December 30, 2014

Clare Twomey at the Gardiner Museum

George Gardiner, a stockbroker and financier, adhered to the “buy low, sell high” principle in art collecting as well as business.  He initially began collecting ceramics, with his wife Helen, as a hedge against inflation.  The couple went on to amass a spectacular collection and together created the Gardiner Museum, which sits snugly across the street from the ROM at Bloor and Queen’s Park.  Sumptuous, intelligent, preposessing, and optimally-sized are all adjectives that come to mind in thinking about the cultural edifice that is the Gardiner Museum.

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Entrance to the Gardiner Museum with ceramic head by Jan Kaneko

On the third floor, in a very large, dimly lit room of the Museum is a current exhibition and ongoing performance, titled Piece by Piece, by British artist Clare Twomey.

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Details of Piece by Piece by Clare Twomey

Over 2800 white ceramic figures, 2000 made by Clare Twomey in England and imported for the exhibition, and another roughly 800 produced over the duration of the exhibition by on-site “makers,” are arranged on the dark floor.  This array of expressive figurines is bracketed by a spot-lit work table at one end; at the other stand the original 18th century commedia dell’arte figurines – vividly colored, glazed and brightly lit in vitrines – from which the 2800 ghostly replicas are cast.

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Detail of Piece by Piece by Clare Twomey

My first impression of the art piece is of a swirling, emotive tableau, suggesting a replica of a battle or uprising like the dioramas at Gettysburg.  The spotlights in the darkness create long shadows of the expressive objects on the gleaming floor, adding to the look of tangled narrative within which surely some monumental event is depicted.

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Details from Piece by Piece by Clare Twomey

In fact Clare Twomey is not recreating an historical episode but is responding to a particular 18th century aesthetic as embodied in ceramic commedia del’arte figurines from the Museum’s collection and raising questions about the purpose of a museum and the difference between cranking out replicas and the exquisite perfection of a priceless original.  The artist refers to this work as an “intervention.”  This “intervention” is very well mannered indeed and functions not only as a striking visual work of art but also as an enhancer of the Museum’s role in society.

Clare Twomey has selected three figurines from the commedia del’arte pantheon: Scaramouch, the roguish clown; Harlequin, the witty acrobat; and Leda, the flighty love object.

On the second floor of the Museum a large collection of 18th porcelain commedia del’arte characters are on display including the following:

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Pantalone and Dottore, c. 1740 Meissen, Gemany

In commedia del’arte performances intinerant acting troupes performed unscripted performances relying on their understanding of predictable character behaviour to progress the story line.  This is similar to today’s soap opera actors who apparently are not given lines before the director yells “Action!” but are simply advised of what’s going on, for example: “Victor recovers from amnesia and turns up in Nikki’s bedroom.”

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Victor and Nikki are reunited

The lower galleries at the Gardiner Museum were virtually deserted as closing time neared.  It was a pleasure to stroll around and privately view these lovely objects made of clay.

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Ballplayer from West Mexico, 500-300 BC

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Apparently by Greg Payce, 1999

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Dish commemorating John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, 1702

December 20, 2014

John Player at Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain

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

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

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Listening Station

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

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Monitoring Room

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Remand Center

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

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Watch Floor

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

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Container

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

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Tactical System

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

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

December 9, 2014

(Report from Winnipeg)

Bracing weather in Winnipeg this morning: -27 and gusty. Fortunately I have retained my childhood skill of running backward into the wind.

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Sundogs were visible throughout the day and could be captured clearly with the camera as the sun began to set.

Winnipeg Art Gallery

The annual Sobey Award of $50,000 goes to a single Canadian artist under 40 years of age. Four runners up receive $5,000 each. This year the Winnipeg Art Gallery hosted an exhibition of the finalists and the ceremony in which this year’s winner, Nadia Myre of Quebec, was announced. Finalists include Evan Lee (West Coast and The Yukon), Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier (Prairies and the North), Chris Curreri (Ontario), and Atlantic (Graeme Patterson). I’ve never seen the country divided up quite that way. For me, the art on display is equally novel.

The work of Graeme Patterson is almost indescribably strange. The exhibition displays a half hour long, stop-motion animated film featuring two fur covered humanoid creatures: a bison/human and a lion/human. These two cavort, party, moonwalk, build furniture, chop wood, practice archery, light fires, watch sports, hunt and battle desperately with their fully animal counterparts, until finally, the bison/human gravely injures the lion/human.

