April 9, 2022

Many years ago I visited the Venice Biennale and stood around under the hot, white, Venetian sun examining the paintings of Agnes Martin.

“Untitled 16” by Agnes Martin.

I remembered that long ago trip as I downloaded the absolutely free pass to the second occurence of the Toronto Biennale. And later, visiting some of the exhibitions, things felt almost normal.

The Biennale is a breath of fresh air! Wandering around in the early spring sunshine, mask free, I forgot for a short while that we are in the midst of a sixth wave.

Spring comes to Toronto

The exhibition is spread out around the city, but largely clustered in the west end, in an area dotted with construction cranes and debris. 72 Perth Avenue, the site of a future condo complex, now slated for demolition, functioned as a church before it was snagged to host the Biennale. The visitor can appreciate the raised, oratory platform and the long, vertical, stained-glass windows as evidence of its former incarnation as the Praise Sanctuary Ministry, Church of the Firstborn Apostolic and consider the connection between houses of worship throughout history and today’s grand museums; austere, white cube galleries; and newly minted biennales seeking an affordable venue.

Installation titled “Holdings” by Nadia Belerique

Nadia Belerique‘s installation, made of white plastic cargo barrels, anchors the space at 72 Perth, where it functions almost like an alter. The apparent lightness of the materials, their translucent, glowing, jewel-like coloured surfaces, which capture daylight flowing from behind, create the rooms’s focal point with an original sense of monumentality: lightfilled, colourful, airy. Within each barrel Nadia Belerique creates assemblages of found materials which may or may not refer to their original purpose.

Detail of “Hoildings” by Nadia Belerique

 What Water Knows, The Land Remember , is the title of the “curatorial vision” of the Biennale. This vision is highly idealistic, referencing the Toronto region i.e. the Great Lakes and their tributaries, and tying together ideas about ecology and the environment, inheritance and ancestry, relationships and collaboration. I did have a jarring sense of dislocation, faced with these touchingly utopian ideals and scrupulous political correctness, after a steady media diet of fear and despair: brutal war in Europe, global rise of authoritarian leaders, rage of white males, mass extinction and climate meltdown, endless Covid waves of misery. It was great to step away from all that for a few hours!

I was excited to be introduced to the work of Paul Pfeiffer. He did a fascinating, multi-media piece about a pop-star and his billions of fans around the world. In this case: Justin Bieber. He used this utterly contemporary phenomenon to explore the encarnacion-style of woodworking, which originated in sixteenth century Spain, and continues to this day in the Philippines, as a way to produce lifelike icons of religious figures.

Detail of “Incarnator” by Paul Pfeiffer
Detail of “Incarnator” by Paul Pfeiffer
Detail of “Incarnator” by Paul Pfeiffer

The artist named Aki Onda created a piece that had an uncanny resemblance to so much work that went on in the seventies. I really like looking at outdated technology, particularly from the seventies and eighties, so his piece called “Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking To Me,” was a hit for me. The text that accompanies the piece, an oversized booklet, describes the artist’s ongoing attempts to channel Nam June Paik through various garbled radio broadcasts he chances upon.

“Nam June’s Spirit was Speaking to Me” by Aki Onda

Scanning through the station, I stumbled upon what sounded like a submerged voice, and began recording. I concluded this was Paik’s spirit reaching out to me.

Aki Onda, from the booklet “Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me”

It’s hard to know if Aki Onda is just relating his experiences earnestly, or not. I too have heard strange, submerged voices on the radio, from time to time.

In the gallery. the sound was very low, almost inaudible, but you can listen to Aki Onda’s piece on You Tube.

Lingering at the exhibition made me think that the fact that it takes place in a former church possibly influenced the curators decisions. Many of the pieces referenced spirituality, liturgical items or connections with deceased beings or those of distant generations.

For example, Andrea Carlson shows a sculpture and huge painting, referencing “Man Mound,” which is a 214-foot-tall earthwork in Wisconsin, dating back to between 600 and 900 BC, when it functioned as a burial and ceremonial site.

Detail of Painting titled “Cast a Shadow” by Andrea Carlson
Detail of Painting titled “Cast a Shadow” by Andrea Carlson

The painting, which is immense, composed of numerous panels, and painted in a joyful mash-up of styles, appears to contain many messages, laments, pleas and warnings from the beyond, or the distant past, or just elsewhere.

