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 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.