Thursday, January 3, 2013

So long for now, with thanks

At first I was tempted to title this post "So long, and thanks for all the fish"--what slightly web-friendly geek couldn't resist a Douglas Adams reference, y'know?--but have decided to just keep it simple.

Basically, after 6 years of combining freelance, contract and part-time work, I yesterday began a full-time position as online editor at Canadian Art.

I have felt lucky to be able to work as a freelancer, particularly in the realm of art criticism and editing. It worked for me for a long time, but now seems like a good time to transition into a full-time gig.

The upshot of this is--since I don't have the energy levels I once did--is that I will not be doing any more freelancing, tweeting or blogging in an independent sense. (Obviously, to readers of this blog, my activity in this realm has been tailing off for some time, but now I'm drawing the line!) I know there are lots of talented people out there who have the energy to work full-time and do freelance stuff as well, but I'm just not there at the moment.

So with that, just want to say thanks to anyone who read or commented on this blog, or who helped me with a story or post. I have benefited from a lot of support and opportunities in this realm, and for that I am grateful.

Speaking of that, here's a couple of links to my last couple of freelanceish era pieces:

-a profile of Jessica Bradley in the Toronto Star

-my top 3 year-end bests at Canadian Art

If you want to reach me for anything art-related in future, best to contact me at lsandals@canadianart.ca. If you'd like to see what I'm writing and tweeting, I will be doing that (along with many other talented colleagues) at canadianart.ca and twitter.com/canartca.

Thanks again to readers of this blog! I feel lucky to have connected with so many people who are passionate about art and culture in Canada. I will be leaving the blog as is for archival purposes until (who knows?) I or anyone else may need it again : )

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Art Awards story in the Star

Man, there are more and more art prizes in Canada. I wanted to find out (as much as a brief journalistic treatment might allow) just why that is. So I spoke to a bunch of people—all of whom had really interesting things to say, though I wasn't able to fit them all into the story—and wrote up a brief item on this in today's Toronto Star. Here's an excerpt:

At the Sobey Art Award’s 10th-anniversary bash at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art last week, organizers faced a problem: a stage so small that artists, donors and administrators had to take to it in shifts, shoulder to shoulder.

That scene mirrors the way an abundance of art prizes have come to jostle for attention on Canada’s national stage over the past decade.

In the 1990s, we had few national art prizes. Then B.C. artist Takao Tanabe campaigned for the Governor General’s Awards to be extended into the visual arts and the first such awards were distributed in 2000.

Since then, corporations and private foundations have tripled the number of national art prizes, boosting the pot to more than $700,000 in some years (see sidebar.) Several regional awards — like B.C.’s Audain Prize, the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Award and the Prix de Montreal — also emerged during that time.

Many Toronto-connected artists have benefited from this recent prize proliferation.

In May, 86-year-old artist Arnaud Maggs (who died Nov. 17) won the $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award, begun in 2011. In October, Meryl McMaster, a 24-year-old graduate of OCAD University, won our newest national accolade, the $5,000 Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Canadian Artists.

Next week, the winner of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition will be announced at the Power Plant. Many involved already feel like winners: Queen West dealer Erin Stump says she’s received emails from new contacts nationwide about local finalist Vanessa Maltese, whom she represents.

But others express caution about the increasing popularity of art prizes.

Read on for the rest at the Toronto Star. I also want to note the following corrections have been submitted:

There is an error the Star introduced into an image caption of the Sobey ceremony; it stated that the ceremony was in Ottawa. I have requested a correction and have been told it will run.

I have also requested a correction to the sidebar header "New National Arts Prizes" - terminology introduced there ("arts") implies prizes for theatre and dance as well as visual art, genres that the story does not address.

To end this post, here are a few thoughts that I wish I had been able to integrate into the story:

When I spoke with Sophie Hackett, assistant curator of photography at the AGO, she expressed the thought that the growth of awards in Toronto in particular may be related to the fact that since the major cultural building and renovation projects have been completed, donors are looking for other ways to support the art scene. Prizes are another important component of the art ecosystem needed for the scene to have "lift-off."