Detail of sculpture by Tanya Lukin Linklater titled “Held in the air I never fell (spring lightness sweetgrass song”

Tanya Lukin Linklater‘s sculptural piece has many components. I was very attracted to the drapped scarves that hung from the ceiling, which in keeping with the theme of this show at 72 Perth Avenue, appears to reference liturgical garments, tapestries and shamanistic cloaks.

Kohkom is Cree for grandmother, and for Tanya, the scarves are a way to evoke “women’s intergenerational, embodied, experiential (and sometimes land-based) knowledge.

from Toronto Biennale of Art Website

I dashed over to MOCA — apparently my free pass entitles me to a discount on coffee at the MOCA cafe — which is around the corner on Sterling. The main floor of MOCA is part of the Biennale.

It was very enjoyable to look at the installation by Maria Qamar. This artist strikes me as completely of the moment, freely moving between the worlds of fashion, art and digital stardom.

“Dhamakedar, Superstar!” by Maria Qamar

Strolling into MOCA, and Maria Qamar’s installation, I had left the spiritual realm behind at 72 Perth, and was into a version of the material now: young, glamourous and Desi!

More Maria Qamar

January 4, 2022

Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful at the AGO

One of the many large, elegant paintings by Robert Houle, in his retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is particularly arresting. An Indigenous man sits alone on an outcropping of rock, contemplating the shoreline and beyond. He is beautiful and calm; tatooed and tranquil in a bucolic, parklike setting, with broad, green lawns. He is looking east, to Europe, and evidently, he knows what’s coming.

“O-ween du muh waun (We Were Told)” by Robert Houle

The image has a sorrowful quality, like an invented perfect childhood, or the idea of heaven, where a dead loved one might now reside.

It made me think of the video piece by New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana — which I was able to watch numerous times at the AGO. One could think of Lisa Reihana’s piece as a moment later in this perfect, imaginary time. The tranquil Indigenous are no longer alone. The British have landed, and they have disembarked.

Still from “In Pursuit of Venus (Infected) by Lisa Reihana

And I was also reminded of Robert Hughes and his book “The Fatal Shore” in which he reflects upon the shattering of perfection, as the British first sailed into Botany Bay.

“One may liken this moment to the breaking open of a capsule. Upon the harbor the ships were now entering, European history had left no mark at all. Until the swollen sails and curvetting bows of the British fleet round South Head, there were no dates. The Aborigines and fauna around them had possessed the landscape since time immemorial, and no other human eye had seen them. Now the protective glass of distance, broke, in an instant, never to be restored.”

The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes

But this is just one painting in an immense exhibition, covering many decades and using many different media, in a career spanning more than fifty years.

This is the kind of show you might want return to again and again. But that is not possible because the Gallery is now closed due to the Omicron variant.

Entrance to Robert Houle Exhibition “Red Is Beautiful” at the AGO

Robert Houle takes the viewer on a journey; often it’s personal. The painting shown below is entitled Sandy Bay and refers to a residential school in Manitoba attended by the artist. Photographs of the school building, an image of Robert Houle’s sister, and other photographs are included in the painting.

For me, the gorgeous formal aspects of this work exalts its intense emotional weight. It’s a very powerful piece.

“Sandy Bay” by Robert Houle

Many of Robert Houle’s paintings explore the history of Indigenous struggles in Canada as they explore, with equal intensity, the sensuality of paint.

Detail of “Premises for Self Rule: Constitution Act, 1982” by Robert Houle
“Premises for Self Rule: Constitution Act, 1982” by Robert Houle

The painting above is part of a series which extracts texts from Canadian historical documents (The Royal Proclamation, 1763; the British North American Act, 1867; Treaty 1, 1871; and the Indian Act, 1876 and the Constitution Act of 1982) and combines it with a contemporary painting and historical photographs.

Robert Houle never loses sight of his subject matter — which in a way is the entire history of this country– but he does not take a didactic tone. It’s more like he is sharing information. We learn a lot.

“Aboriginal Title” by Robert Houle

The Ipperwash Crisis is commemorated, below, in a painting of jolting colour, embedded with meaning.

“Ipperwash” by Robert Houle
Detail of “Ipperwash” by Robert Houle

Painting appears to be a constant for Robert Houle but the show includes works in other media: prints, drawings, sculpture, video and large scale installations including one which features a big, beautiful, buttery yellow, antique Pontiac.

“I will stand in your path until dawn” by Robert Houle

The AGO provided a quote from Robert Houle in connection with the Pontiac piece.

