”  This guy could not have been thinking clearly from the start.  It’s March now.  The sun has a new strength.  Soon all this ice and snow will disappear and be forgotten.

Barbara Edwards Contemporary Art – Medrie MacPhee

The oil paintings by Medrie MacPhee, on display at the Barbara Edwards Contemporary Art, point to a cycle of change.  Awakening, destruction and renewal are quite literally the subject matter of this work, as embodied in that epic domestic event: the home renovation.

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The Force of Things by Medrie MacPhee

Openings are excavated as layers of surface are ripped away.  Heaps of material lie in ruins, shredded, frayed and broken.  Orientation is subjective as up or down could be anywhere.

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Bayou II by Medrie MacPhee

In most of the painting familiar building materials are rendered: lathing, flashing, duct work, sheet rock, even bits of copper pipe.

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Detail from painting by Medrie MacPhee

These paintings of a domestic interior in upheaval bring up lots of ideas: the mayhem of warzone collateral damage, the destruction of security and relationships, psychological states of painful renewal, transition, damage, change.

I haven’t gone through a homeowner renovation but I notice that when people talk about these traumatizing experiences they invariably use the word “nightmare.”  I imagine it could be nightmarish to witness the demolition phase.  In most of the paintings a looming black void is present.  Maybe its about a feeling of dread that must occur when the sledgehammers come out and you know there is no turning back.

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The New House by Medrie MacPhee

The Look

The Look by Medrie MacPhee

Formally these paintings are so interesting to look at.  They have churning quality which somehow emerges through the compositional elements being strung together with attenuated shadows, cracks and slablike edges.  In some pieces it appears the artist has used canvas like paper collage, adhering layers like a construction site patch job that adds to the sense of heaving movement.

One of the most absorbing pieces is in fact a paper collage.  It has a lightness and freshness that is very appealing.

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Rummage by Medrie MacPhee

There is a Portuguese bakery a couple of doors up Bathurst from Barbara Edwards Comtemporary Art.  We dropped in after the show and totally obliterated some flakey, cream filled confections.

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