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

December 20, 2014

John Player at Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain

Because of a trip west and the general nuttiness around this time of year I nearly missed seeing a show of paintings by Montreal artist John Player.  Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain is just a few blocks west of St. Lawrence Market, which had a raucous atmosphere on this sunny Saturday afternoon before Christmas, and I was able to slip in to see the show on the last day.

At Art Toronto (Toronto International Art Fair) I saw a couple of John Player’s art works. They stood out as not only visually startling but also loaded with frank, serious content.  I was looking forward to coming across more of these paintings.

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Listening Station

This artist has tapped into something entirely current, and that is the culture of surveillance. It’s a fact of life now that surveillance data is captured, stored, analyzed and traded. We all carry tracking devices (cell phones) with us. We identify all our friends and even acquaintances (Facebook) and offer up all there is to know about our habits, thoughts, opinions in texts, Instagram, Snapchats and email.  Its accepted that while working, shopping, driving or just walking around the city we are all in somebody’s crosshairs.  For the most part, we accept it all as an annoying requirement, like security screening at the airport.

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Monitoring Room

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Remand Center

John Player’s paintings make us consider the upshot of this obsessive documentation.  His paintings explore fear and its manifestation as a powerful and cold bureaucracy in which listening devices are linked with incarceration structures and drone excursions.

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Watch Floor

I recently saw Citizen Four by Laura Poitras and the paintings inspire the same kind of spine tingling unease as the movie.  Whereas the film is shocking in its focus on the few pivotal days in which Edward Snowden “came out” and then fled, the paintings suggest something equally dark but more stable and entrenched; a sprawling, well funded set of infrastructures with their own expotentially expanding agendas.

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Container

Frequently the mysterious structures, often in desert locales, reference architectural drawings in their replication of space and mass.  The palette is often very subtle, as if the objects are sun-bleached and the viewer has caught the image from a distance, hastily and warily, like the scene of catastrophe or menace.  Some of the interiors have a subterranean, over-lit feeling, as if there is no off switch for the flourescents.  The installations appear deserted yet infused with paranoia and anxiety.  Who exactly is the viewer?  Is John Player trying to turn the tables on the surveillance establishment and watching the watchers?

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Tactical System

John Player’s paintings also have a rich sensuality.  The painting above, titled Tactical System, depicts some unknowable, militaristic hijinx from the night sky and the ominous view nearly disolves into just paint and colour and shape and light with appealing success.

Meanwhile, although Mr. Obama has assured Americans that the NSA is no longer listening in on their phone conversations (internet data continues to be collected even for US citizens) Canadians and the rest of the world might be interested to know we are still under full monitor.  According to The Guardian that means all phone communication and includes: “a log of every communicative act that you make in cyberspace – where you went; who you emailed or texted; who emailed or texted you; the URL of every website you visited; a list of every web search you’ve ever made; and so on.”  It’s sobering to think about all that scrutiny.  Makes me want to detach from my gadgets and start writing letters again… in disappearing ink.

November 21, 2014


The paintings by Carol Wainio on display at Paul Petro Contemporary Art quickly drew me into their dense, tangled layers of imagery.
These paintings are so visually deep.  A dark, gnarly, ancient-looking forest landscape is the middle ground.  Far in the distance are winsome pastel vistas.  Strangely patterned birds, maybe pheasants, charge about the forest floor, heading for clearings and stone pathways through the old growth.  Numerous disparate objects, creatures, little people, symbols of all types and sometimes words are found embedded in the welter of images.  In the foreground, bold, simple line drawings and fat polka dots create a closer surface, as though we are looking through glass into another world.
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Les Cailloux Blancs

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Detail from Les Cailloux Blancs

Accompanying the show, titled Dropped from the Calendar, is a long text written by Carol Wainio in which she suggests the nature of modern life has resulted in certain losses such as the creative luxury of boredom, certain notions of enchantment, reliable shared memories and rhythms of the seasons.  The phrase “dropped from the calendar” refers to the pages of traditional holiday calendars which were once reserved for personal recollections.  Are these blank pages no longer necessary since recollections are manufactured and provided for us now?

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Lost

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One Evening

Frequently the outline of a transparent fawn, like the familiar twinkly Christmas lawn ornament, turns up in the paintings.  Could be that Carol Wainio is connoting our feeble and sentimental link with the natural world through this image.

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Renderings of children, definitely from another period in history, also recur in the paintings.  For some reason I thought of the Hummel figurines my mother-in-law in New Jersey used to collect.  They seemed beyond kitsch — the height of manufactured nostalgia –  to me.  Maybe that is what Carol Wainio is getting at, i.e. that our private nostalgia has been hijacked and sold back to us.