Growing up in the ‘rez in Southern Manitoba in the 1960s, Pontiac was the family car we drove down to the lake. It was not until High School that I read about Pontiac, the Odawa chief who led a confederacy of eighteen nations against the British Army in the summer of 1763 (the year of the Royal Proclamation.)

Robert Houle

In the painting below, Robert Houle memorializes a troupe of dancers who visited Europe in the 1840s.

“Mississauga Portraits (Waubuddick, Maungwudaus, Hannah)” by Robert Houle
Detail from “Mississauga Portraits” by Robert Houle

I really like looking at the portraits of these confident, graceful, imperious performers. The artist has endowed these pictures with haughty vitality and vivid emotional content.

And occaisionally the artist strikes a light-hearted note and it’s just fun to see, like the video below.

Part of a multi media installation “Paris/Ojibwa” by Robert Houle

It was really great to wander through this expansive exhibition and feel colour and light washing over me. And it’s true that timing is everything! I was able to slip into the “Red Is Beautiful” exhibition the afternoon of January 4, just a few hours before the AGO and every other cultural institution in the city pulled the plug and shut their doors to the public. We are back in lockdown.

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.

20180718_143319Detail of “The Prophets” by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmons

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

 

June 10, 2018

Toronto Sculpture Garden

Tucked into a petite, green space – which initially appears to be part of the neighboring bistro’s outdoor patio – and right across King Street from St. James Cathedral, is the Toronto Sculpture Garden.

I looked at the installation, titled Pins and Needles, by Karen Kraven.

Video of sculpture by Karen Kraven at Toronto Sculpture Garden

A giant clothing rack holds oversized garment pieces: a pant leg, a bodice fragment, a sort of apron adorned with long ties, a stiff belt, random pockets, gathers, plackets among other objects.  The items, arrayed as though waiting for the next step in a manufacturing process, are made of sturdy fabrics, workmanlike, serious, and in Mark’s type colours.

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Pins and Needles by Karen Kraven

The history of King Street, as a manufacturing hub, a place where workers – especially women – toiled to create valuable objects of utility is gracefully evoked.  Of course, now King Street is home to lofts, furniture boutiques and technically advanced service industries.  Clothing manufacturing from the past is now viewed as unsavoury, exploitative and generally noxious and it has been moved offshore for the most part, out of sight…somewhere.

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Pins and Needles by Karen Kraven

This artwork struck me as strangely nostalgic.  Intellectually we may be meant to reflect on the harsh, dark past of urban textiles factories with a shudder, but these things suspended before me are so appealing the opposite thought occurs: wouldn’t it be great if we made stuff to last, right here in Toronto.

The supple, handsome objects caught the afternoon sun and shifted slightly in a soft summer breeze, as I gazed at them.

 

March 11, 2018

“Take My Breath Away” 

Danh Vo at the Guggenheim Museum

A Dane, a gay man, a refugee from the Vietnam War, a child raised in the Catholic faith, an artist who lives in Mexico and Berlin: these are some of the unique qualifiers that can be applied to Danh Vo, whose current exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum is entirely original and beautifully expansive.   I mean “expansive” in a particular sense: Danh Vo has a way of offering a succinct starting point with his work and assigning nuanced speculation and circuitous trails of thought to the viewer.  It is such a lovely and uplifting intellectual exchange.

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Installation view “Take My Breath Away” by Danh Vo

The chandelier, depicted above, already loaded with cultural, economic, sentimental and literary meaning, has been installed in a startling fashion.  It barely skims the surface of the glossy Guggenheim ramp. It is described on a nearby label as having a particularly disquieting provenance.  This, and two other chandeliers which Danh Vo was able to purchase and which are also in the Museum in different “states,” hung in the Hotel Majestic in Paris.  The Hotel was the site of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, which ostensibly ended the Vietnam conflict but also marked the beginning of a period of violence, betrayal and humiliation on both sides of that war.

Lot 20. Two Kennedy administration Cabinet Room Chairs

Lot 20. Two Kennedy Administration Cabinet Room Chairs by Danh Vo

What appears to be an abstract sculpture, above, is defined by the artist as leather upholstery from two chairs.  The chairs were purchased at Sotheby’s at an auction of items belonging to Robert McNamara.  McNamara was the defense secretary for both Kennedy and Johnson during the period of Vietnam War escalation.  They were given to McNamara by Jacqueline Kennedy after President Kennedy’s death.