Hackett also noted, “Governments have dialed back cultural funding... I think that has encouraged individuals and corporations to fill the gap in some ways… they’ve seen an opportunity to make a difference in the cultural life of the country or the city that they’re located in.”

When I spoke with dealer Susan Hobbs, she noted that art prizes are still lagging behind music and literature when it comes to public awareness. She pointed to the Giller Prize's TV broadcast, where a variety of nonspecialists in the literary field/Canadian celebrity types, like Rick Mercer, were involved in talking about the award finalists and making introductions for them. She noted that this doesn't happen in the visual arts in Canada.

I also wasn't able to quote from James F. English's landmark tome The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value, but I wish I had been able to note his observation that any criticism of a prize simply tends to augment its profile. As he puts it, “critique … is itself a fundamental and even in many circumstances, an obligatory part of the game, a recognisable mode of complicitous participation.”

English has also theorized that prizes proliferate because they provide the general public—and journalists like me—with a means of coming to know the arts without having to truly understand them. As he writes, "It is almost as though winning a prize is the only truly newsworthy thing a cultural worker can do, the one thing that really counts in a lifetime of more or less nonassessable, indescribable, or at least unreportable cultural accomplishments. In this context it is the prize, above all else, that defines the artist . . ."

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David Heffel Q&A at Canadian Art

Here is another long and rangy Q&A.

 It was mostly a learning conversation for me about an art-related business I was curious about: Heffel Fine Art Auction House. Heffel is a home-grown Canadian operation, and often seems to be a the top of the Canadian art auction market, even with the presence of internationally hefty competitors like Sotheby's.

I was interested in finding out more about how Heffel might have succeeded in this unusual and difficult field. This curiosity was what drove the interview, timed to coincide with Canada's fall auction season—which was kicked off by the Heffel event and its 10th anniversary of opening a Toronto gallery. (The company is based in Vancouver.)

Here's an excerpt:  

LS: How did Heffel begin? 

DH: Well, my dad was in the steel business. He was a co-founder of Great West Steel, and was also a collector starting in the late 60s and 70s. So Robert and I were very fortunate to grow up with some fantastic paintings—paintings by Emily Carr and Lawren Harris and other members of the Group of Seven. My dad retired quite early out of Great West Steel while still in his 40s. He dabbled in ranching, but then turned his hobby, which was collecting paintings, into his vocation. In 1978, he founded the art gallery in Vancouver. He died young, at 52, in 1987. And that’s when Robert and I took over the gallery business. We didn’t branch into the auction business until 1995. 

LS: So how old were you when you took over the gallery? 

 DH: 24. 

LS: And your brother? 

DH: 22. LS: That’s quite young. There must have been some big learning curves, to say the least. 

DH: There were tremendous learning curves. But there was also sort of a fearless, youthful enthusiasm that allowed us to be, I think, quite creative in what we tried to do—without worrying too much about not succeeding. And I think it has been very beneficial for us in the long run.

Read on for the rest at Canadian Art.

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Jean de Loisy Q&A at Canadian Art

Catching up now with some posts on recent articles and such.

 I have to say that with some Q&As I have done, I have put a lot of work into editing and condensing. When I have less time to edit and condense, the interviews end up long and rangy, which works for some readers and not for others.

In any case, here is a Q&A from a little while ago, connected to a lecture that my employer, the Canadian Art Foundation, arranged in Toronto. It is more of the long and rangy type, even though it is, of course, edited.

It is with Palais de Tokyo president Jean de Loisy. An excerpt:  

Leah Sandals: You have worked in art institutions of various kinds since 1983. What is the most important job of an art museum or art institution, do you think? 

Jean de Loisy: The most important job is to escape from the normal paths and to try to understand that the history of art is just one of the ways possible to look at art; outside of that, there are a lot of other things to discover. It’s to always try to be unconventional, to refuse the borders, to try to overpass all the limits of what art “should” be. 

