October 18, 2014

This week I put the commercial galleries on hold and decided to check out what’s happening in the institutional realm.

Art Gallery of Ontario

What could I possibly say about Alex Colville that has not already been said?

The galleries were packed. The crowds seemed very familiar and knowledgeable about the work and its context. The pop-up gift shop was humming

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Revolver Necklace for $32 Available online from shopAGO

As I wandered through the show (for the second time!) I tried to figure out what draws people to this artist. Alex Colville’s life was shaped by the Depression, WWII and a marriage lasting seventy years. He lived in a small town. Those few facts constitute a set of experiences shared by few people living today. And yet the crowds seemed to identify and recognize something personal.

In fact, in August, when I dragged a visiting Australian relative to the AGO – a guy who was unimpressed by Niagara Falls and expressed disdain for art in general – he was transfixed by Alex Colville’s paintings. They seemed to speak directly to him. He even purchased a reproduction of Pacific, an elegantly composed painting all about dispair.

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Niagara Falls

GUN AND WATER

Pacific

Exacting, taut, restrained, subtle, precise: these words can all be used to describe the paintings. But within those muted tones and careful, painstaking surfaces Alex Colville planted content. Graceful young athletes and middle class pleasures are there but so too are fear, decay and death.

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Horse and Train

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Three Crows

In his rendering of the revolvers, bolting terrified horses, crows and his own bleak gaze at the relentless unfolding of life these paintings are not so much about any particular external crisis as they are about an individual’s efforts to endure.  Alex Colville addressed the human condition and his public responds.

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V-Tape

I accidently came upon an artist’s talk, by Lisa Birke, at V-Tape.

When I was in art school visiting artists gave talks almost on a daily basis.  Food and beer were provided for all so they were well attended events.  The talks broke down into two basic catergories: first, the vague, rambling, sometimes painfully awkward sessions where the speaker might say something like: “…and then I got interested in triangles…”  To me, that type of presentation was very honest and accurately reflected the artistic process, which is mostly unsure, groping and testing, interspersed with periods of incomprehensible clarity and assurance.  The other type of talk had a bit more of a sales pitch tone.  In those cases the artist forgot about the lonely, intuitive struggle to make art and just lined up a list of ideas that could be applied to the work after the fact, i.e. “…here the Hegelian Dialectic is represented as a triangle.”

I respected Lisa Birke for the dignified tone of her talk.  She gave a nod to Kant and Burke and the sublime but she was clearly in the intuitive, groping camp.  She talked about how she made the piece: failing and trying again and being cold and frostbitten and alone in the dark early morning; being embarrassed and unsure and continuing to try and figure something out.

The result is her video entitled Red Carpet.  The piece is lovely to look at, capturing some gorgeous extremes of the Canadian landscape experience.   It also constitutes an interesting response to the Celebrity Gossip culture that seems to be taking over the world, i.e. she is in solidarity with not just the consumers but also the producers of the endless painful parade of distraction.  The red carpet leads the protagonist under water and to obliteration.  She can’t stop.  We can’t look away.

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Art Gallery of York University

I went back to the AGYU to have a closer look at the Is Toronto Burning? show.

Once I crossed the 401 there were thickets of Ford Nation signs everywhere and it rained hard.  I prayed for God to save Toronto.

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View out the bus window

It was luxurious to have this trove of artefacts to myself as almost no one was around.

Some of the artists are so vividly represented.  I’m still not quite sure what to make of the question “Is Toronto Burning?” but David Buchan, for example, was definitely on fire during those years.

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He was so rakish and arch as a rat pack Lothario or Bond man or lounge act.  There are numerous videotapes of David Buchan lipsynching.  I watched him perform “Bread and Butter” (which was originally recorded by the Newbeats in 1964).  It is unforgettable.

I watched tough girl Elizabeth Chitty furiously shrugging her shoulders and whipping out her Polaroid like a lethal weapon.

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And I looked around a little more carefully.  Somehow at the show’s opening I missed the piece by Carol Conde and Karl Beverage in which they approximate poses from China’s Cultural Revolution ballet to spell out Art is Political.  I really like the ambition in this artwork.

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Art is Political

Here is an image from a Chinese Ballet which was hosted by the Kennedy Center in Washington in 2011.  The caption reads:  A landlord from the ballet cowers as one of the revolutionary woman soldiers hardens her face and strikes a pose with her pistol.

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But most of the time I spent watching Colin Campbell’s delightful videotapes.  One scene featured Colin with Ron Gabe, Tim Guest, David Buchan and Stephen Davey.  It seemed like yesterday.