Danh Vo deconstructed the chairs.  Parts of them are scattered around the exhibition.  The frames here.  The springs and stuffing there.  To me the dismemberment of these potent objects manifests as rage.  But then (…) I was 21 in 1973 and I remember the end of the war.  What do these objects and the wordy labels mean to someone in their 20s now?

I really like the way Danh Vo allows meaning to change, to evolve and to flicker in and out of objects.

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Robert McNamara – US Secretary of Defense, 1961-1968

There are other objects in the show that a similar proximity to notorious events: Ted Kaczynski’s manual typewriter for example. (Which somehow I did not see.  Only read about!  But even in pictures, it seems to hold barely restrained malevolence within its banality.  But of course that is my projection.  Not long ago I watched Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix.  All eight episodes!)

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Theodore Kaczynski’s Smith Corona Portable Typewriter, by Danh Vo

It should be pointed out that although many of the objects in the show are accompanied by rather lengthy texts the work does not rely on labels.  I concluded this because of the following: I was in NY for just a few days.  I went all the way up to 90th Street and Park to see this show on Thursday.  The Guggenheim is closed on Thursday.  Pressed for time and overly committed I went back on Friday.  At one point wandering up the ramp I got irritated waiting, in back of an overly witty couple, to read the descriptive cards.  I struck off, ignored the texts and was swept up in the pure visual power of the show.

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Massive Black Hole in the Dark Heart of our Milky Way by Danh Vo

The piece by Danh Vo entitled “We The People” is an extreme undertaking.  I didn’t quite understand that I was looking at a dismembered replica of the Statue of Liberty, constructed of copper at full scale, until I was on the subway going back downtown reading the exhibition notes.  This extraordinary artwork will never be exhibited in one place as it is gradually being dispersed to various cultural institutions around the world.

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We The People by Danh Vo

To see Danh Vo talk (in Danish with subtitles) about the creation of We The People, click here:

 

The inclusion of Catholic imagery, especially the medieval sculpture, adds gravitas and grace to the exhibition.

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Artwork by Danh Vo

The piece above is an example of the artist’s joining of objects from different era: damaged medieval wooden sculpture is fused to fragments of Roman marble statuary.  Elsewhere naturalistic tangles of branches have grafted to them tiny, finely wrought medieval countenances.

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Christmas (Rome) by Danh Vo

The artwork above is made of velvet fabric which was used as backing for an exhibition of objects in the Vatican Museum.  (Just thinking about how Danh Vo came to get his hands on this particular velvet has so much narrative potential.)

One of my favourite pieces in this show are the letters from Henry Kissinger to New York Post theater critic Leonard Lyons:

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In another letter, dated May 20, 1970, Kissinger writes the following:

“Dear Leonard, I would choose your ballet over contemplation of Cambodia any day — if only I were given the choice.  Keep tempting me; one day perhaps I will succumb.”

At the time, Kissinger was helping to orchestrate the so-called Cambodian Incursion.

 

August 6, 2016

The McMichael Art Collection – Sarah Anne Johnson

In terms of the perpetuation of the species and the human life span, the period between 15 and 25 is the really crucial one.  This is the period of maximum fertility and all its attendant characteristics: the fierce courage, idealism and passion that belong only to the young; and of course, on the dark side, the selfishness, fecklessness and brutality that hopefully dissipates with maturity. Looking back to this era in one’s own lifetime can produce feelings of awe and possibly an overriding sense of good fortune that we even survived at all.  Sometimes we barely recognize our former selves and are obliged to murmur, almost inaudibly: “Was that idiot me?”

Sarah Anne Johnson wanders into this territory of youthful enthusiasm and misadventure in her exhibition called Field Trip, at the McMichael Collection.

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Yellow Dinosaur by Sarah Anne Johnson

The “trip” Sarah Anne Johnson takes the viewer on is deep and quixotic, at times hilarious, contemplative and hopeful, and then suddenly frightening and grim.  I really liked looking at this show.  For me the dazzling images conjure up a sense of how perception is shared, how my own perceptions conform to contemporary custom and how they change.

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Zombie Dance by Sarah Anne Johnson

I’ve been reading a book by Jenny Diski called The Sixties.  She writes:  “We were …a bunch of dissolute, hedonistic druggies.  We lay around and got stoned, had sex, listened to music that exalted lying around, getting stoned, having sex, and hymned our good times.”  It seems that fifty years later this is the same crowd that Sarah Anne Johnson has photographed. In her book Jenny Diski goes on to chronicle how the sixties became the Reagan years and turned into ” that beast: the Me generation.”  Time will tell.

