Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recommended: Carte Blanche, Seth Scriver, Ivan & Heather Morrison

A few quick recommendations on Queen West:

Carte Blanche 2.0 & Art Metropole: The Top 100 at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art - The Carte Blanche show, which pulls select painters from a "best-of" coffee table tome of the same name, has been hated by the Globe's Sarah Milroy, loved by the Star's Peter Goddard, and so-so'd by EYE's David Balzer.

For my part, while I heartily agree with Milroy that having dealer and show co-curator Clint Roenisch fill 5 slots in the approximately 30-slot show with his own artists is unethical and gauche [CORRECTION: Milroy got the numbers wrong; please read my correction post here.] I have to disagree with her overall dismissal of the show. For me--a non-painter, and non-painting lover--the show is an excellent introduction to some of the best in Canadian painting. It's also a large space in which to show large works, which because of the usual small-TO-space circumstance just dosn't happen enough. I also think Liss and Roenisch, large ethical qualms aside, did a good job picking prime works--I've actually never liked the work of Shelley Adler or Kim Dorland much until I saw their works here, in context of the painter-exclusive training, history and dialogue that continues to exist whether or not we art critics would rather see painters (and curators) rise to the challenge of positioning painting effectively speaking with other media.

Also, what I think is great about the show at MOCCA is the Art Metropole Top 100 in its smaller gallery. Here you have two traditions: big, exclusive, one-off, luxury, glossy painting show in one space and the small, multiple, mechanically reproductive, mail art, video, photo, performance goddam downright anti-painting show in the other. And it really really works well, I think, both separately and side by side. Should we have instead argued that Art Met archives show painting in their collection or in this show? No. There is a value to media- (or in this case tradition-) oriented shows that, again, will continue to exist whether we generalists (that is to say, journalists) like it or not.

Seth Scriver at Katharine Mulherin/Board of Directors: How does Seth Scriver make such goddam funny art? And how does he keep on doing it? I know I shouldn't ask, I should just be glad that he does, because it makes me happy to be out and about on a cold November day. His digital animations are really terrific, as a projection of past and new works shows. (Love the manual redo of the THX Dolby screen especially! Though the animations based on stories by his Northern Ontario relatives are also hilarious--with the exception of the poodle one... that was a little creepy.) Also an unexpected delight is are the Canuck in-jokes: the spelling in fake-gold corporateese of "Hoseheads, LLP" at the entrance to the show, and a canoe made out of those glued-together layers of posters that build up on big-city construction hoardings. This latter work reads to me both as a great statement on the new urban Canadian reality and as a slight fuck-you to the Canada Council, an agency that defines Canadian content as stuff generally a little more "dignified" (read dry and humor free) than Scriver's work.

Heather & Ivan Morison @ Clint Roenisch: Roenisch really should get a pass after that stunt with Carte Blanche, but the current show is too interesting to miss. For it Wales artists Heather & Ivan Morison present a show "How to Survive (The Bad Days)" "The Bad Years (How to Survive)" that includes a tree like sculpture made out of mud from Roenisch's basement; a hole in the hardwood floor so one can see artist-dug pit in said basement; a wood-burning stove in full operation; prints of isolationist-feeling desert RV's with a threatening golden rock floating in the sky; a large mylar kite reminiscent of both Edison Alexander Graham Bell and Buckminster Fuller, and a film in the basement that riffs on that Desert RV/floating fool's gold theme with psychedelic guitar. It's ascetic and it's good. Get thee to the woodlot!

Also: Michael Merrill's show at Paul Petro Special Projects, presented by collector Steven Smart, has great little paintings that riff on museology and exhibition-making. Never saw Documenta? This show's for you (and me too).


Wil Murray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wil Murray said...

What if they threw a painting show and no critic questioned the validity of painting?
Would it still be a painting show?

Leah Sandals said...

Hmmmm. Good question. I realize that at the time I wrote this post, my response was a bit heated.

