February 14, 2016

Song Dong – Lori Nix

Art Gallery of Ontario – Song Dong

Wisdom of the Poor: Communal Courtyard is the name of the installation by Song Dong at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The piece has the strange effect of slowing down time and creating a consuming sense of melancholy.  The viewer steps out of the moment and into a maze, composed of antique wardrobes, and, concurrently, into a bygone era.

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

The wardrobes have been dismantled and roughly knocked together to create twisting, labyrinthine passageways.  Bits of fabric, modest curtains, broken locks, faded posters and other sentimental items cling to the gutted furniture and add to the sense of forlorn domestic ruin.

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

The art piece feels funereal, and there is the lingering presence of ghosts.  Glimpses through openings may reveal another viewer wandering hesitantly, an abandoned bicycle or perhaps a rising tower (wait, its the AGO’s  Sol Lewitt sculpture and elsewhere is the AGO’s Warhol portrait of Karen Kain.)

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

China is famously changing at a breakneck pace despite an increasing public outcry against the demolition of historic neighbourhoods and a gathering preservationist movement.  Song Dong taps into a powerful emotional yearning for an idyllic past that is felt apparently all over the world. The object of the loving backward gaze could be the narrow, crowded streets of bygone China or …… Mayberry.   In North America this imagery can be baldly manipulative romanticism, covering for a suspect agenda, but what it is in China I do not know.

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Mayberry set

Admittedly there are some very appealing aspects to the decades past.  For example, long before the rise of Twitter and ISIS (forever linked in my mind) anyone could smoke and drink with abandon, even on airplanes.  But is it my actual memories that view these activities fondly or is it the “Mad Men” portrayal of them that I like?

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Smoking on airplanes through the eyes of the creator’s of “Mad Men”

Meanwhile the unrestrained development in China has not only resulted in the spectacular buildings we see in the media but some weirdly manufactured nostalgia, for example Thames Town, built to look like a charming Tudor town in the English countryside.

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Thames Town, 19 miles from Shanghai

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Bau-Xi Photo  – Lori Nix

All over North America laundromat seating is the same.  I may have known this as a fact before I saw the show of photographs by Lori Nix at Bau-Xi Photo, but to be honest I never really thought about it much. In Lori Nix’s photo of a post-apocalyptic laundromat (shown below) under dreadful fluorescent light, the seats are identical to those at the “Coin Wash” in the vicinity of Dundas and Keele.  In fact everything is exactly right, except of course the obvious…

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Laundromat at Night by Lori Nix

What I liked about looking at these photographs was noticing the detail and how exacting and precise it is.  Lori Nix builds miniatures of scenes she comes across in her daily life and then she photographs them. (To learn how she does this click on the link.)

Lori Nix does not replicate reality.  In all her photographs something is off, really off.  Something has occurred.  Things will never be the same.

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Fountain by Lori Nix

What’s going on in Fountain, the art work shown above?  A spectacular public space has been vandalized and then abandoned entirely.  The bronze sculptures have deteriorated, maybe because of chemicals in the atmosphere, such as chlorine, sulfur, nitrogen oxides or maybe just rain. Vines have overtake graffiti and then all (hubris) is silenced by cold and ice.

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Bar by Lori Nix

Could this be a bar in rural Ontario on any Sunday morning?  It does look very familiar … except there is no hockey memorabilia.

Despite visions of catastrophe Lori Nix’s art work transmits a sense of enthusiasm for the places she creates.  With meticulous patience she commits these mundane arenas of everyday life to a suspended state of timelessness.

 

January 20, 2016

Report from New York

Following an afternoon in NYC and 9 days in British Virgin Islands (BVI) it is clear there is virtually no art in BVI.  New York, on the other hand, is stuffed with art. It kind of makes sense if you simply look out the window.

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Shown above is the view out the window in BVI.

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Shown above is the view out the window in New York.

In New York the radiators hiss and clang and strange cries rise from Second Avenue, four floors below.  It is a John Cage symphony here in this overheated loft and time to rush downstairs into the brittle cold and take a walk.

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There are two Lehmann Maupin galleries.  I dropped into the one on Chrystie Street.