Most of the time, we have the idea that the evolution of art is going in one linear direction. In fact, what we have to take care of is all the art that goes in another direction—art that is far more interesting. 

 After all, most of the art that we are most interested in now was originally considered as being outside of art. When you look at Robert Filliou, first you ask, Is it art or not? When you look at Marcel Duchamp, you ask the same thing: Is it art or not? And so on to today’s most important artists. Art happens outside of the limits of what art is. 

So that is the first big job for art institutions. 

The second big job is that we have to preserve the direct relation between the public and the art. By this I mean that to try to transmit knowledge of an artwork to the public before they actually encounter it is a limit—it’s not an aperture. 

We have to organize the information about an artwork or artist so that when the public visits your museum they can still be surprised and astonished, and so there can still be that kind of “wow” effect. Whether that effect comes from understanding the complexities of the world anew or whether it comes from a physical sensation of the work, that effect is still needed. 

I note this because there is a kind of increasing mediation in art museums—this is very good, but only if it doesn’t prevent people from having their own words or experiences about the art. 

I think it’s very important to have the possibility of accompaniment and information that goes with the art, but it should never come before the visitor’s actual relation to the art—it should always come after. This balance between mediation of artworks and experience of artworks is probably one of the most complex things to develop and to organize in exhibitions.

You can read on for the rest at Canadian Art.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Canadian Biennial review on Canadian Art's website

Earlier this week, I went to Ottawa for the media preview of "Builders," the 2012 Canadian Biennial.

I am really glad that this biennial initiative of the National Gallery's exists, and I'm glad it was introduced in 2010 following an, oh, 20-year absence of such activity from the NGC and basically elsewhere. Like the gallery, I believe it is a valuable thing to try and provide the public with a picture of where contemporary Canadian art is at every two years.

Granted, the NGC's biennial is a bit funny in that it is based in acquisitions made over the past two years rather than works actually made in the past two years. This tends to muddle/reduce its currency somewhat.

In a review written quickly for Canadian Art's website, I attempted to reflect on these and other issues that the 2012 biennial brought up for me.

You can read the review on Canadian Art's site.

I do look forward to reading other reviews of the exhibition and hearing other commentary as well... though there's still no Rotten Tomatoes for the art world, I feel I sure could use it around exhibitions like this!

(Image of Jim Breukelman's Hot Properties 01 1987/2008 Courtesy of the NGC)

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A Look at Living in 10 Easy Lessons in the Star

Last week, I met with artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone at Gallery 44 to discuss their latest project, Living in 10 Easy Lessons.

I have been very intrigued by the unusual work that Duvall and Kingstone do in the art realm. In my view, they do attempt to push the boundaries of what art can be or what some folks call "social practice" can be.

I urge readers to check out their respective websites for information about their past works.

In terms of the present work, I found it interesting in the responses it raised for people including the Gallery 44 essayist for this show, cheyanne turions.

This prompted me to do a brief news item about the work for the Toronto Star. Here is an excerpt:


Successfully growing a small business — as a drug dealer. Developing effective people skills — as a panhandler. Protecting one’s life savings — as a sex worker.

These are job and life skills you won’t find in LinkedIn CVs or professional-development workshops.
But they are the kind of skills highlighted in the new — and controversial — art project “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” by local artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone.

Recently opened at Gallery 44, “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” features videos of 10 street-involved women teaching the artists how to apply false eyebrows, get free drinks and fend off physical attacks, among other skills.

The project also includes posters with slogans that Duvall and Kingstone distilled from their lessons, like “Always put two on, girls” and “Do not be rude.” A free take-home booklet contains notes from all 10 videos. 

Street-involved people “are always being taught how to write a resumé and other things that may not help in their particular world,” Kingstone explains in an interview at the gallery. “And they know all this interesting information that no one is asking them about and is not being taught to anybody. It would be nice if we could start recognizing those skills.”

As should already be apparent, this article provides a scratching-the-surface view of the show. You can read on for the rest at the Toronto Star.

