Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gallery picks @ Bloor & Lans: Marc Bell, Mercer Union, MIT's Fuel

This weekend's gallery picks for the National Post led me again to Bloor and Lansdowne, where cheap rent, subway access and west-end gallery district proximity have made for a triumverate of new-gallery opportunity. Granted, the rush on property has slowed since the market crash. But there's still creative fun to be had in the area at newbie Paul Bright Gallery, stalwart Mercer Union, and conscientious Toronto Free. To find out more, click here for the digital edition and go to page O7, or read on after the jump.

Image of Marc Bell's "Life is Life" from Paul Bright Gallery

At the Galleries: West End Pearls
National Post, Nov 22, Page O7
By Leah Sandals

Last time At the Galleries visited the Bloor/Lansdowne area, it seemed well on its way to becoming gallery central. Then the market, art and otherwise, crashed hard. Still, artists and art dealers are pluckish, cheap-rent-loving sorts, and this fall has seen two new venues open in the nabe. Fill up with a dollar-stretching lunch at local fave Dosa Mahal and see for yourself.

1. Paul Bright Gallery 1265 Bloor West
The newest art outlet to join Bloordale Village—opening just three weeks ago—is also the area’s first commercial gallery. Its youthful owner, Paul Bright, has run galleries of one type or another since 1998. Often working out of London, Ontario, Bright connected creative talent from the quiet Forest City to cash-rich collectors in larger metropolises. Now the part-time New Yorker has set up shop in Toronto, and is largely working the reverse dynamic: bringing a swath of savvy Brooklyn and Philly artists to Hogtown eyeballs. (Bushwick-meets-Bonsai artiste Misaki Kawai’s kooky sculptures and paintings, opening at the gallery December 18, are an ideal example.) Bright’s opening show, however, takes him back to his roots. It features another former Londoner, Marc Bell, doing essentially what Bell does best: psychedelic, R. Crumb-flavoured, comic-styled drawings that meld both cheese and cheek. Here, each drawing—originally published as a series in Vice Magazine—illustrates the lyrics for a pop song in a decidedly un-MTV-like way. Whether you’re gazing on Laibach’s “Life is Life” rendered as a series of square-headed portraits or on Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” acted out by a half a corndog, Bell’s flair for absurdity shines through. Definitely worth a look before the December 13 close, even if you only have cash to walk away with a $10 zine rather than a $1000 sketch.

2. Mercer Union, 1286 Bloor St W
Since 1979, the artist-run gallery Mercer Union has carved itself an honourable spot in the Canadian cultural landscape. Now, with a move away from its soon-to-be-condos Queen West digs, Mercer is showing it can carve out another type of honourable spot—this time by transforming a former dollar store at the corner of Bloor and St Clarens into a high-ceilinged art haven. It helps that the building has good bones—it was originally designed by Casa Loma and Old City Hall architect EJ Lennox as a theatre, and still has some of its pressed-tin lining intact. Until November 29, Mercer’s relaunch show is presenting some other riffs on redesign and relocation. In the back gallery, Christof Migone’s installation features a disco ball stripped of its mirrors and record covers revamped to emphasize the circular form of vinyl-trapped tracks. Minimalist versions of strobe lights and fog machines further enhance the uptight-yet-punk-rock feel. In the front gallery, Gwen MacGregor and Sandra Rechico bring different modes of mapping to walks in four different cities. Their goopy, stringy Montreal map is lovely, as are the ultradense drawings that contain some 150 km worth of lines—a reproduction of the distance the artists strode in Kassel, Germany.

3. Toronto Free Gallery, 1277 Bloor St W
Back in March, Toronto Free director Heather Haynes kicked off the Bloor West gallery trend with an opening show on Creative Activism. Now, following a successful show of Black Panther posters in September, the gallery continues its focus on conscientious creativity with Rig, an exhibition on alternative energy. It’s all part of a launch for Fuel, the latest think-piece tome from MIT-TO co-pro Alphabet City. Though the show doesn’t open until Thursday, the book’s now available at across the city. Get a copy and study up to hone some conservation-loving cocktail chatter for the opening, free to all starting 7pm on November 27.

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