October 12, 2014

There is so much excellent painting on display in Toronto right now.

This weekend I am travelling by car; chauffeured around and oblivious to any dramas on the TTC (a vague memory, until tomorrow).

Barbara Edwards Contemporary

Barbara Edwards Contemporary, on Bathurst just below Dupont, is showing the work of Ray Mead (1921-1998). This artist, one of the Painters Eleven, achieves a bell ringing clarity through his use of color in combination with spare, gestural forms.

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Roma

Untitled

Untitled

The paintings are bold, worldly and sophisticated while hinting at the psychological obsessions of the time: deep brooding complexes and anxieties burbling in a Cold War stew of dread.

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On Saturday afternoon the painting show and various gorgeous, brilliantly colored artworks leaning against a wall looked urbane and voluptuous.  Barbara Edwards and her colleague were considering a trove of Ray Mead works and very obligingly, they opened a fat portfolio of unframed pieces for my companion and me; and one by one, tenderly plucked the vulnerable artworks from between acid free sheets to show them to us.

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It was a bit like reading a coded diary and trying to interpret the entries: lovely to look at, tantalizingly heavy with meaning and forever opaque.

It was surprising, on exiting the gallery, to notice a big, bold Ray Mead filling the window of the frame shop and La Parette Gallery (“art of the sixties’) across the street.  Ray Mead left his mark on Toronto.

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Birch Contemporary

We zipped down Bathurst to Techumseh and Birch Contemporary.

Joyce Carol Oates frequently writes stories about young women who have a distorted view of the world.  They foolishly take up with sinister outcasts of one kind or another and soon things start going badly and people get hurt.  Janet Werner‘s show at Birch Contemporary, and particularly one of the paintings called Abby and Snow (which is also the title of the exhibition) made me think of the kind of struggle between the predatory and the vulnerable that Oates describes.

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Abby and Snow

In many of these works, loosely painted figures on amorphous backgrounds, Janet Werner seems to be speaking to an individual’s misreading, rejection or distortion of society’s norms or expectations.  She explores the blurred boundaries between cute and grotesque, assertive and repellent, demure and …um…dead, to spectacular effect.

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Sunday (racoon eyes)

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Walker

Ballerina

Ballerina

I was particularly fascinated by Janet Werner’s take on enduring female archetypes: ingenue, pretty ballerina, horsey type, bimbo.  Her representations of these typically hackneyed cliches are riveting.

The current chatter around feminism and Beyonce, for example, becomes pale and superficial in contrast to these disturbing images encompassing profound female yearning, disappointment and pain.

Georgia Scherman Projects

Next door to Birch is Georgia Scherman Projects and an exhibition of paintings by Melanie Authier.

There is something about these paintings that makes them entirely of the moment.  Maybe its because we expect more from abstract painting now than ever before.  If Ray Mead was venturing into unknown territory in the fifties at this point it is well travelled terrain.  Melanie Authier uses the daring elements employed by a painter such as Ray Mead and combines them with references to all kinds of artistic romanticism from the past.  I was reminded of Turner’s deep, mystical space; my friend observed the nod to Casper David Freiderich’s majestic cliffs.  The work also has a connection to the current look of video game animation, the so-called “fantasy art” created by modelers to give gamers a daunting landscape in which to search and destroy.  These big, ambitious paintings package it all into something new.

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Rake-N-Snake

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Iron Belly

The show entitled Figments and Foils includes a number of small watercolours.  These pieces have the same sumptiousness, technical and spatial virtuosity as the larger works but they also have a freshness and spontaneity that is very appealing.

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WOP-Assembly

October 8, 2014

Hart House

Nestled in the U of T campus, just off University Circle, is Hart House, a student activity center which contains a gym and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, among other facilities.

John G. Hampton, the curator of the current exhibition at Hart House, titled “Why Can’t Minimal,” for some reason decided to illuminate the lighter side of the Sixties art movement known as Minimalism. (Incidently, when searching for a good Minimalism site I stumbled upon a whole new meaning of the term. Yes, there is, in fact, a second type of Minimalism: it’s an entirely contemporary social movement which advises people on how to get rid of the excess stuff in their lives in order to make room for the essentials.)

Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella (for his minimalist Black Paintings) are a few of the artists associated with Minimalism. Carl Andre, the ultimate American Minimalist sculptor, likes to say “It’s all the materials… there are no ideas hidden under those plates. You can lift them up but there is nothing there.” No hidden ideas and therefore nothing funny… about zinc plates or a pile of bricks or massive oak cubes.