Lehmann Maupin – Catherine Opie

It turns out Elizabeth Taylor was one of those women who exists with a tiny, precious dog on her lap. She was very close to her white, beribboned, silky, toy-like Maltese called Sugar.  Elizabeth Taylor’s affections, for animals, people and things are sumptuously revealed in an exhibition of photographs by Catherine Opie at the Lehmann Maupin .

The exhibition is called 700 Nimes Road, which was Elizabeth Taylor’s address in the glamorous Los Angeles neighbourhood known as Bel-Air.

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Above: Installation shot of 700 Nimes Road exhibition by Catherine Opie

The photographs have the ability to transport us to this hushed, rarefied retreat where the iconic actress spent her last years in violet tinted luxury. Catherine Obie had access to the home and belongings of Elizabeth Taylor.  Despite the fact that she never actually met Elizabeth Taylor the images and the “indirect portrait” they create are filled with tenderness and respectful reverence.

Below, an array of perfect sling back heels in assorted pastels, about size six, stand ready for the return of their owner as Fang strolls by.

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“Fang and Chanel” by Catherine Opie

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“The Shoe Closet” by Catherine Opie

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“The Quest for Japanese Beef” by Catherine Opie

The jewels are photographed as transcendent objects: sometimes glowing, floating, as if glimpsed in a dream-like, delirious haze.  Or as above, precious trinkets lovingly arranged.

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Photograph by Catherine Opie

Luxurious bags, luggage, sunglasses are maintained in impeccable order, ready for their owner to cast a lovely violet-eyed glance their way.  But sadly, Elizabeth Taylor, never returned to 700 Nimes Road. When Catherine Opie began her project in 2010 Elizabeth Taylor was hospitalized and died before it was completed.

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Elizabeth Taylor, February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011

The New Museum – Cheryl Donegan

Cheryl Donegan is carrying out a four-month residency at the New Museum. To fill up this immense period of time Cheryl Donegan started a newspaper, opened a store filled with objects she has made and/or repurposed, created an online retail operation of sorts, is planning a fashion show for the Museum in April and continually carries out performances, videos and create more objects.  Simultaneously, a selection of her paintings, other works on paper, objects and videos work together to create a more conventional exhibition of the work of this artist at the Museum.

The exhibition is called Scenes and Commercials.

Looking at this work gives me the sense that Cheryl Donegan does not have much interest in tradition and yet the paintings are successful in a traditional sense. They are fun and surprising to look at and create a hectic feeling of rushing and recklessness.

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Paintings by Cheryl Donegan

Cheryl Donegan is like the girl next door. She is down-to-earth, hard working and a straight shooter. She uses plaid, Kelly green and cardboard. She is earnest and curious about marketing and commerce.

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Details from Concept Store by Cheryl Donegan

The idea of compression is one that Cheryl Donegan frequently references. This concept apparently has an idiosyncratic significance as she observed the gradual flattening of consumer electronics and extends its as a metaphor for society. She speaks about a hovering space of thin layers.  Maybe its about the way objects and ideas are quickly used up and disposed of in our mediated world.  Since nothing has any depth or substance, we need to only glance at it and move on.  Social media, retail items, relationships, events and disasters around the world, beliefs, emotions are all equally shallow, feckless, consumable.

What I really liked about Cheryl Donegan’s work is that she doesn’t let all this diminishment of all things get her down.  She seems to embrace the frantic pace of now and injects a joyful absurdity into it.  Below is a still from a videotaped performance by Cheryl Donegan in which she paints her ass green and creates shamrock prints.

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Still from video by Cheryl Donegan

80WSE – Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

Magic, Alchemy, Astrology, Kabbalah, Spirituality, spells, Divination, extra sensory perception, trance, Wicca, tarot cards, Kenneth Anger: this exhibition covers the range occult practice and imagery.  The title, Language of the Birds, refers to a particular mode of communication available to the initiated. 

The exhibition coincides with The Occult Humanities Conference 2016:
Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions.

Although I do occasionally check my horoscope in the newspaper the occult is something I know nothing about.  I was looking for some context but it was not there.  Is there a current rising interest in these themes?  What’s the connection between the paranormal and the normal?  Why now?  It’s not really clear.

The curator, Pam Grossman, a teacher of magical practice and history, has divided the numerous works into rooms titled Cosmos, Spirits, Practitioner, Alter, Spells.  Many phantasmagorical things and images are displayed.