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Stills from The Secret Citadel by Craeme Patterson

It’s impossible to walk away from this film. It is so bizarre and original and at the same time has such engaging emotional nuance and a very solemn depth.

Another piece by Graeme Patterson, called Taming the Wild, is a kind of natural history diorama displaying a ragtag selection of roughly taxidermied  animals. A sculpture of a man, possibly a self-portrait, is included in the tableau of delicately posed creatures on slender pedestals.

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Details of Taming the Wild by Graeme Patterson

Two pieces by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, members of Winnipeg’s Royal Art Lodge, are on display.

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Library is a giant painting utterly stuffed with information.  It consists of hundreds of tiny precise paintings of books, rendered in a flat, comic-book style.  Their titles – always drole, sometimes ironic, sometimes fey – are visible.

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Detail of Library by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier

Another piece by the collaborating artists, Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, is sheer poetry.  Dozens of epigrammatic phrases are displayed in a grid of framed pieces.

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Here is one of the pithy texts:

“…and I started getting really

interested in eloquence and profundity.

There were just both so fucking awesome

and cool.”

– by Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier

I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at when it came to the photographs of Chris Curreri. Is this organic matter, closeups of a damp seaside grotto, body parts, melting ceramics or some kind of darkroom manipulation?

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Untitled (Clay Portfolio) by Chris Curreri

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Untitled (Clay Portfolio)

Technically masterful, this series of black and white prints lining a long hallway provide a intense visual experience.  It is partially because of the ambiguity of the subject matter and too because they are so formally voluptuous.

A bust looking out over the gallery above eye level has a shocking quality.  It is approached from the rear and it’s only on walking around it to see the front that the viewer is startled to find it has been violently defaced.

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Views of Medusa by Chris Curreri

Work by Evan Lee has an urgent, contemporary political sense to it. It seems like the artist is trying to keep up with numerous ideas and social forces colliding and richochetting around his world. Black Bloc Abstraction, shown below, initially appears to be an abstract painting until it coheres into waves of black clad protestors, as per the infamous G-20 Summit, held in Toronto in 2010.

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Black Bloc Abstraction by Evan Lee

Large, mostly black paintings consisting of rich fields of varying depth, reveal themselves to be depictions of masked or hooded youth.  Are these guys violent thugs or idealistic protestors?  Evan Lee raises ideas about anarchy, fraying social bonds and alienation in his portrayal of Black Bloc idealogues.

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Black Blot 2 by Evan Lee

In an art piece using numerous different media the subject matter is the migrant to Canada.  Darkly murky portraits attempt to celebrate the importance of an individual: unknown, far from home and alone.

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Migrant Portrait by Evan Lee

The snapshots shown below, of young men nervously vamping for the camera, anxious about their chances for the future, are displayed in a vitrine, with other depictions of a migrant experience.

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Art piece by Evan Lee

Nadia Myre’s work is a grand sociological effort to heal the wounded.  Ongoing since 2005 The Scar Project is a the remarkable focusing of one individual’s compassion to engage numerous others (800 at last count) to participate in a healing action.  Nadia Myre has travelled around the country convincing people to create a “canvas representation of a physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual scar they may have, and write out the accompanying narrative.”

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Hand stitched on unbleached fabric, using humble tools and unsophisticated imagery, these artworks have a feeling of humility, earnestness and honesty.  Nadia Myre is delving into profound subject matter: social change at the level of the individual, involving self reflection, pain and forgiveness.

December 5, 2014

Suzy Lake at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Walking up Beverley Street on the overcast, relatively mild December afternoon I saw the AGO in a whole new light. The big brilliant blue box was incandescent against stark black and white.

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The exhibition I came to see – Introducing Suzy Lake – is on the fourth floor of the Gallery.

I’ve always associated Suzy Lake with Montreal: cool, remote, sophisticated, avant garde in a sort of unknowable way, so I was surprised to learn that she has been living right here in Toronto for the past more than thirty years.

Who is this woman with the magical name? Who is Suzy Lake?

At the AGO Suzy Lake is seen through the decades: the demure high school portraits altered with a sketched in older self; transforming, with hilarious effect, into local icons of the Montreal art scene; slathering on white face or makeup within a grid of images; adopting kittenish fashion poses of the era; homewrecker (with a sledge hammer); domestic drudge; aging Lothario; puppet, matron in haute couture…. On and on, Suzy Lake presents Suzy Lake, as art. That is the core of her work: the female persona that just happens to be her.

