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.

20180708_165525

“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.

20180708_164857.jpg

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.)

8QbCad16nxJGyefYBjdK5Yo5jcvKR8UoXgCVqxRBELQ

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.

20180708_165729

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.

 

20180708_165300

20180708_165221

Ceramics by Jordan Scott

20180708_161849

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.

 

20180708_164721

Beverley Hawksley created a glamorous, business girl mood.

20180708_165110

Parveen Dhatt dressed appropriately.

20180708_170117

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.

20180709_122519

June 22, 2018

Le Grand Continental

The annual Luminato Festival always brings something unexpected to town: this year  I was thrilled to catch Le Grand Continental, an outdoor dance extravaganza, featuring roughly 250 local performers.

20180622_212250

Le Grand Continental dancers

As the long day was ending dark clouds began to gather over the immense space at Nathan Philip’s Square.  Was rain going to fall in buckets and ruin the months of work these amateur performers had dedicated to the piece?  The rain held off and the dance performance went on.  It was truly a joyful celebratory piece!  Everyone was feeling good about people! How they can work together!  People can achieve anything!  And about comfortable footwear!  And colorful sports attire!

Video of Le Grand Continental

The choreographer, Sylvain Emard, has had a lifelong fascination with line dancing and has created similar, massive, outdoor artworks, with amateurs, all over the world.  Participants — all non-professionals of varying age, physical ability and body type — must commit to three months of rehearsals. They report feeling challenged and ultimately changed by the sometimes daunting experience of mastering 30 minutes of choreography.

20180622_212239

“The work has a  certain vision of humanity,” says Sylvain Emard.  He mentions a political element and I can see that some might want to earnestly explore that aspect of the piece because, yes, it is there — but for me what was so entirely refreshing and delightful about this work is the spectacle of pure, unrestrained joy.   Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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.

20180609_155330

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.

20180609_155347 2

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.

installation-srgm-dahnvo-take-my-breath-away-16x9

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.

mcnamara

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!)

IMG_9040-350x350

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.

merlin_134729343_71cb0dda-552d-4ec2-b6fe-768afe387e18-superJumbo

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.

merlin_134847447_f71d0e19-185b-480f-990b-596269d7a4bd-master675

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.

merlin_134729502_4f0f7b50-c9d8-466d-a59a-4d005b1975da-master1050

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.

merlin_134847399_0f0c35a5-e62a-454d-8257-4b9af93d7eac-superJumbo

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:

tumblr_mak2umKNgz1qd9a96o1_1280

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.

 

January 11, 2018

York University Station

The exterior view of the brand new York University subway features a graceful, winglike swoop.  It resembles a miniature Kennedy Airport and has the same lightness and fluidity as that iconic structure, which was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962.

YsubwAY

View of York University subway from AGYU on cold and rainy afternoon.

The new station, which is literally right across the street from the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), was a collaborative design effort between Foster + Partners with Arup Canada.  Seen from outside, the station has a lovely, rather modest scale.  It’s when the rider descends, or ascends, that the station reveals majestic curves, plunging light sources, grandly sloping glass walls and dramatic stairways.

YSubway2subway3

Subway4

Making an entrance at the new York University subway station.

It’s capacious, filled with light and air and it is beautiful!

Apparently the vision for the new subway line started to take shape more than 30 years ago.  What was happening way back then, in Toronto in the mid 1980s?  One thing: getting to York University was a hassle.

Postcommodity at AGYU

postcommodity

Postcommodity at AGYU

Because I arrived early  – whisked effortlessly upward, upward on the stunning new Line 1 extension – to AGYU, I was able to join the volunteers for the pre-opening stroll through the exhibition by Postcommodity.

Two of the artists who make up the collective were present, and they spoke about their work, explaining in particular the torturous relationships between the US Federal border patrols, the Mexican and Latin American migrants, and, the drug cartels, and how those relationships play out along the border.  Surprisingly, the artists expressed a stoic optimism about the situation, viewing the land itself as infinitely more powerful than the various frontier guardians and extant border walls.

Video of installation by Postcommodity (similar installation is currently at AGYU)

Looking at the artwork however – and experiencing the audio component, which is a major element of the show – did not exactly inspire optimism but rather evoked sensations of disorientation, uncertainty and dread.

guardiandogs.jpg

Artwork by Postcommodity

There is a lot of empty, dark space in the AGYU show.  The central room is filled with sounds – whispers and incantations – that dart about, now on your shoulder and then across the room. There is a sole projected photograph, shown above.

The tour group was asked to think about the symbolism contained within this photograph.  We viewed the  horse carcass, unflinching dogs, fence, bleakness, neglect, loneliness, general ghastliness.  (The horse as “symbol of colonialism” was mentioned but that, to me, is a stretch.  The horse is a symbol of so many things.)  We did not need to think about it too long.  It’s immediately clear.  This is a tough place to survive.