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Sirens by Kiki Smith

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Touch by Valerie Hammond

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Astrological Ouroboros by Paul Laffoley

Could be its all about plumbing the depths of puny human understanding or misunderstanding?

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Pomba-gira Maria Mulambo – Grande Circulo de Pontos Riscado [Whirling Dove Maria Mulambo – Great Circle of Scratched Points] by Barry William Hale

I could almost smell the incense burning.

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

January 7, 2016

These days looking at art means traversing the city and facing down the sea of red tail lights in every west bound artery.  Is all this frantic activity due to the mild winter and El Nino?  No!  It was explained to me that the reason it is so hard to get around by car in Toronto these days is because the streets are clogged with swarms of UberX drivers.  Endlessly cruising up and down Queen Street, they will not go home.  They need the money.

Birch ContemporarySexish

The subject of ‘sex and women’ is fraught with a legion of competing agendas, all the time and everywhere.  It’s kind of comforting to know that in a world where women can be stoned to death for sexual transgression, in this country artists (men and women) are free to explore pretty much any sexual subject matter they can come up with.  One option is the light touch and the glance of the coquette.  Sexish, the title of the (all female) group show at Birch Contemporary largely takes this approach, and like many of the artworks in the exhibition, the title is a bit, well, coy.

Images of tightly crossed knees by Maryanne Casasanta  or flouncy skirts by Cathy Daley read as girlish, coltish, kittenish.  Sex seems a long way off…although there are hints.

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Artwork by Maryanne Casasanta

Two artworks by Cathy Daley

Using hand stitched embroidery on lovely found fabrics Orly Cogan depicts the eroticized domestic realm where home is a place to relax and get high.

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“Saturday” by Orly Cogan

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“Mirror Mirror” by Orly Cogan

Other artists in the show take on S&M imagery.   Fresh, original paintings by Ilona Szalay have a very contemporary feel, although they reference what seems to be a reenactment of Victorian prurience.

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“Girl and Graffiti” by Ilona Szalay

Janet Werner‘s painting of the back of woman’s head transmits a subtle shock.  First we examine the voluptuous coiffure and then the freakishly attenuated neck and damaged ear.  What happened here?

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“Jo” by Janet Werner

Ceramic pieces by Julie Moon have a way of getting to the core of female attributes in a primal way.  I liked the sense of ambiguity in this artist’s work.  Hovering between nightmare and goddess the piece shown below holds a potent sexual charge.

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“Flesh Pile (Side Pony)” by Julie Moon

In another ceramic piece with Surrealist antecedents, Julie Moon creates fascinating tension as delicate limbs emerge from a glutinous heap.  Ruffles and a tender blue colour add to the horrifying sense of femininity caught in a grotesque trap.

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 “Bloomers” by Julie Moon

As the Sexish exhibition notes attest ideas about women and sexuality are “continuously evolving and unresolved.”  Here the clamorous sex/women issues dominating the headlines are sidestepped or ignored and it makes for a refreshing change.

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Taylor Swift’s Girl Squad

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University of Oregon protest

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Caitlyn Jenner in LA

 

 

 

 

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.

November 20, 2015

Report from LA

Thin, fit, relaxed, tan, friendly: LA people are all that.  (So friendly: Many will launch into their life story at the swerve of a skateboard.)

The city is heaving with cars.  Red tail lights as far as you can see.

There is a gorgeous fade in the sky from blue to orange.

Malibu…..that haunting word. 

I felt particularly “LA” drinking Bulletproof coffee.  Who knew that regular coffee (ugh) is infested with mold!  The Bulletproof slogan is “Search.  Discover.  Dominate.”  I’m down.

Looking at art was not really on the agenda in LA but I did drop into Bergamot Station and wandered into a few random galleries.

It seemed that LA artists are in thrall of their city.  They get to the heart of light, air, artifice, nothingness and the dazzling fade.

Captains of the Dead Sea, the title of an exhibit at Sloan Projects, is a collection of photographs by Alia Malley.

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BS_3788 by Alia Malley

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DV_7352 by Alia Malley

Some of the photos have a seventies Conceptual Art feel.  They achieve the unadorned documentation look so prized in that era.