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Detail of 16 over 28

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Suzy Lake as Francois Sullivan

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A Genuine Simulation of...

Suzy Lake creates a fascinating tension between the notion of Everywoman and her unique individual self.  We see her again and again and again but we don’t get inside her head.

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Peonies and the Lido #7

The coherence of this body of work, and the way it unfolds in the context of the exhibition, is truly impressive. Throughout it has a consistency and unwavering direction, no side trips or blind alleys here.  She understands media – print, tv, film, music – and turns it back on itself through her own filter.

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Choreographed Puppet

The name Travis Bickle will ring a bell with anyone who lived through the seventies. The protagonist of the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver famously asked “Are you talking to me?” in the 1976 movie view of a dystopic New York City.  Suzy Lake spoke these words in a state of agitated confrontation and this massive photographic piece, recently recreated, documents the performance.  In the movie Robert DeNiro was crazy; a Vietnam vet whose alienation led him to violence.  To me Suzy Lake seems to speak about a different kind of alienation and frustration, that of the objectified woman who has had enough.

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“Are You Talking to Me?”

One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is Suzy Lake decked out in a Rei Kawakubo outfit.  This work is powerful and playful at the same time.  She looks directly at the viewer with startling confrontation daring them to insinuate that her getup is just verging on absurdity.

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Performing Haute Couture

A film “Suzy Lake: Playing with Time”, by Annette Mangaard, was visible near the end of the exhibition.  It provided a great deal of background about Suzy Lake’s life and influences.  I was not prepared for the joyless tone taken in this movie.  For example Lisa Steele and Martha Wilson, both extraordinary artists with histories rich in community and accomplishment, spoke with grim faces about loneliness and struggle in their early careers.  Surely it must have been exhilarating, even fun, to take on the male dominated art world, push forward and thrive?  Something about her expression in the Performing Haute Couture piece tells me that Suzy Lake is definitely enjoying the game.

November 30, 2014

The Aga Khan has bestowed his mythic glamour — which normally involves race horses, yachts, French chateaux and movie stars — onto the modest Toronto neighbourhood known as Flemingdon Park. There lies the site of the brand new Aga Khan Museum, which I glimpsed from the Eglington Avenue East exit of the Don Valley Parkway. On approach, through various off ramps and merges, the structure rises up, like some giant dazzling white envelope, or packing crate, elegantly unfolding in the late November chill.

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Entrance of the Aga Khan Museum

Designed by Fumihiko Maki, the Aga Khan Museum is like a sundial in that light moves around a central open courtyard. Throughout the day the suns rays are cast through elaborately etched glass to create an ever changing panorama in the spacious multi storey structure.

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Aga Khan Museum interior

Tracing the spread of the Islamic faith across the world, the Museum displays numerous exquisite objects from past centuries.

The Museum curators have used the contemporary world map to locate the physical origin of the collection.  For example, Iraq was created only in 1958 but the watercolor shown below is identified as 13th century Iraqi.

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Where does this beautiful artifact fit in?  

According to Wikipedia, the area now called Iraq has been home to various cultures since 6th century BC and was “center of the Akkadian, Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the Median, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mongol, Safavid, Afsharid, and Ottoman empires, and under British control as a League of Nations mandate.” 

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11th century Iranian flask

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14th century gold leafed Egyptian Koran

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This is a painting from Iraq in the 1800, when the East began to encounter the West.

The ground floor of the museum is devoted to display of historical objects and showcasing events and performances, many of which take place in a spectacular domed auditorium.

Take the staircase to the second floor to see the current show of contemporary art from Pakistan.

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Lapis-blue plaster wall backs staircase to second floor

The exhibition of young Pakistani artists, titled The Garden of Ideas, immediately looks like present day art from anywhere and could have easily been covered in one of the links from Artsy that regularly floods my inbox.  But looking a little closer this show is curated to link to the Islamic identify of the artists, using embroidery, textile and carpets, gold leaf miniatures, tiles and paving stones to create fresh interpretations with traditional materials.