I absolutely do agree that art in different media should speak to each other. And so many artists work in multiple media these days that, well, I guess that's why I never have gotten into that whole painter-set of ideas about painting being its own thing. It's just not my approach to art.

I guess when I see a show like this, though, it does make me go "huh, I can see how painters talk to the history of painting, and to each other, in a way, sometimes. Interesting." And I didn't want to see that dismissed as some poorly assembled inventory when the show, as a snapshot of current practice, seems to work okay.

Wil Murray said...

Well, I think that painting is a bit like garage rock. Someone's always making it, and it serves critics well, as they can deride it when they need to claim rock n roll's death and claim a band or two when it needs to be revived again.
I appreciate you bringing it down to the personal by saying it's just not your approach. From the level of the personal, I find raging biases endearing, when expressed in the critical voice in authoritative venues, it is disheartening.
I think that the strange inherited baggage about painting that so many critics have is laid bare when the issue of the singularity of painters arises. I would say most painters painting now are very interested in how their work speaks with other mediums(all of them newer than and while dedicated enough to the medium to keep working in it, don't suffer the singularity of their forebearers quite so much.
I might not just make paintings forever, but my current long pause in the medium seems to indicate to many critics that I have some seriously antiquated blinders on.
All that said, defending or criticising painting as a medium is like complaining about Mondays.
The knives are out so quick, though, hey?

Wil Murray said...

...but yeah, painters suck at interacting with anyone through their work, but that's why painting remains interesting.
It is the toilet graffiti if the art world, left(abandoned) by the painter to speak quite widely(at least to anyone who enters the gallery. bathroom), but to one slightly ashamed person at a time. If you want to converse, you need to paint back(or leave your graffitti response, and return to the same bathroom to see their response...and so on) because there is no conversation with the painter, as he has abandoned what you would like to talk about and would likely be embarassed by any conversation not conducted through paint.
Dividing the world into painters and possible painters.....

Wil Murray said...

wow..I had more to say than I thought

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Wil,

Wow, you do have a lot to say. But that's the thing... when there's already reams one's read about one's own field, how it should be done, and in which decade, there is a lot to be said for painting as tradition.

I think your works are generally visually appealing, which is the reason I cottoned on to them even just looking at photographs and documentation. But seeing it in person with that of some cross-Canada peers was really helpful to me too--maybe even a mini-education, which is what I feel this show provides in some ways.

Also, I guess there are a lot of media specific shows out there -- the first Carte Blanche project on photo being one, CONTACT shows in general being another -- and they don't seem to come up against as much complaints as painting does.

I know critics can also have valid issues with the way the show was curated/assembled, but since the results are pretty great--at least for an informal survey--I'm still happy.

And I do love bathroom graffiti conversations too. But that doesn't mean to demean what painters do.

Wil Murray said...

Yeah, I guess that's why i paint and don't write art criticism. I would be tickled pink writing about painter's as bathroom graffiti artists and then wind up insulting a whole lot of painters.
I think that painting at this point needs to begina t the deadly serious joke. By that I mean that painting is still potent for all the reasons it is counted as such, or has historically been counted as such, but equally it is ridiculous for all the reasons that it is called so or has been called so.
I sure liked seeing my work in the context of 30 other paintings, it was an education for me as well(what with being a drop-out). I can't say I am a painting fan, really....I know literature far better...but I felt a little lifted by the Magenta show. The RBC show, on the other hand is always a very weird show, and a very mixed bag.
I think the form of both shows is less dictated by what they may be perceived to be....things like "an overview of Canadian painting" or "Canada's best young painters"...and more a product of the mundane processes and rituals that come from a competition: who entered, who was eligible, who didn't get the call for entries, who disagrees with competitions.....and so on. And wherever the show's marketing copy and the curating process are so far apart, I think there will be issue taken by critics, and rightfully so.

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