Alia Malley creates a book from the work and, once assembled, a layer of Hollywood is added to the work.  Are we location scouts?  Have we stumbled across an abandoned set?  We search for the elusive narrative in the title and sequence of images.  But there is no story just soft focus, like squinting into the sun on Venice Beach.

At Leslie Sacks Contemporary work by Anish Kapoor and Mark Katano are on display.

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Artwork by Anish Kapoor

The prints by Anish Kapoor joyfully capture the LA buzz.

Mark Katano’s work combines calligraphy and drip painting.  I liked reading Mark Katano’s notes about the show: “Each line represents nothing more than its own creation, and each piece finds meaning in the harmony of its own structure.”  Got it.  I am feeling very West Coast.

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Big Head by Mark Katano

Looking at Eric Nash’s paintings at Skidmore Contemporary Art made me appreciate the icon as subject.  It’s all there: the blue and orange fade, the loneliness and alienation, the endless driving and searching, the desperate longing for meaning. (Note: The Sunset Blvd painting at the top of the post is also by Eric Nash)

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Sunset 76  by Eric Nash

And then I stumbled across the Richard Heller Gallery’s show of work by Devin Troy Strother.

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Installation by Devin Troy Strother

The show is titled They Should’ve Never Given You Niggas Money and it references a comedy sketch about Rick James by Dave Chappelle.  To see the hilarious clip there are two links below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJB0BkJlbbw /

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z63dJbcl1VU /

This is an exuberant show that takes on the tropes and stereotypes that dog black youth but it also a carnival fun house and that slams the deadly smugness of the Politically Correct with humour.

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Details of Installation by Devin Troy Strother

It was another beautiful day in LA.

The Richard Heller Gallery was full of slim, blonde teenagers taking selfies and outside the sun was shining.

 

 

November 5, 2015

Trek to King City – Richard Serra’s “Shift”

Having lived in the US for a number of years I was somewhat reluctant to participate when my friend insisted we knock on the door of a strange farmhouse in King City, about an hour north of Toronto.  Egress to the site of Richard Serra’s earthwork / sculpture Shift was no longer possible from the adjacent subdivision.  A passing jogger suggested we try the overland route, which would be trespassing.

“We are pilgrims,” we explained when the farmer opened the door, “looking for the Richard Serra sculpture.”

The farmer was cool (and unarmed) and in fact he recalled the period in the early seventies when the sculpture was created.  “Cement trucks arrived every day all one summer,” he said.

Richard Serra was a young artist at the time.  He and his girlfriend, Joan Jonas, together visited the site which belonged to art collector Roger Davidson, who commissioned the piece.  The artwork references their joint walks around the fields, which have a mildly rolling topography.  It apparently traces the natural zigzag path the two would take from the points which were furthest from each other but from which they were still visible to each other.  (You have to be there.)

“It will be about a half hour walk,” the farmer told us.

We set off:

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We passed various attractive outbuildings, associated with the farm.

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..saw water systems, signage…

…and then made a left down the most idyllic path….

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…edged by a corn field.

We got lost for a while….

… but met another friendly farmer who directed us onward…

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and we then found the landmark below.  It’s a…some sort of wood storage device.

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We skirted a swamp….

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….got covered in burrs, clamored up a muddy hill and there it lay: internationally obscure, audacious, sprawling, precise, stately, playful, supremely confident, enduring, elegant, startling, and big.  It is worth the trip.

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Shift by Richard Serra

Great afternoon in King City!   Although the subdivisions are encroaching, and from time to time a developer insists the artwork be destroyed in the name of progress, the Township of King has seen fit to designate Shift as protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, preventing its destruction or alteration.  All the local people we spoke to seemed to have a soft spot for the artwork.  My friend (whose idea it was to make the trip) is sure there will be a gift shop and parking for 300 in another decade.  In the meantime it was time to go home and get the burrs out.

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November 1, 2015

The Power Plant

The Power Plant was originally part of the active, industrial Toronto port, built in 1926 for the purpose of housing heating equipment for the Queen’s Quay Terminal.  Maybe Carlos Amorales was referencing this vaguely industrial past with his installation entitled Black Cloud, on display at the The Power Plant Clerestory exhibition space, until January 2016.