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Your Way Begins on the Other Side – Aisha Khalid (gold-plated and stainless pins on velvet and silk)

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United Kingdoms – David Chalmers Alesworth (embroidery on antique carpet)

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The Garden of Love – Mani Abidi

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Details of works by Atif Khan

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detail of painting by Aisha Khalid

The whole experience at the Aga Khan Museum was relaxing, enlightening, refreshing.  It was like a trip to a distant spa.

On the way out we skipped the gift shop and had a beautiful view of the Ismaili Centre which sits across from the Museum separated by some celebrated gardens designed by Vladimir Djurovic, which I will look forward to seeing in April.

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It would have been a perfect day except for a traffic jam of historic proportion on the DVP, which meant more than two hours later we were still in the Flemingdon Park neighborhood, trying to crawl back to Toronto.

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November 21, 2014


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

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Detail from Les Cailloux Blancs

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

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Lost

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One Evening

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2014

We are suddenly plunged into Polar Vortex hell, again.

I hurried through the steady snow in mild panic.

Vera Frenkel at MOCCA

Ways of Telling is the name of the MOCCA exhibition of Vera Frenkel’s work. The entirety of the MOCCA plant is packed to overflowing with Vera Frankel art pieces: There’s an early video piece in the lobby, curtained off with black drapes; two different books on Vera Frenkel’s art are prominently displayed and on sale at the reception desk; both of the large exhibition spaces are filled with Vera Frankel’s video projections, installations, numerous large collages and documentation of art pieces from the past.  Here and there holes are punched right through walls so the viewer doesn’t have to miss anything.

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Installation shots from Ways of Telling

An entire functioning “piano bar”, where you can actually get a drink and which contains everything (and more) that constitutes a real bar, has been constructed in one of the main rooms at MOCCA.

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 …from the Transit Bar

The hallway is a site for her work and if you leave through the rear exit you are obliged to pass through yet another Vera Frenkel piece.

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Installation shot of “The National Art Institute”

Even the bathroom contains an installation by Vera Frenkel.

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The most obvious constant in this plethora of output is Vera Frenkel’s voice. Throughout the galleries she can be heard everywhere. Refined, pleasant and carefully modulated this voice tells stories with an almost hypnotic quality. With uncanny intimacy and assurance the voice confides. You the listener and she the teller are well acquainted. She has definitely got your ear and she is going to tell you the whole story.

For me, coming from the West, her voice has a particular Ontario cadence, a certain lilt that is present only east of Kenora. But beneath all this self possessed Upper Canadian palaver there is determination, sometimes sorrow and often a growing rage.

In the large video projection called Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive Vera Frenkel explores long-standing anger directed at the greed that has defined the waterfront landscape in Toronto.  Through a complicated shaggy dog narrative she artfully discloses the facts.  Money and power win.  The lake disappears behind a grid of scaffolding.

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Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive

A piece entitled The National Art Institute, Or what we do for love is largely virtual.  The posters about the National Art Institute in the exhibition baffled me so I checked it out on the web.  The piece seems to have no beginning or end.  Like some bureaucratic nightmare it has its own smug logic and lots of deadends.  Looking through the website is quite fascinating but maddening in its elusiveness.  In trying to get a grip on the dystopic near future Vera Frenkel seems to be asking the viewer to share her anger and start a revolution.  Her ambivalence is not so much toward technology as it is toward the gatekeepers of technology.  As in Once Near Water, she objects to being cut off.

In The Blue Train – a multi-channel photo-text-video installation – recollections and imaginings are woven together as a fateful journey unfolds.  The images and sound have a wistful dreaminess and evoke the disorienting feelings that can overtake the traveller.

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The Blue Train

Travel and other kinds of dislocation are also the focus of …from the Transit Bar, originally created in 1992.  The lights are low.  The piano tinkles softly.  There is reading material and video, both in numerous languages.  It’s a haven for conversation or solitary reflection and the viewer is invited to indulge on their own terms.  …from the Transit Bar gets to the heart of Vera Frenkel’s work which is sometimes trenchant and always warm, human, generous and open to all.

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…from the Transit Bar

November 13, 2014

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

It was grey and cold and sleet was present.


Harold Klunder at Clint Roenisch Gallery

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

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

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Green Abstraction

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

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Airmail Blue #1

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

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Flemish Proverb and detail of the same painting

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

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This Length of Muddy Road

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

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Milk of the Sun

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

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

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

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At first I thought it was influenced by Picasso.

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But no…it looks more like a Harold Klunder.