It is a pleasure to look at these paintings which are both visually and metaphorically deep and to spend some time speculating on the connections and references within them.

In the accompanying text Carol Wainio quotes Walter Benjamin’s talking about fairy tales in the modern age: “This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.’   I was thinking about these ancient tales and how they helped people in perilous times when I came across an announcement about the release of some long lost Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  One of the stories is summarized below:

“Once there was a father who was slaughtering a pig in the yard,  His two sons saw him do this, and they decided to play slaughtering. One of the brothers became the pig, and the other became the slaughterer and he slit the throat of the younger brother. In the meantime, the mother was watching upstairs from a window and saw what had happened. She ran downstairs and took the knife out of the boys throat and, out of fury, she stabbed the older boy in the heart. And then she realized the baby was upstairs, and in the meantime the baby had died and drowned in the tub. She was so remorseful she committed suicide. The father, he was so dismayed that after two years he wasted away.”
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Hummel Figurine “Farm Boy”

November 13, 2014

In a modest residential neighbourhood, only a few steps from the Bloor Value Village, lie more western outposts of sophisticated art. Clint Roenisch Gallery and Daniel Faria Gallery both have spacious storefronts on Saint Helens Avenue.  Client Roenisch arrived in July and Daniel Faria has been there for three years.  Tucked around the corner in an alley off Dublin Street, is the mysterious Scrap Metal Gallery, unfortunately closed on the day I visited.

It was grey and cold and sleet was present.


Harold Klunder at Clint Roenisch Gallery

In the foyer of the RBC Center on Simcoe and Wellington, near the Starbucks, is a large Harold Klunder, which I passed daily, for about three years, on my way to the elevator banks. The artwork has an eighties neo-expressionist or so-called “bad painting” look. As I recall, the paint is thick, chunky impasto of yellow, orange, browns and blacks with a certain gnarled chockablock geometry that I identify with the artist. I had assumed I would see variations of this work at the new gallery on Saint Helens Avenue.

In this show, however, titled Live by the Sun, Love by the Moon, Harold Klunder’s work has moved away from the static heaviness of the RBC painting into a realm of light, air and expansiveness that was very exciting to see.

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Green Abstraction

There is some explanatory text on the gallery wall which mentions Harold Klunder’s Dutch heritage and his connection to the Dutch artists of the past. I liked looking for these links. The bewitching light of Vermeer is successfully evident, particularly in a painting called Airmail Blue #1. (As someone with a European parent this painting had an emotional component too, recalling childhood in which the exquisitely thin blue airmails from abroad connoted a distant and romantic world.)

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Airmail Blue #1

There is a massive trytych on display titled Flemish Proverb which made me think of Dutch tapestries (such as the Hunt of the Unicorn which hangs in the New York Cloisters) because of the scale, complexity, and ambition of the work and the way it reads as an illustration of some arcane narrative. Each panel is painted with a unique palette and iconography yet they are unified by a sense of cascading from light to dark vertically, as horizontally a tale unfolds.

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Flemish Proverb and detail of the same painting

A large painting called This Length of Muddy Road seems to shift its identity from map to narrative to landscape and it somehow manages to be filled with light and air despite the grey background.

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This Length of Muddy Road

In some of the paintings the use of color is truly startling. I was fortunate to attend the Willem De Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art a few years ago and I can see why the exhibition notes cite that artist as one of Harold Klunder’s (Dutch) influences, particularly because of his use of color.

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Milk of the Sun

The show is put together in an interesting and unusual way in that a selection of the artist’s source material is exhibited with the paintings.

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The collage of paint dabbed news clippings and magazine scraps is really fun to look at. A grouping of vivid water colors hint at the artist’s process regarding color.

Also included in the exhibition is a welded metal sculpture (borrowed from the collection of Harold Klunder) created by a now deceased French-Canadian nun called Soeur Marie-Anastasie.

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At first I thought it was influenced by Picasso.

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But no…it looks more like a Harold Klunder.


Daniel Faria GalleryKristine Moran, Wayne Ngan

At first sight Kristine Moran’s paintings made me think of Melanie Authier’s work (written about on this blog in the October 12 post) because of the way a mass of abstract iconography is piled up in the middle of the canvas while the corners remain relatively empty, and because of a similar palette both women use.

But soon the distinctive and exuberant aesthetic of Kristine Moran, who has shown her work with Daniel Faria for six years, comes into focus. Whereas she too explores the manufacture of deep space on canvas her gestural marks are raw and gritty and sometimes combine with explosive force in this show, called Affairs and Ceremonies.