Chillin’ at the Void by Sarah Anne Johnson

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Detail of Chillin’ at the Void by Sarah Anne Johnson

Sarah Anne Johnson intertwines so many interesting threads of thinking. The detail of Chillin’ at the Void depicts a new crop of “dissolute, hedonistic druggies.”   It makes me think of a different kind of chill: a cold and dreadful chill, of how marketing and propaganda ease each  generation through its own very special, unique and individual journey.

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Group Portrait by Sarah Anne Johnson

In the piece entitled “Group Portrait” Sarah Anne Johnson captures the joy and satisfaction of belonging, so critical for the young.  The individuals are obliterated with dopey masks and transformed in an instant to exotic creatures that have banded together.   We will always be together!!  We celebrate our originality!  We defend our tribe!!  It’s such a brief sentiment.  Maybe only an afternoon or two.  That weekend at Bird’s Hill Park.

Sarah Anne Johnson’s trip includes some dark alleys, strewn with garbage, seriously dangerous drugs and stoners slipping over the edge.

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Blob by Sarah Anne Johnson

The lurid, day-glow monsters of nightmare and death are observed with nonchalance.  This is an ability of the very young and very stoned, and a feature of their passage into the humdrum adult world….if all goes well.

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Glitter Bomb by Sarah Anne Johnson

May 14, 2016

I was wandering by the Piri Piri Churrasqueira Grillhouse at the corner of Dupont and Campbell and took some time to check out the neighbourhood.  Just a few steps north there is a cluster of no-nonsense, newish buildings.  They look like the kind of place you might go to pick up parts for, say, a malfunctioning Moccamaster or maybe confer with an insurance broker.  But no, in fact, here is a chance to look at art in Toronto.

Richard Rhodes Dupont Projects – David Clarkson

Speleogenesis, I have just learned, means the origin and development of caves.  In the exhibition of paintings by David Clarkson, called Remotes, caves function as formal device, content and metaphor.

Here’s another word you don’t hear often: trippy.

On entering David Clarkson’s show there is a painting by the door.  It depicts a rabbit hole, yes, the pathway that Alice took into the discombobulating environment that made no sense.  In this painting bunnies, giant gems and a perfect oval looking-glass are bathed in a dreamy blue light.  For me this painting set up the whole show with a feeling of philosophical nonchalance.   The viewer is free to descend into a labyrinth of ethereal vistas and subconscious triggers without any kind of didactic price to pay.

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Detail of Rabbits and Mirrors by David Clarkson

The cave imagery is a constant in the show.  Such a potent symbol could be heavy handed but David Clarkson creates unpredictable, droll and imaginative art work that never stumbles into cliche.

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Cascade and Curtain by David Clarkson

Looking at Cascade and Curtain the viewer is in utterly unknown territory, gazing outward through the pictorial plane to glimpse what lies beyond the shimmering veil of liquid.  Which way is the sinuous sluice spilling?  Into the frame or out of it?

The inclusion 0f photographic elements, pop art fragments and tiny renderings of hallucinatory creatures combine to form an otherworldly tableau.  But it is the striking formal aspect – the yawning mouth of the cave – that creates such a powerful image.

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Moth and Frog by David Clarkson

A sense of claustrophobia dominates the painting above as ice and mist frame a route to open air but no, it is another cave that confronts the viewer, like a maddening hall of mirrors.  Life is delicate but relentless in this harsh environment.  And consciousness is brutally linked to physical realities.

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Statues and Fog by David Clarkson

In Statues and Fog surrealist tropes litter a grim trail to the void.  Here the cave is the tough slog of life itself.

Ahem…there is only one way out.

 

Erin Stump Projects (ESP) – Elise Rasmussen

Around the corner on Dupont there is an exhibition by Elise Rasmussen called Fragments of an Imagined Place.  (…am I detecting a theme…?)

As part of the artwork Elise Rasmussen declares that the myth of Atlantis “serves as a metaphor for the artistic practice.”  Within this context she presents some fascinating fragments of a Robert Smithson piece that was never created.

20160514_160955Detail of Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

People had a very different appearance in 1970 than they do today.  Within the selection of xeroxed newspaper clippings, cartoons, letters, pamphlets and snapshots is a picture of Robert Smithson posed as a rugged outlaw.  Truly, this artist was onto something new, big and bold and he looks the part.