Daniel Faria GalleryKristine Moran, Wayne Ngan

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

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

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Funeral Procession

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

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

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Flashe

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Seance

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


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

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

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

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

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November 5, 2014

Off the beaten track and away from the high rents a small group of galleries are staking out territory in an unexpected region of Toronto. According to the Toronto Star this neighbourhood is called Carleton Village and it is bordered by St. Claire avenue on the north and surrounded on the other three sides by railway lines: the CNR/CPR mainline to the west, the CNR railway lines to the east, and the CPR east-west railway lines to the south. Carleton Village may be a little scary at night but during the day its all about auto body shops, humble residences, scrub vegation and a particular industrial park ambience that has an undeniable allure.

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View outside galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village

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View in back of galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village

Jessica Bradley Gallery

At the Jessica Bradley Gallery an exhibition by Tricia Middleton, titled Making friends with yourself, feels strangely like a reference to the gallery exterior, albeit darkly exaggerated. These messy piles of forgotten, encrusted stuff are just the kind of tableaux that lurk along railway lines, highway-off ramps and docksides to be stumbled upon by the unwary dog-walker or middle-school biker.

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Detail of installation by Tricia Middleton

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Installation View

The signs along a riverbank might say No Dumping but Tricia Middleton knows our world is full of items to be discarded, hidden, eroded, rotted and finally washed away by moving water or overgrown with weeds and more debris.

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The cascading wax references memorials, alters, communion with others or the world beyond and furtive spiritual gestures of all kinds and provides another dimension to the work. The faint glimpse of glitter beneath the wax encrusted surface and the purples, pinks and blues suggest the melting and blurring of once distinct ritual objects, desperate prayers and secret meetings.

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Sometimes the objects are simply ghastly like various disconnected swollen body parts. These headless torsos or set of legs might be encased in clothing, vestiges of their former existence, and now swarming with indicators of truly repellent new life.

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The installations raises all kinds of interesting ideas concerning our consumer society and relationships to things, about waste and value, about pop culture notions of the macabre in relation to marginal forms of spirituality, ideas about what is disgusting and grotesque, nightmarish glimpses of the terrible fates of the missing among us, and about the forgotten people, places and things that exist in the hidden margins of our society.


Katzman Contemporary

Annabella Scondi lived from 1921 to 2005, mostly in rural Northern Ontario. Recognized as a brilliant diarist in her teenage years Ms. Scondi then laboured for decades as a ticket taker at the Sudbury train station. She went on to retreat to “a cabin in the woods” and create a startling body of outsider art, presented at the Katzman Gallery by Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium.

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Annabella Scondi

An elaboratly produced audio guide is offered to help the gallery visitor understand Annabella Scondi’s influences. The audio piece breathlessly details the evolution and development of the artist as a wounded genius or maybe an elusive idiot savant somehow able to comprehend the complex machinations of the art world and create astute artworks, responding to such varied influences as Brancusi, Duchamp and Bridget Riley.

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Unsent Letters to Bridget Riley

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Personally, I understand the lure of the distant obscure object.  Growing up on the Canadian prairies I wanted to know more about, say, Conceptual Art, and studied the relevant publications diligently. Its not an uncommon phenomenon. I have a nephew who, at the age of seven, living in rural Manitoba, became obsessed with the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach, particularly a certain musical passage from that work. He went on to study music composition and eventually attended a remounting of the piece at 2012 Luminato festival. His own music is influenced by this classic avant garde work.

The work on the walls can be a little bland, especially without the audio accompaniement, but Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium have created a very interesting piece.  Particularly relevant in this era of social media hyper communication where all is revealed instantly the work creates something that we are not quite sure about and as such becomes a kind of meditation on the whole idea of the internationally obscure.

Did Annabella Scondi ever exist at all? One of the recurring images throughout the show is the obscured visage.

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Detail from The Scondi Collection

Supposedly her work was all tied up with her self imposed exile subsequent to an early brush with fame (and 30 years at the wicket in Sudbury).  What does this show tell us about fame, particularly of the art world variety? The Warhol take on fame, the way he captured and coveted the aura of Lisa Minelli or Marilyn, has morphed through the decades so that movie stars like Tilda Swinton or James Franco covet the esoteric elitism of the performance artist.