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Funeral Procession

Formerly a figurative painter Kristine Moran has developed a personal language of various mysterious forms which appear repeatedly as she creates an expressive whole from layers of jumbled narrative.

She can’t quite leave figurative painting behind however: vestiges of arms and legs, martini glasses, armour or shields, odd items like tank tops, candles, flowers, open books; all find their way into her paintings.

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Flashe

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Seance

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I liked the fact that Kristine Moran is not afraid to attach Cosmo type titles to her paintings (Gossip or Affair for instance) and for some reason I thought of lingerie colours – pink, black and champagne – when trying to get a read on her paintings. Is this a woman who is using the trappings of the female life as she seeks to understand and evolve through art?


On the afternoon I dropped into the gallery there was an opening party scheduled for later that same day.

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The spectacle of all that beer in such close proximity to a collection of new works by Wayne Gnan gave me an uneasy feeling. I sincerely hoped there would be no regrettable incidences as the opening played out.

These beautiful objects are arrayed precisely on a tabletop and lit with drama.

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The installation works as a whole. The strong, weighty forms, soft, natural colors and perfectly subtle sheen are entirely harmonious.  It is also rewarding to spend time looking at the inventive sculptural integrity of each individual piece.

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October 30, 2014

Good news!  Oliver Girling has been looking at art in Toronto too, and he’s blogging about it here:

Kim Dorland at Angell Gallery

Dorland’s paintings are neither abstract nor essentialist. On the contrary, they’re coiled into the material world, oil paint oozing directly out of tubes or splodged and scumbled on linen canvases; drawn to subjects that are twisting, like a chain link fence, or graffiti-writing swirls, or the knotted Hudson Bay blanket on a woman as she sits up in bed: an objective architecture, rather than the architecture of the artist’s psyche.

They’re particular, almost photographic, but avoid the spatial claustrophobia of scenic photography through optics like a sudden burst of pink dayglo paint. In the painting “Fireworks”, three shooters line up under a massive plume of smoke and go up, yet the effect of the bursts is as modest and spritely as cocktails in ‘50s magazine illustrations. But what I love is the afterglow, in pink dayglo, around balconies and doorways in the courtyard.

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Fireworks

In “After the Party”, he has produced the most convincing image yet of that most inescapable contemporary cliché: a woman checking her Facebook. What I really like is her splayed feet in the high-heeled pumps – very well observed; and the pale quality of the streetlights in late dawn.

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After the Party

But the piece de resistance has to be “Bay Blanket”, the fantastically roiled Hudson’s Bay complementing the woman’s emotional face, destroyed by thick paint, and contrasting with hundreds of neat little framed souvenir pix on the attic wall behind her.

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Bay Blanket

– blogpost by Oliver Girling

October 12, 2014

There is so much excellent painting on display in Toronto right now.

This weekend I am travelling by car; chauffeured around and oblivious to any dramas on the TTC (a vague memory, until tomorrow).

Barbara Edwards Contemporary

Barbara Edwards Contemporary, on Bathurst just below Dupont, is showing the work of Ray Mead (1921-1998). This artist, one of the Painters Eleven, achieves a bell ringing clarity through his use of color in combination with spare, gestural forms.

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Roma

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Untitled

The paintings are bold, worldly and sophisticated while hinting at the psychological obsessions of the time: deep brooding complexes and anxieties burbling in a Cold War stew of dread.

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On Saturday afternoon the painting show and various gorgeous, brilliantly colored artworks leaning against a wall looked urbane and voluptuous.  Barbara Edwards and her colleague were considering a trove of Ray Mead works and very obligingly, they opened a fat portfolio of unframed pieces for my companion and me; and one by one, tenderly plucked the vulnerable artworks from between acid free sheets to show them to us.

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It was a bit like reading a coded diary and trying to interpret the entries: lovely to look at, tantalizingly heavy with meaning and forever opaque.

It was surprising, on exiting the gallery, to notice a big, bold Ray Mead filling the window of the frame shop and La Parette Gallery (“art of the sixties’) across the street.  Ray Mead left his mark on Toronto.

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Birch Contemporary

We zipped down Bathurst to Techumseh and Birch Contemporary.

Joyce Carol Oates frequently writes stories about young women who have a distorted view of the world.  They foolishly take up with sinister outcasts of one kind or another and soon things start going badly and people get hurt.  Janet Werner‘s show at Birch Contemporary, and particularly one of the paintings called Abby and Snow (which is also the title of the exhibition) made me think of the kind of struggle between the predatory and the vulnerable that Oates describes.

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Abby and Snow

In many of these works, loosely painted figures on amorphous backgrounds, Janet Werner seems to be speaking to an individual’s misreading, rejection or distortion of society’s norms or expectations.  She explores the blurred boundaries between cute and grotesque, assertive and repellent, demure and …um…dead, to spectacular effect.