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Robert Smithson circa 1970

The planned Earthwork was called “Glass Island” and it was to be constructed off the British Columbia coast near Nanaimo.  One hundred tons of broken glass were held at the border and finally sent back to Los Angeles.  Environmentalists opposed the project.

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Installation view of Robert Smithson’s “Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis),” 1969

Included in this sort of scrapbook-like array are copies of the Robert Smithson drawings for other Earthworks.  It was so startling and refreshing to see these humble drawings on graph paper, efficiently packed with ideas and potential.

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Detail of Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

I really liked observing the connection Elise Rasmussen created with Robert Smithson and his beautiful idea of a glass island.   She also produced a video in connection to the unmade piece.  Dancers in white stretchy pants and pastel t-shirts gingerly hold shards of coloured glass move and about in a serious though desultory way.

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Still from Video Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

https://player.vimeo.com/video/163575629“>Click here to see a section of the video

I wonder what Robert Smithson would make of the art world today?

 

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

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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

November 30, 2015

Koffler Gallery – Isabel Rocamora

Yesterday was the last chance to see the Isabel Rocamora show – titled Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes – at the Koffler Gallery.  The exhibit, dominated by three large-scale video projections, opened way back on September 17, and it is utterly prescient in terms of its grave, unflinching tone and the subject matter it contains.

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Still from Body of War by Isabel Rocamora

In Body of War Isabel Rocamora probes the phenomenon of close-up brutality.  In an extended sequence the camera warily circles a fight to the death between two anonymous soldiers.  Staged on a barren runway beneath grey skies, this grim, slow battle confusingly becomes a kind of homoerotic dance from which there is no escape.  A soundtrack of medieval-like, choral chanting heightens the sense of ritual and archetype in this piece. Eventually a victor is left standing, panting and jubilant, and the camera turns away to slowly penetrate the opening of a nearby bunker.  The desultory movement toward darkness creates a truly horrifying moment.

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Stills from Horizon of Exile by Isabel Rocamora

In Horizon of Exile, a two channel video piece, snippets of monologue hint at the reasons a women must leave her home and set off into a barren, windswept desert.  Against an elegiac score and relentless wind, two women then perform a mesmerizing rolling dance, where they are carried like flotsam across a glittering salt flat in a God forsaken plain somewhere.

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Stills from Faith by Isabel Rocamora

An Orthodox Jew, a Greek Orthodox Christian and a Sunni Muslim are all engaged in prayer in Isabella Rocamora’s three channel loop called Faith.  Filmed in a craggy desert that reads “holy land” they are united in ancient transcendent practices.  The religious trappings – the robes, the gestures, the pious heavenward gazes, the fervent ritualized murmuring – are remarkably alike.  In fact not much is separating these men of God from one another, and yet, Isabel Rocamora seems to be saying, the superficial similarities are meaningless.  Tradition is terminally unique.

I really liked seeing this show: The stark graphic power, the rich soundscapes, the choreography of the camera and the subjects, and the potent imagery.  Ultimately the work struck me as very dark: The subjects are all unable to break out of age old oppression, each is condemned to endlessly repeat the rituals of the past and passively accept their fate.

Typology – Nicolas Fleming

Fortunately, it is possible to go shopping for handmade items on the third floor of Artspace Youngplace otherwise I would not have trekked upstairs and come across the tiny gallery called Typology.

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Installation shot of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

An installation by Nicholas Fleming called Moving Right Along is about to close.  I’m glad I caught this show.

Nicholas Fleming must be a very energetic guy.  He has built an entire room within the gallery, except that it is all delightfully backwards so that drywall, spackling paste, chipboard and insulation foam are on display and the smooth, white gallery walls with crisp corners and subtle lighting are hidden.  It’s kind of like putting a dress on inside out.

An unmistakable Home Depot fragrance wafts into the hallway from Typology.

I really liked looking at the “fountain” in the center of the space.  It has ghastly, poisonous look to it.  Something toxic appears to be weeping from the hardened foam to create a pool, coated in noxious sheen, at its base.

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Installation shots of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

No doubt Nicholas Fleming allies himself with Minimalism, Arte Povera and various Conceptual Art branches emerging in the 1970s but what is so interesting about this show to me is the exotic beauty created by these humble materials which leads to the whole idea of the infrastructure of our society and how it is hidden and denied and avoided, with perilous consequences.