I didn't include my own views of the show in the Star, and kept it more "newsy," sort of.

One thing I noticed in my own reactions to the show is I felt the personalities of the women, and the strength of the women, came across best in the videos. Some of the awkwardness or tenseness of the interaction (as well as warmth and friendliness) came across best in that forum too. The videos were the best part of the show for me.

The posters and the booklet I understood the artists wanting to have in a didactic way, but in these text documents I missed seeing the women represent themselves more so than having the artists represent them. In the posters and booklet, the artists have more power over the representation of the women involved, to an extent that I felt the work became weaker and I was also more uncomfortable with the power dynamic.

I do appreciate the gallery, the artists and some commentators (turions and Ken Moffatt) taking time to talk with me. If you are interested in discussing the work, I urge you to attend a panel from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on November 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Co-organized with the Ryerson University Faculty of Community Studies along with the Graduate Program in Social Work, it promises to look at some of the thorny issues that this project raises. 

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview with Matthew Teitelbaum on Canadian Art's website

On Wednesday morning, I interviewed Matthew Teitelbaum over the phone for Canadian Art's website.

Mostly, we discussed museum strategy stuffs. I had also really wanted to ask him about all the recent announcements of private-collection museums in Canada (like David Mirvish's and Michael Audain's) and what that means for public museum collections. So I did that.

In retrospect, I wish I had asked him about the ongoing concern many in the Toronto art community have that the museum does not reflect the artists here all that well--or in the rest of Ontario, I might add. But I didn't. Sorry! Here's an excerpt of the interview:


LS: On a different collections note—this month, two prominent Canadian collectors, David Mirvish and Michael Audain, announced plans to open their own private-collection museums. How do you feel about this development, given that it would seem to set some of their most important works off-limits from public Canadian museum collections?
MT: Well, you know, the short answer is that I think it’s terrific. I think it’s terrific that two extraordinary collectors—both in Canada and on the international stage—are making their work available to the public. I mean, the most important thing is that people who care about art, that students, that people who are thinking about what the visual arts mean in our culture are going to have access to two private collections.
And I think quite easy access, I might say—access in a way that truly celebrates both the collectors and these great works of art. So, you know, I’m not somebody who believes in the museum as the absolute pinnacle of recognition or legacy. I think there are many different routes to that, and this is one of them. I think it’s just terrific that they are thinking in that public-minded way.
LS: Private-collector museums have been a trend throughout the world for some time. Are there any particularly Canadian implications of this trend taking off here? I saw you in Miami last year where this type of institution is quite prevalent; does this signal a move to a more American-style situation in Canada?
MT: That’s a good question. I think it relates back to the frustration that many collectors have around the fact that offering collections to museums often means that works of art are hidden from public view. So it’s really a strategic response to the question, How can I make the work available to the public? And you know, those collectors who have chosen this route have, at the core, made a judgment that this is the best way for their work to be celebrated.
What I keep an eye on is the question of access. What I keep an eye on is the question of how these private collections refresh and give energy to the presentation of work.
But, you know, the reality is that we live in a really complicated time around issues of presentation of works of art. I mean, when Gagosian Gallery or White Cube create spaces that rival some of the very best museum spaces in the world and present exhibitions that are truly extraordinary by any standard in terms of the loans they get and the publications they produce, you see the beginning of the blurring between the public and the private world.
So there’s no doubt that in this complicated time there’s going to be blurring between the public museum and the private foundation. That’s why I think the most important issue to focus on is issues of accessibility—because I think one can find oneself in a dead end very quickly if one thinks about ownership as the sole question, i.e. that giving to the museum or giving to the public trust is the highest calling.
You know what the highest calling really is? To make work accessible and to have it shared by the broadest number of people.
For the rest, read on at Canadian Art. 
FYI the works the AGO ended up acquiring at Art Toronto were by Stephen Andrews, Itee Pootoogook and Julia Dault. 
(Image of Teitelbaum courtesy of the AGO)

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