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Was Annabella Scondi created so that she could be unearthed and deconstructed by the art world, ever hungry for the new and obscure, someone who is genuinely unknowable? Or is she real, an accurate cipher decoding and dialoguing with the cultural forces of her times?

November 1, 2014

Wet snow appeared briefly in the backyard this morning and it seemed that winter was looming as I set out to see some galleries along Dundas Street West, between Dufferin and Ossington, on this cold, blustery, overcast afternoon.

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I was surprised to see the work of Laura Kikauka (with Carl Hamfelt) at MKG127.   For some reason I had some vague, preconceived notion about what was waiting along this particular stretch of Dundas and this wasn’t it.

The show, which is entitled What Box?, is in fact filled with unanticipated and engrossing work that, as the title suggests, defies categorization.

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Stadium Moment $200

Laura Kikauda’s work is truly eccentric. She mines a rich vein of our consumer society’s debris to create numerous tiny, perfect worlds with her own uniquely disquieting sensibility. The show also contains video and various sculptures but it is the delicate, miniature dioramas which are the most fascinating aspect of this exhibition.

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Installation view of dioramas by Laura Kikauda

Each of the boxes, about four or five inches square or a bit larger, is accompanied by a title and a price, hand written by the artist.

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The Bright Underbelly of Subversion $300

Undoubtedly, the work is related to Joseph Cornell‘s boxes, through the form itself and the nod to
Surrealism, but whereas Cornell’s art evoked nostalgia and used fragments of desirable objects to create something referencing a lost reality, that is not the case with Laura Kikauka’s pieces. The materials she uses were never particularly precious or beautiful; instead she salvages that which was always more or less worthless. And the pieces she creates have a fragile, lyrical strangeness to them that is like the flotsam of another world.  Its easy to become transfixed before any of these odd pieces as they appear to capture moments in some transitory and unsettling narrative.

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Great Escape $280

One of the sculptural pieces uses black dominoes on which the artist has inscribed texts commonly found on tomb stones.  These solid little rectangles are Minimalism’s opposite.

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Wandering around the exhibition I realized I had visited this artist’s studio a few years ago in connection to the Electric Eclectic Festival, which is held near her home, known as The Funny Farm, in Medford, Ontario. There Laura Kikauka lives in a bizarre nest of thousands of found objects. With this exhibition she has shown an uncanny ability to edit a tiny fraction of those items into delicately evocative works of art.


ESP (Erin Stump Projects)

The show at ESP (Erin Stump Projects) has the svelte, young, stylish look I thought I would find along Dundas West.

Kotama Bouabane, who is exhibiting photographs and an installation on the main floor of the gallery, has taken a step up from Home Depot and RONA and explores the wonderful new materials available in the trade shows and interior design display outlets of the world. Outdated, Updated, Renovated is the name of this subtlety sophisticated show.

A sculptural installation consists of an array of materials displayed to create a tableau of colour, texture and surface.

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Kotama Bouabane also uses photography.  The artist captures incidental moments in the display universe to create almost formalist, painterly images which subvert the literal function of the materials.

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Upstairs at ESP is an exhibition called Painting with Fire.  It contains a number of ceramic pieces and photographs of ceramic pieces produced by Naomi Yasui during a residency in Denmark. These bulbous, ungainly forms, lightly mottled and coloured in nuanced gold and red, have a powerful, slightly menacing presence, like a science experiment gone wrong.

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According to the notes in the gallery, the process the artist used to make these works, known as “atmospheric firing” has a certain unpredictability.  The aspect of chance in the process is an important element in the work.  In that connection Naomi Yasui displayed a large box containing the process “rejects.”

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Details of “reject” items from Naomi Yasui’s exhibition


Le Gallery

I am a big fan of looking up close at unframed drawings.  Technically the art pieces by Scott Waters, pinned nakedly to the wall at Le Gallery are paintings – he uses something called acrylic ink –  but they have a deft freshness that feels drawing-like.  The deep, seductive blacks and unerring compositions make these art pieces a pleasure to view.

The content is intense.  From 1989 to 1992 Scott Waters served as an infantryman in the Third Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Bravo “B” Company.  Maybe that explains his focus on disaster and folly in the series.  The unrelenting twisters, the charred cabin of a downed airliner, the collapsed span: all have a Warhol-style cold eye on tragedy and mayhem.

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Some of the works have an emotional charge, like the depiction of the startled doe in headlights or the stoned chanteuse. We see the impending crisis and we want them to survive.

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