Rather than actually finding the humour in Minimalism what the curator did was round up some Conceptual artists who commented on utterly humourless Minimalist standards. The result has a particular off-key, dry wit (verging on absurdity) so close to the heart of the Conceptual artist.

Some of the works in this show are delightful: John Boyle-Singfield’s Untitled (Coke Zero) references the Hans Haacke Condensation Cube of 1962, replacing water with Coke Zero. The Coke Zero does create condensation but it has also undergone a gross transformation, breaking down into its elemental components: On top, an evil looking red liquid and below, a suspicious powdery substance.

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Ken Nicol created Carl Andre Drawer Piece and got into the spirit of “truth to materials” by typing the Carl Andre quote “If a thing is worth doing once, it’s worth doing again” on 1611 index cards.

File piece

I always associate John Baldessari with Cal Arts and a particular brand of flat humour that came out of that school. In his video Baldessari “sings” each of Sol LeWitt’s 35 “Sentences on Conceptual Art” to the tune of popular songs. It must have been Christmas when he made this video because the tune sounds distinctly like a holiday carol.

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There is a certain slyness to John Marriott’s various sized cubes surfaced with pigeon-proofing strips. They also achieve a cool elegance in an incidental, i.e. Minimalist, manner.

See below for an installation view and a close up of the pigeon-proofing strips.

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University of Toronto Art Center (UTAC)

A few steps from Hart House is UTAC and an exhibition of the photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) called “We are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death.” This is a fascinating show for anyone with an interest in the Beat Generation.

A recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his 1955 poem “Howl” can be heard throughout the gallery’s rooms.

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It is, of course, primarily as a poet that Allen Ginsberg is known. These photographs however attest to his skill as a photographer (he was mentored in this ability by Robert Frank) and moreover they document a life profoundly rich in relationships, friendships and experiences.

Below, William Burroughs in 1953:

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Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles and Burroughs in 1961.

From Gary Snyder, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and Paul Bowles to Kathy Acker, Rene Ricard, and Michael McLure the pictures in this show depict so many of the literary and intellectual luminaries of the past four of five decades. Each picture includes a description, hand-written by Allen Ginsberg, identifying the subject, the date, the place and the circumstances.

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An essay by Louis Kaplan in the exhibition catalogue quotes Ginsberg as follows: “The poignancy of the photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world.” Captured here in black and white, the humble New York diners and living rooms of the fifties have disappeared forever. This show provides a glimpse of this vanished world and its inhabitants.

October 1, 2014

Today, on Spadina Avenue, I experienced the future!

Behold, the airy interior of a new TTC streetcar.

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The wide, bike-friendly, double doors opened (automatically) and I exited (in complete safely) at Queen Street and crossed southeast to Richmond, back in the present…sort of. The building at 401 Richmond Street, which has a seventies feel, was actually erected around 1900, for industrial purposes. It currently has so many culturally productive tenants that the management publishes its own in-house gallery guide.

There are numerous permanent art installations scattered around the wide, creaky hallways.

For example, near the main entrance are a group of photographs by Peter McCallum.  Below is a detail of one of the photographs, which document studios, workshops and infrastructure of the 401 Richmond site.

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This artist has so much skill and sophistication.  Grounded in an uncanny ability to discern and compose a nuanced, insightful view of a particular moment and place, and with superb technical skill, the photographs by Peter MacCallum are always instantly recognizable and a pleasure to view.

The Abbozzo Gallery

The Abbozzo Gallery presents drawings by Olexander Wlasenko.  I was flipping through the decades.  Suddenly it was 1965. These works in charcoal, unframed and velvety, conjure up a time when people dressed up for air travel and sashayed across the tarmac in kitten heels.

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Drawings by Olexander Wlasenko

Are these stills from Pierrot le Fou, Bande a Parte, La Chinoise or some other gorgeous Jean Luc Goddard New Wave film from the sixties?  Is that Anna Karina adjusting her makeup in a Paris boite?  These drawings have a cold intensity, like an old school martini, shaken but not stirred.

YYZ Artists’ Outlet

At the YYZ Artists’ Outlet the paintings of Andrew Rucklidge are on display.  The show is called “You and I are Shifters” and it is accompanied by an essay by Terence Dick, which raises all sorts of interesting ideas about post-photoshop, digital sampling and quantum physics.  This artist clearly enjoys pushing paint around canvas and appears to be painting about painting.  He has a dazzling repertoire of effects and techniques and he applies them to various riffs on a geometric diamond-like object.

