September 25, 2014

There is so much frenetic construction activity along Queen’s Quay on the way to The Power Plant. What’s going on?  It appears RBC’s marketing team are working overtime to hint about what might be in store for us when all this commotion is done and the dust settles.

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The Power Plant

The fall season at The Power Plant includes impressive work by three artists.


Shelagh Keeley

I admired Shelagh Keeley’s drawings back on September 6th at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Here, covering The Power Plant’s vast clerestory wall, is an example of the artist’s site specific work, scaled up.

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The piece is called “Notes on Obsolescence.” It  has the spontaneity of jottings and doodles pinned up on a giant push-pin board but, amazingly, the numerous drawings, photographs and writings coalesce to create one monumental work of art.

Threads, strings and strands – sometimes drawn directly on the wall – drop, dip and fall in concert with layers of more drawings and many photos (of different textures, hues, vintage and size) depicting spindles, shuttles, punchcards, servers, circuit boards, weavings, intersecting woofs and warps, dye mechanisms, the factory floor, gadgets and widgets, quotes from Marshall McLuhan, cascading reams of paper from a long gone dot matrix printer and so on and on. The work follows the relentless march of technological innovation by looking backward at the abandoned remains.

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This piece is endlessly fascinating to look at. There is so much rich content and beautiful details.  It was annoying that I could not see the loftiest sections until I realized I could simply walk upstairs.

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Julia Dault

Seeing this sculpture by Julia Dault got me thinking: What if I owned an austere modernist rectangular house? What if I placed this sizzling pink and blue bundle in one of its large imposing rooms?

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How cool and sophisticated would I be?  Would I have to hire a staff just to dust my possessions?

Maybe its the playful colors and unconventional materials but I definitely got a sense of joy seeing this work. The high gloss sculpture appear on the verge of flying apart and the paintings have a late-night, rock ‘n roll high spiritedness to them.

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Julia Dault’s exploration into mark making is deep. At the same time it has a certain infectious giddyness most evident in the sprawling lexicon of marks, encased in a grid, which she created for one wall of the gallery.

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Pedro Cabrita Reis

This sculpture is brawny and muscular. I-beams appear to have been ripped from walls and scattered about recklessly as if in mid demolition. (There is no way this piece was not made by a guy.)

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It has a dangerous feel too: through the precariously balanced beams, sharp metal edges, vulnerable neon tubing and tangles of explosed wiring. Wandering through this huge installation reminded me of my walk through the construction site to get here. I really enjoyed the bold, massiveness of it as the lake sparkled outside in the morning light; and there seemed to be emotional content too but it was not out of control, instead it was more like thinking about havoc in a repressed, distant and thoughtful way.

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That same contemplative feel is evident upstairs in a gallery containing fourteen paintings by Pedro Cabrita Reis. These formalist paintings are very somber: Raw canvas, reddish stain, heavy slablike layer of dark brown nearly black paint encased in elaborate plexi and welded metal frames.

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(The lights in the gallery were so bright and the frame surface so reflective I was unable to capture the actual look of the paintings.  You’ll just have to see for yourself.)

September 20, 2014

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

Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stephen Bulger Gallery

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

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

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

The Ryerson Image Center

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

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

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September 17, 2014

Is Toronto Burning?

1977/1978/1979 Three Years in the Making (And Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene

Art Gallery of York University

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“Our taxes aid ‘blood thirsty’ radical paper” reads a Toronto Star headline from May 1978 and goes on to breathlessly detail “support for knee capping…the blood red front page…active ideological struggle…and the writings of Mao Tse Tung.”  It’s hard to square this pivotal moment in the Toronto art community with, say, a walk down trendy Queen Street West on a Saturday afternoon in 2014.  But in fact, the cheerful shopping district and cultural free-for-all tourist attractions such as Scotia Bank Nuit Blanche were forged in precisely the fires that curator Philip Monk alludes to in “Is Toronto Burning?”  But that’s another story…

1977 to 1979 was a hectic moment for the Toronto art scene.  Relatively, the cost of living was low and space cheap.  Artists devoted most of their time to producing art and developing, debating and expounding the ideas behind it.  Participants had to take a stand…on everything, 24 hours a day.  Art and life were all mixed up and local bars, clubs and restaurants were venues for laying it out as much as the highly significant artist run centers and their related publications.  As the exhibition reveals this intensity was not sustainable.  It quickly collapsed from internal and external pressures to be reborn repeatedly in new forms.