Below is another depiction, unrelated to the Postcommodity show at AGYU, of a border and hostile environment.

Emerson border

Approaching Canada US border at Emerson, Manitoba

November 19, 2017

Lecture by Dr. Laura Marks at the Aga Khan Museum

Creative Algorithms: From Islamic Art to Digital Media

It is always a delight to race up the Don Valley Parkway for a visit to the Aga Khan Museum.  Today Dr. Laura U. Marks is in town, from Simon Fraser University, to deliver a lecture developing some aspects of her 2010 book Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art.

The lecture is well attended and the Aga Khan people are bringing in more chairs.

Dr. Laura Marks invites us to consider aniconism in Islam.  She talks about the fact that Islam restricts the imitation of God’s creations or representations of the Divine.  She states that Islam determines that God’s actions in the universe should be understood rationally and clearly, without the ambiguity of representation.  Incidentally to these strictures, aniconism creates a rich environment for abstraction.

architecture_AKM698_TileFrieze_2000

Tile Frieze,  Iznik, Turkey 1570  (from The Aga Khan Museum collection)

The necessity for abstraction, the infinitely large and the infinitely small, the properties of geometry i.e. the way it can be multiplied, rotated and mirrored, are some of the connections Dr. Laura Marks makes from historic Islamic art to digital media.  She sees the current digital landscape as directly emerging from this expression and talks about the connections between Islamic art, algorithms, atomism, pixels, performative geometry and the idea that the universe is created out of nothing, and, that it is rich, complex, interconnected and finite.

718_0

Doors, North Mazanderan, Iran 14th century (The Aga Khan Museum)

(What is the definition of an algorithm?  It’s a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations.  Also it has to eventually stop.  It can’t go on forever.)  Algorithms are all the same whether they depict the stock market gyrations, govern Google searches or create digital art.  And the idea of algorithms is ancient.

 

Sorting_quicksort_anim

Above is an animation of a simple algorithm.  It sorts some random values.  See Wikipedia to read about this particular algorithm: the high level language description of the set of rules and the related code.

In talking about these very old ideas Dr. Laura Marks gives us a glimpse of Baghdad in the 8th century.  It was apparently a hotbed of intellectual, scientific, creative and mathematical pursuits.  I’m going to have to read her book to find out more about the invention of algebra, the measurement of planes and spherical figures and the fact that Fibonacci studied mathematics in Libya in the 12th century.

At that time an individual may have carried a talisman that represented their personal handle on the infinite.  Dr. Laura Marks suggests a USB device or, for example, a smartphone can be seen as a modern talisman, containing a generative algorithm creating social interaction among users, and, a gateway to infinity.

com12137a_l

Talisman, carved quartz “script within script,”  Medieval, British Museum

images

Modern day Talisman

Google, Facebook, Netflix and Instagram were called out as the dark side of algorithmic media!  Good point Dr. Laura Marks!  She says they function like the curses that were woven into certain carpets in the ancient world.  These are the cruel algorithms, designed to control, harvest knowledge and conduct surveillance.   Wherever possible, she avoids the manifestations of those corporate entities.

I particularly like her remarks on the “absolute mystery of the infinite” and the way tile patterning in mosques were designed to create “dazzlement and wonder.”

187e34a0c6a97b64c51806377a025d8e4fcf5632

Interior of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain, 8th-10th centuries

Many listeners in the audience look a little bewildered as Dr. Laura Marks talks about certain Islamic art functioning like a User Interface to God.  And her discussion of the pixel experience of time being similar to that of a whirling dervish –  intensive and non-linear, as opposed linear chronological time –  is a little rushed and somewhat baffling.  However, her diligent scholarship, refreshing enthusiasm and poetically nuanced presentation create an exciting atmosphere of  possibility.

 

What is the digital art the speaker references?  She does not have a lot of time left to discuss it.  The name Hasan Elabi was mentioned! His piece Tracking Transience is so cold and eerie.

Below is a still from Hasan Elabi’s piece which was begun subsequent to a brush with the FBI.  He documents every aspect of his life and provides all the data for public consumption.

20141104-elahi-mw22-1820-002_2

Detail from Thousand Little Brothers, by Hasan Elabi

I suppose this is not the future.  It is the now.

 

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.

Sarah_Anne_Johnson_Yellow_Dinosaur_2015_7037_417

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.

ZombieDanceCprint28x42_2015_edited-1

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

20160806_145630

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.

GroupPortraitCprintOilstick28x42_20131

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.

BlobCprint14x20_20151

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.

sarah-anne-johnson-2014-glitterbomb

Glitter Bomb by Sarah Anne Johnson