Monday, September 15, 2008

Gallery Picks: Notable Toronto Shows

After much lazing about this summer, or rather, just working at a desk rather than out in the world, I finally got off my behind and went to see a chunk of  shows this past weekend. Here's my picks:
  • Mostly painterish artist Margaux Williamson's TIFF-related vid Teenager Hamlet 2006. Peter Goddard at the Toronto Star didn't think the experimental feature-length redo of Shakespeare was any great shakes, but I disagree. Maybe I've just got a crush on narrative/high school English classes, but I really enjoyed the way Williamson's interviews with local art scenesters [disclosure: one or two of whom are friends] unexpectedly drew out real-life thematic threads from Hamlet. Those 21st-century-meets-Elizabethan-era realities included everything from betrayed fathers to cold mothers, capitalist fantasies to crown tattoos—many of these disclosures being due to the effective prying of author Sheila Heti as interviewer. Heck, there was even a bizarre old Donahue interview with Ayn Rand which seemed relevant!  Since the words "experimental feature" can strike fear into most art viewers' hearts, the watchability of this was indeed a pleasant surprise. 
  • The youthful Studio Gallery's exhibition related to Tim Barber's TV Books editions line is a fun little time, partly because the gallery is just plain scrappy; in a world of pristine spaces, it can be kinda nice to be in a ragged-linoleum environment for a change. I'm always a little wary about the Vice-mag subculture around their shows, seeing as how I am a teenage-boy skateboarder only in my wildest dreams, not in real life. It can be a bit of a clique too. But former Vice photo editor Barber assembles an impressive range of work here from several young artists. I most enjoyed Julia Burlingham's black and white street photography, Michael Schmelling's contact sheet of cloud photos with a cotton ball superimposed, and Kim Krans's paintings on fashion magazine pages. Many of these works of these are now available in book form via TV Books and also in offset-poster form via Studio Gallery. At around $30, either is a cheap way to own some neato art.
  • Also nearby, the Artillerist at Pixel Gallery was enjoyable, if a little gimmicky. For it, viewers point toy guns at framed video screens. When they aim and fire, graphics from one of 13 different artists are deployed. Viewers can keep firing patterns from different artists until they want to (a) start over (b) upload to flickr or (c) print out a copy to take home. Very neato. 
  • Finally, I have to give a shout out to Dyed Roots, a vaguely titled but quite excellent show at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art to October 26. Exhibitions at the MOCCA can be hit and miss, but encouraged by my colleague Fran Schechter's NOW review, I attended and was happily quite impressed by Reeta Saeed's UK flags which she selectively unravelled certain sections. The results left gaping but still readable vacancies in the national iconography. Also fun is Rashmi Varma's performance/installation where she invites visitors to embroider her dress-cum-wallpaper. And I'm also impressed by curator Camilla Singh's personal statement of sitting and working in a large cage for the duration of the exhibition. What came up for me looking at it was the complexities encountered both within and without while working as an "exotic" curator of colour in the overwhelmingly winter-white Canadian art sector.
Still of Margaux Williamson and friend discussing Hamlet's story from Sheila Heti's website

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