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Detail of “Black Cloud” installation by Carlos Amorales

As cities became blackened and gritty in the distant industrial past, pale moths adapted by darkening their hue and thus were less visible to predators.  In the installation a massive swarm of black moths (made of lazer-cut black paper) has returned to recall a former incarnation of Toronto and settled in the airy, brilliantly lit gallery creating a striking, graphic effect, which hovers between the sense of a slightly menacing infestation, with overtones of pestilence and doom, and expensive wallpaper.  Of course, in this era, the industrial muscle of Toronto has been banished and the waterfront is now all about shopping, dining, walking around and absorbing culture.

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Detail of “Black Cloud” installation by Carlos Amorales

It was nice listening to Ed Pien give a rather emotional talk about the Black Cloud installation.  Ed Pien and some members of the audience became tearful in connection to a reading on the fleeting nature of time, loss, love, and just, well, life.  It must have been something to do with that sad Sunday afternoon feeling you get when you realize you have to get up early and go to work tomorrow.

In an adjacent galleries three sumptuous film loops by Mark Lewis are showing.  Pavilion, shot in the atrium of the TD Center, is a gorgeous mesh of grids, glass sheen and intersecting planes caught in strangely tentative and yet fluid camera movements.  According to the curator’s notes Mark Lewis’ films “reflect on the nature of cinema through the means of urban architectural perception.”  As a practiced consumer of film I immediately felt the presence of a narrative in this piece, possibly the story of an unhinged, peripatetic camera seeking connection amid urban alienation.

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Still from Invention installation by Mark Lewis

I See Words, I Hear Voices is the title of an installation by Dora Garcia, also at The Power Plant.  This artist pushes into various subconscious realms using compulsive writing, graphomania and voice-hearing.  The installation is dimly lit, features tables strewn with books and written materials; a lengthy, subtitled dialogue-heavy film is in progress featuring what appear to be academics engaged in intense discussion; antique chalk boards display symbols and random words, and mysterious drawings are barely visible in their position high up near the rafters.

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I See Words, I Hear Voices Installation by Dora Garcia

This piece has a seductive absurdity that I really like.  It made me think about the pleasure of work, pure thinking, note taking, research, documentation, collaboration, all that studious activity that can be so engaging but in this case there is no  endpoint.  Rather it is diffuse, meandering, extra-sensory, undefined, ongoing, loose and circular.  It is quite a radical statement and a sly, subversive challenge to the way our society rewards the obedient producer.



October 24, 2015

The Gardiner Museum

Bone China is actually made from animal bones; specifically a minimum of 30% bone ash, mixed into a paste with calcium phosphate.  Kent Monkman alludes to this fact in his installation entitled The Rise and Fall of Civilization at The Gardiner Museum, where he has created a diorama-like buffalo jump.

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Detail from The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Kent Monkman

The bison approach the precipice as traditional taxidermied animals, shepherded by a glamorous Cher-like beauty of ambiguous gender.  As they leap to their death they are transformed into cubist sculptures and their remains, below, are a heap of china shards (maybe referencing Julian Schnabel’s Plate Paintings of the late 70s?)

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Detail from The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Kent Monkman

The walls of the installation are covered with large drawings approximating those rendered in the Lascaux caves during Paleolithic times.  The mash-up of iconic imagery from art history next to the buffalo jump scene, (an activity that commenced more than 12,000 years ago on the North American plains) ties history and art history together.  It’s a big subject.

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Detail from The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Kent Monkman

According to Wikipedia, ” The Blackfoot Indians called the buffalo jumps “pishkun”, which loosely translates as “deep blood kettle”.  They believed that if any buffalo escaped these killings then the rest of the buffalo would learn to avoid humans, which would make hunting even harder.  In Kent Monkman’s installation, the bison appear to be resurrected and trot away from the scene of carnage on delicate hooves; flattened, spindly, attenuated ideas of what they once were, appearing now in the style of 20th century sculpture.

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Detail from The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Kent Monkman

A few years ago, while camping in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park I came up fairly close to a massive bison. Maybe it was my imagination but it seemed to me this animal gave me a look of pure hatred.  Is there such a thing as genetic memory?  Did this creature recall that 50 million of his kind where wiped out by white people?  (I also have the weight of global warming on my shoulder.)