Sunday (racoon eyes)

Sunday (racoon eyes)

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Walker

Ballerina

Ballerina

I was particularly fascinated by Janet Werner’s take on enduring female archetypes: ingenue, pretty ballerina, horsey type, bimbo.  Her representations of these typically hackneyed cliches are riveting.

The current chatter around feminism and Beyonce, for example, becomes pale and superficial in contrast to these disturbing images encompassing profound female yearning, disappointment and pain.

Georgia Scherman Projects

Next door to Birch is Georgia Scherman Projects and an exhibition of paintings by Melanie Authier.

There is something about these paintings that makes them entirely of the moment.  Maybe its because we expect more from abstract painting now than ever before.  If Ray Mead was venturing into unknown territory in the fifties at this point it is well travelled terrain.  Melanie Authier uses the daring elements employed by a painter such as Ray Mead and combines them with references to all kinds of artistic romanticism from the past.  I was reminded of Turner’s deep, mystical space; my friend observed the nod to Casper David Freiderich’s majestic cliffs.  The work also has a connection to the current look of video game animation, the so-called “fantasy art” created by modelers to give gamers a daunting landscape in which to search and destroy.  These big, ambitious paintings package it all into something new.

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Rake-N-Snake

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Iron Belly

The show entitled Figments and Foils includes a number of small watercolours.  These pieces have the same sumptiousness, technical and spatial virtuosity as the larger works but they also have a freshness and spontaneity that is very appealing.

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WOP-Assembly

September 25, 2014

There is so much frenetic construction activity along Queen’s Quay on the way to The Power Plant. What’s going on?  It appears RBC’s marketing team are working overtime to hint about what might be in store for us when all this commotion is done and the dust settles.

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The Power Plant

The fall season at The Power Plant includes impressive work by three artists.


Shelagh Keeley

I admired Shelagh Keeley’s drawings back on September 6th at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Here, covering The Power Plant’s vast clerestory wall, is an example of the artist’s site specific work, scaled up.

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The piece is called “Notes on Obsolescence.” It  has the spontaneity of jottings and doodles pinned up on a giant push-pin board but, amazingly, the numerous drawings, photographs and writings coalesce to create one monumental work of art.

Threads, strings and strands – sometimes drawn directly on the wall – drop, dip and fall in concert with layers of more drawings and many photos (of different textures, hues, vintage and size) depicting spindles, shuttles, punchcards, servers, circuit boards, weavings, intersecting woofs and warps, dye mechanisms, the factory floor, gadgets and widgets, quotes from Marshall McLuhan, cascading reams of paper from a long gone dot matrix printer and so on and on. The work follows the relentless march of technological innovation by looking backward at the abandoned remains.

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This piece is endlessly fascinating to look at. There is so much rich content and beautiful details.  It was annoying that I could not see the loftiest sections until I realized I could simply walk upstairs.

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Julia Dault

Seeing this sculpture by Julia Dault got me thinking: What if I owned an austere modernist rectangular house? What if I placed this sizzling pink and blue bundle in one of its large imposing rooms?

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How cool and sophisticated would I be?  Would I have to hire a staff just to dust my possessions?

Maybe its the playful colors and unconventional materials but I definitely got a sense of joy seeing this work. The high gloss sculpture appear on the verge of flying apart and the paintings have a late-night, rock ‘n roll high spiritedness to them.

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Julia Dault’s exploration into mark making is deep. At the same time it has a certain infectious giddyness most evident in the sprawling lexicon of marks, encased in a grid, which she created for one wall of the gallery.

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Pedro Cabrita Reis

This sculpture is brawny and muscular. I-beams appear to have been ripped from walls and scattered about recklessly as if in mid demolition. (There is no way this piece was not made by a guy.)

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It has a dangerous feel too: through the precariously balanced beams, sharp metal edges, vulnerable neon tubing and tangles of explosed wiring. Wandering through this huge installation reminded me of my walk through the construction site to get here. I really enjoyed the bold, massiveness of it as the lake sparkled outside in the morning light; and there seemed to be emotional content too but it was not out of control, instead it was more like thinking about havoc in a repressed, distant and thoughtful way.

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That same contemplative feel is evident upstairs in a gallery containing fourteen paintings by Pedro Cabrita Reis. These formalist paintings are very somber: Raw canvas, reddish stain, heavy slablike layer of dark brown nearly black paint encased in elaborate plexi and welded metal frames.

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(The lights in the gallery were so bright and the frame surface so reflective I was unable to capture the actual look of the paintings.  You’ll just have to see for yourself.)