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Painting by Andrew Rucklidge

Reading about the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, which is coming up in a few days, I noticed how many of the performances and/or installations involve interaction and/or something called immersion on the part of the audience.  This is a trend that does not appeal to me, in fact, it strikes me as totalitarian in nature.  Despite the multiple and fascinating directions art continues to take there is something really satisfying about just looking passively at a painting by Andrew Rucklidge or any painting and accepting it as is.

Gallery 44 Center for Contemporary Photography

At Gallery 44 I came across an exhibition about wood called “Standardizing Nature: Trees, Wood and Lumber” by Susana Reisman. Yes, trees grow only to end up as a pile of lumber.

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Photographs by Susana Reisman

Whereas the photographs were competent, even impressive, the show had the tone of a science textbook. I was looking for the art part. I did find it in the secondary room, which consisted of a sculpture composed of numerous lengths of wood, some partially painted or decorated and simply leaning against a wall.

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Artwork by Susana Reisman

There is something quirky and anthropomorphic in this sculpture.  It’s so simple and yet it delivers something complex…and it smells really good.

Red Head Gallery

I wandered into the Red Head Gallery and found a show called “Insomnia Salon Soiree”, set up in connection to the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche event.  The numerous pieces in the show were not labelled and will only be on display for five days, to be dismantled once the hoopla over Nuit Blanche dies down.  A couple of paintings caught my eye:

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(At post time I don’t have the names of the artists who produced these works but I’m hoping the Red Head Gallery can provide me that information shortly.)

A Space Gallery

I read on the A Space website that this Gallery was founded in 1971.  That is a long time to be alternative.

The current show is called “Welcome to Tkaronto”  and among others, features work by Meryl McMaster:

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Photographs by Meryl McMaster

McMaster’s use of popping color and strange other-worldly costumes in stark northern landscapes spoke vividly to me about the rich culture of the Indigenous that is all around us in Ontario (and Canada) and yet hidden.

V-Tape

The V-Tape people think a lot about how to exhibit video…and there is a lot to choose from

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I was invited into a comfortable, otherwise empty screening room, which could accommodate maybe thirty people.  The lights were turned down and I watched the feature presentation.

Su Rynard‘s piece “As Soon as Weather Will Permit” is currently on exhibit at V-Tape.  It tells a story about an uncle who was a US World War II pilot.  Uncle Vern found himself endlessly training out the war in the luridly colorful desert vistas around Los Alamos…waiting…waiting for just the right moment. Eventually, of course, the weather aligns with the military and political imperatives of the moment.  The protagonist participated in the bombing of Hiroshima. To paraphrase the narration: they dropped the bomb and they left.

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Stills from video by Su Rynard

Su Rynard uses a split screen to mix home movies and archival footage; glowing dream-like sequences of bubbling atoms and frothing energy, radar screens, hand-written texts and folksy, matter-of-fact narrative to create a riveting piece. Although there is a brief mushroom cloud burst the artist uses restraint very effectively. For me, the controlled, dispassionate story and the undeniably voluptuous imagery combine to pack a potent message into this short, powerful piece.

Nicholas Metivier Gallery

After looking at only a sampling of the art on display at 401 Richmond I needed some air and took a walk along King Street to see the John Scott exhibition at Nicholas Metivier Gallery.

John Scott’s paintings are all about men’s business: motorcycles, spiraling jets, prize fighters, disasters, hulking cars,  and always the ominous “Dark Commander,”  the ultimate, critical, punishing father figure.

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Paintings by John Scott

The bunny figures, another of John Scott’s consistent characters, tend to be sympathetic, even endearing, although they sometimes get up on their hind legs and become, for example, “Imperious Bunny” which is also included in the show.  But its the “Dark Commander” that the viewer has to reckon with.  Who is this guy?

I kept thinking about opera when I was looking at this show.  In fact, the Commendatore is the name of the terrifying character in Don Giovanni who knocks on the door in the last act and in the horrible bass voice reminds Don Giovanni that “he invited him to dine..”  Then the vengeful creature exacts his bargain and drags Giovanni down to hell with him.

Maybe John Scott is exploring his feminine side with the inclusion of a couple of flower paintings in the show.

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Dollarama Flowers by John Scott

They are clearly labelled as “Dollarama Flowers,’ supposedly just the kind of disposable plastic trash we would expect a real guy would pick up.  They do add another dimension of emotional content to the show, like observing a biker at the supermarket: there he is, in full biker regalia, comparing cake mixes.

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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