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In his article titled The Age of Exhaustion, Joshua Mitchell, writing about the current state of politics in the US, comes up with some very depressing conclusions.  It doesn’t matter if we can trace our ancestry directly to “Buffalo Bill” Cody or not, in still Puritan America we are either pure or stained, guilty or innocent.

I am this or I am that; and therefore no reasoned discussion or argument you might offer need trouble me, for deeper than my capacity to reason is who I am, and who you are—‘white,’ ‘black,’ ‘male,’ ‘female,’ ‘heterosexual,’ ‘homosexual,’ ad infinitum

But Joshua Mitchell is writing about the USA.  In Canada we shook off the politics of division and came up with a hopeful alternative.  The US election is more than a year away.   Soon enough Donald Trump may just blow over.

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Donald Trump may blow over soon

Strolling through the Gardiner Museum I came upon another artwork with a subtle and graceful cultural mash up.

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Mother Teresa Bowl by Carl Beam

Carol Beam’s 1982 earthenware bowl shows Mother Teresa in prayer surrounded by halo of a First Nation’s headdress.  It is a beautiful sketch of Mother Teresa, someone I have always tried to emulate (and failed).

July 4, 2015

I am elated to be recovered from at least a month of labyrinthitis and to stroll up the Rail Path to Miller Street, in the intoxicating heat of this Saturday afternoon in July.

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Part Time, Deep Time by Meghan Price

First let’s think about textiles (domestic, temporal, decorative, familial, utilitarian and in the realm of craft; the human story told in placemats, dresses and rugs) and now geology (just the opposite, encompassing the study of the Earth, the solar system, nearly incomprehensible time frames, confounding forces, speculative theory; a trail of continents, boulders, pebbles to puzzle over.)  In her exhibition at Katzman Contemporary, titled Part Time, Deep Time Meghan Price investigates this unlikely pairing and comes up with some fresh and unpredictable objects and images that seem to allude to the groping for understanding of some deep questions through the humble, practical arts.

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Metamorphic by Meghan Price

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Detail of Metamorphic by Meghan Price

I really liked looking at Metamorphic, the sculpture shown above.  The artist hand-stitched geological markings onto paper to create an embroidery of a massive boulder.  The manifestation of this eccentric idea is bold and exciting.

Meghan Price takes her knowledge of textile skills into new territory.  She weaves wire, layers and folds it, literally bastes it to rocks.

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Detail of Erratics by Meghan Price

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Detail of Wire by Meghan Price

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Installation view of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

In her piece Stratigraphy Meghan Price creates a sculpture reminiscent of a typical geologists core sample, except this one is made of screen printed fabric, variously patterned and compressed, and looking quite a bit like a towel display at Pottery Barn.

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Detail of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

I recently saw an exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada called Artist Textiles.  A number of the most familiar artists of the twentieth century (Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Matisse) were included.  In every case the artist textiles were images by these extremely famous artists printed onto fabric.  The same images could just as easily been been printed onto bookbags or mousepads.  It was like the gift shop took over the Museum.  Meghan Price, on the other hand, goes so deep into this domain that it becomes abstract, open ended and encompassing all.

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Number Please? scarf by Salvador Dali


Thin Air, Bright Light by Yi Xin Tong

While walking around the gallery I learned that Yi Xin Tong was born in Antarctica.   I couldn’t help wondering if his short films (stop action GIFs), made from found imagery of various situations playing out in a dramatically barren, snow and ice landscape, were related to this fact in some way.  Do these silent, dreamlike tableau equate to memories of early years in the deepest south?

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Installation view of short films by Yi Xin Tong

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How to Capture Penguins by Yi Xin Tong

The films, some only a second or two in length, some with a single image which flickers slightly, read as mysterious messages from another time and a stark realm.  I like the efficiency at work here, the way so much content and formal nuance is packed into these succinct artworks.

Yi Xin Tong’s carved inkjet prints on paperboard share that sense of ‘less is more.’  Quite literally, in this case, since the artist excavates the boards, tearing out the former depictions to create mysterious and playful new images upon an expressive and unifying ground of swirling striations and gouges.

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Piano Factory II by Xi Yin Tong

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Arwork by Yi Xin Tong