The exhibition freezes the messy, fractious era in a svelte installation of black, grey, and blood red: the cardinal colors of the time.  The fascinating publications (yellowing and slightly dogged-eared – sometimes just “Selectric” typewriters, rubber cement and tape) are laid out in elegant vitrines.

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Ross McLaren’s raucus film “Crash ‘n Burn” documenting the mayhem in the CEAC basement, silently loops against a wall of the emblemantic red.

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Video, mostly black and white, was the pervasive, although difficult medium of the time, and it is included everywhere in the show:  Clive Robertson decked out as Joseph Beuys; Colin Campbell, fresh-faced and eager, prancing about as the scene-making naif; the sleek General Idea trio, dripping in irony.  (Two of my own tapes are included.  I found them drole and, well, it is just odd to look at work from 35 years in the past.)

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The large photo pieces, by David Buchan and General Idea, create an arch universe where the conventions of fashion,advertising and disconcerting subversion collide.

Some items are hilarious!  Carol Conde and Karl Beveridge describe Carmen Lamanna, an art dealer at the time, as an odious creature. “Lamanna pumps out propaganda, reactionary propaganda.”

At the opening of “Is Toronto Burning?” people hung around the publications table, thumbed through the thick bound xerox copies of numerous texts from the era and speculated on the hostilities on display.  The materials were amusing, vulgar, iconoclastic, provocative, vitriolic and on and on.  So much was packed into those three short years.  What the hell was it all about?  That’s what this show wants us to explore.

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Indeed, “Is Toronto Burning?” demands a closer look and time to watch the videos (with headphones) and read the materials closely, particularly in regard to some of the work seen rarely: the CEAC documentation, Tom Sherman’s video and writings, the dance pieces by Lily Eng and Peter Dudar and Elizabeth Chitty, and work by Judith Doyle and Isobel Harry.

So I guess that means another trip to York.

There are many ways to reach York University.  Thousands of people do it every day!  Here are some landscapes you may see on the way:

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I took the Performance Bus, which was free and very entertaining, thanks to Peter Kingstone.  He dared us to sing along to the following:

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September 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the courtyard is the Christopher Cutts Gallery

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

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

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

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

September 6, 2014

The purpose of this blog is to write about Art in Toronto.  What’s going on in art in Toronto right now?  I intend to start this project by taking a walk every Saturday, visiting some galleries, taking a few pictures and recording my impressions and thoughts here.  I am not sure where this project will take me. Galleries might be just the beginning.  I admit I don’t know where the art scene is at this time.  One thing I definitely want to do is to get some dialogue going and invite others to write about art in Toronto.

On Saturday, September 6th, I walked down Ossington Street.  It felt like the last breath of a short, cool summer.   The street was lively and colorful.

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First stop: O’Born Contemporary

Callum Schuster’s exhibition is all about limits: He uses only the sphere and only in black and white.  Any evidence of the human hand has been expunged from the work.  Numerous spheres were created in various media.  Each sphere is divided in half: one half a dense matte black and the other half dazzling matte white.  The sphere’s were twirling, white sphere’s becoming black spheres, they were lined up, tilted, embedded in frosted plexiglass, some larger, some smaller, all extremely controlled, modulated, calm.  The artist made animated films and sculptures of black and white spheres spinning in the same steady, controlled way.  The work had the feel of an architectural or maybe mathematical model; pristine, artfully constructed, and indeed, the artist has stated he is interested in measurement.  It is dry, cool, extremely clean – bordering on obsessively clean – work.

The tall, elegant co-director of O’Born Contemporary, Rachel Anne Farquharson, was very gracious.  I scanned the artist’s statement and asked her what is the meaning of “praxis.”  (The context was the “praxis of painting.”)  She told me it means “practice” in Greek.  I didn’t know what to make of that and she looked a little sheepish.  She mentioned the artist’s cleanliness, obsessiveness, tidyness etc. and has also been quite taken with his intelligence. 20140906_131835More dots

The overwhelming sense of this show is how removed the work is from the anything that’s going on just outside the white gallery cube.  I can relate to that specific focus and can understand that someone might not want to even read a newspaper in the ghastly summer of 2014.

