September 20, 2014

The weather did a U-turn and suddenly it was mid-summer again. I exited the hot, packed Dufferin Bus at Queen Street and headed east.

Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects

Throngs of people crowded the sidewalks as the sudden heat created a carnival atmosphere on this Saturday afternoon. The feeling carried through to the Patrick Lundeen’s exhibition at Katharine Muherin Contemporary Art Projects.

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The paintings and assemblages in the show appear to reference African or Australian aboriginal art in their careful application of dots and stripes of color but more certainly the work is all about pop culture. In this case the artist is in Stephen King territory. You can almost here the screams behind the fun-house laughter as he explores the pyschological potholes of clowns, extra pointy fingernails, crumpled asses and howling faces. This artist is very skilled at conjuring up uncomfortable feelings.

Down the street (the gallery space kind of meanders, featuring three separate storefronts) was another installation by Mr. Lundeen entitled “Chefs.”

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Two other artist’s work was on display at Katharine Mulherin:

Lively, inventive drawings by Balint Zsako are displayed in the storefront.

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And, in a secondry room are Michael Harrington’s beautiful oil paintings which depict men statically posed beside their possessions: a rusty looking trailer, a shiny new SUV, a mysteriously glowing couch. Drink in hand, these guys are caught between pride and despair as they consider their material achievements.

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Stephen Bulger Gallery

Duane Michals is a celebrated artist shown in prestigious institutions around the world. I was thrilled to see the narrative series “The Fallen Angel” from 1968. This sequence of photographs, and another from 1969 titled “The Moments Before the Tragedy”, read like the best kind of short story: filled with emotional complexity, intelligence and beauty.051 049

I checked the price list and found that a snapshot size photo of Andy Warhol by Duane Michals goes for 50,000 CAD.

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I suppose an item like this approximates a Christian relic, like a splinter from the True Cross. It’s a piece of history and is valued as such. (When I was an art student we all read Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and its interesting to consider it now in the context of all that is free on the internet and the astronomical prices of authenticated objects.)

The Ryerson Image Center

The streetcar ride downtown took forever amid the sunshine drunk crowds and I was too late for more than a cursory view of  Dispatch: War Photographs in Print 1854-2008

There is a fascinating piece, however, in the foyer of the exhibition by Public Studio.  It’s called “Drone Wedding” and it consists of eight channels of video commissioned for the Salah J. Bachir Media Wall.  A traditional montage of a radiant bride and groom and a few dozen guests during a ceremony in some verdant, tranquil Western setting is interspersed with the “negative” images of the event: ghostly blue infrared surveillance footage, a crackling military jargon soundtrack, eerie targetting and identification technology are all on display. How often have we heard a news snippet about an Afghani or Iraqi wedding party slaughtered when a drone mistakenly went in for the kill?  Drones are the univited guests at this happy occasion. The artists comprising Public Studio, Elle Flanders & Tamira Sawatzky (and sometimes others), have stated they aim “to provoke conversations about surveillance and warfare” and they have created a chilling piece on those topics.

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September 13, 2014

On this cold, overcast afternoon I walked south on Dundas toward Roncesvalles, skipped the Polish Festival, and headed for the clutch of galleries on Morrow Street.

Gerald Ferguson paintings are on exhibit at the Olga Korper Gallery.

This artist taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD) from 1968 to 2004 and his work embodies the cool, dispassionate aesthetic that defined the school as the nexus of Conceptual Art.  These are paintings in which the idea is paramount and the actual framed objects are merely resulting detritus.  Composition, allusion, color, form, symbol were all rigorously ignored, and yet, the paintings are entirely contemporary, powerful and complex.

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I particularly liked seeing the “Dropcloth” paintings.  Gerry picked up dropcloths strewn around the worksite of commercial painters.  He then had them framed and stretched.  They are subtle and suggestive, like a Cy Twombly or maybe even a Jackson Pollack…but wait a minute, they are dropcloths!  The idea lingers, inhabiting a sensuous formality, but it remains pure.

This show is particularly successful in its display of the range of work as it skips through various decades and series to give a sense of the breadth he achieved.  Using frottage, rollers, stencils, found objects, spray paint and various mundane, utilitarian objects he never flinched in exploring and manifesting the concepts that appealed to him.

Below is a snapshot of Gerry Ferguson’s take on still life: a stenciled urn and rubbing of cast iron fruit.

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Gerald Ferguson died in 2008.  This was a great loss for the Halifax art community and his friends, colleagues and former students everywhere.  Gerry was a true artist and a catalyst for so many.

Across the courtyard is the Christopher Cutts Gallery

The multi-media artist Simone Jones was standing outside the Gallery.  It was her work that was on display and she looked a little uneasy.  She warned me as I was about to enter that it was very dark and could be disorienting.  She was right.

The large gallery was divided in half and each half was displaying a large screen format video.  On one side, in the center of the space, there was a low-to-the-ground robotic ramp on which the video projector slowly travelled backwards and forwards in relation to the projected image.  Definitely a tripping hazard.

I positioned myself in the center of the divided space and watched the two synchronized videos.  A guy in period costume, trailed by a wolf, tramped through a snowy landscape.  On the other screen a woman in period costume clacked out a message on an ancient manual typewriter.  A shot rang out and the guy collapsed and lay in the snow.  The woman cried. The wolf looked menacing.  I felt like I was at a tennis match.  There was some elegiac music but no dialogue.  The woman at the front desk, who had to sit in the dark all day, mentioned Tom Thompson and his mysterious death.  (I decided not to tell her that he was not shot in the snow.  He died in Canoe Lake.)

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This piece, for all the imposition for the audience and difficulty in presentation, was strangely lacking in ambition.  I assume this artist will go on to develop more deeply the ideas she has hinted at here.  On the other hand, bravo to Christopher Cutts Gallery for supporting her and showing the piece.  A Gallery is a business just like any other.  How a media installation will generate revenue for this gallery is as mysterious to me as the death of Tom Thompson.