Next up: Angell Gallery

I really like Jamie Angell.  He is truly an art enthusiast, and noone can work a room like him.

Jamie’s main artist, i.e. the one that keeps the gallery financially solvent, is Kim Dorland but Jamie takes risks on all kinds of other artists and always has something unusual to look at.  The current show in the large gallery is by Daniel Hutchinson.  What do you know?  This artist is all about limits and is extremely intelligent!  This is what the lovely young gallery assistant told me.  I’m detecting a trend.

Daniel uses only black, although he underpaints in color. The color sometimes bleeds through but the viewer is not quite sure if its a hallucination or some kind of afterglow that occurs from staring at the profoundly black paintings.  From my perspective they were hard to look at.  The black was so shiny and sticky looking, like old liquorice, tar or pumped up rubber industrial stair treads.  The artist added glare by strategically placed neon tubes next to the paintings

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Daniel is interested in cosmology, dark matter and various themes from contemporary physics.  In the statement heavy hitters like Malevich and Ad Reinhardt are referenced.  Clearly Daniel Hutchinson is a serious and ambitious painter.

Incidently, this morning on CBC a scientist was talking about the Higgs boson particle.  I knew it was a big deal to find this particle but I was not really sure why.  According to the scientist this is a happy story because it means we are not surrounded by a lonely vacuum as was previously surmised.  We are in a soup of matter and the discovery of the Higgs boson proves it.  This particle is the building block of everything, hence, it is called the “God Particle.”  The details are a little hazy for me but as Daniel Hutchinson seems to suggest aspects of physics such as the Higgs boson are mysterious and compelling and provide rich inspiration for visual art.

Onward… to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA)

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What would we do without MOCCA?  Who would provide a venue for STAG Library’s mugwort recipes and eloquent documentation on “relanding.”  (“Relanding” is the word used by Gina Badger and cheyanne turions, the two individuals who make up STAG Library,  to describe an attempt to reconcile the violent past of original European settlement in North America.)

Also in the main space was an exhibition called TBD which is focused on reimaging the Museum.  It consisted of numerous ideas for exploding the conventional museum and dispersing the contents in inventive, original ways.  The ideas are so amusing: Think of the possibility of a temporary museum in the construction hoardings around new buildings.

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There was lots of standing around reading at MOCCA, which doesn’t really work for me.  A certain amount of reading is okay but maybe this exhibition should have been a magazine or a book?

The prints of Museum floorplans were stylish objects and they would definitely look good in a corporate boardroom.

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Sometimes MOCCA’s installations are so subtle that I just miss them totally.  Apparently there is a sound installation by Mark Soo currently on display.  It’s called “House is a Feeling” but  I couldn’t really get a beat on it even though I was wandering in the main gallery for 10 minutes or so.  How I missed it I do not know.  Maybe that installation had something to do with the intermittent drilling that finally drove me out of there and into the adjoining exhibition.

The highlight of the MOCCA visit for me was the 2013 film entitled “Provenance” by Amie Siegel.

The piece explores the fetishism around certain mid-century modernist furniture.  In this case, chairs and other items designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret are documented being packed up, travelling across the ocean, expertly marketed and sold for hefty prices, eventually to take their places in a succession of glamorous contemporary settings.  These objects turn up in all the right places and they seem to become more beautiful and desirable as the film progresses, invariably captured in slow tracking shots in a muted palette as the context screams Understatement! Taste! Money!

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The back story on these chairs is so interesting.  Chandigarh is a city in India designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jenneret in the middle of the last century.  This furniture is apparently the everyday office chairs and desks that the inhabitants of this dreamed up city would use.

And finally: Paul Petro Contemporary Art

The downstairs gallery features an exhibition by Morley Shayuk.  I would like to get to know this artist and ask him to accompany me to Home Depot or Rona sometime.  He seems to really know his way around hardware and building materials.  He creates massive wall reliefs incorporating all the latest polymer variants.  They have a kind of off-hand grandeur and would have looked great in the (now bulldozed) former Winnipeg International Airport.

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Upstairs was an arresting show by Shelagh Keeley.  What I really liked about her paintings (on mylar) was their uncomplicated sophistication.  No handout required: It is all there in the paintings.  They are lush, meditative, succinct and that works for me.

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Clotilda was texting me to meet her at Starbucks.  I concluded my first Toronto art blog walk with a good feeling of calm and optimism.