Saturday, December 6, 2008

Can't Make South Beach? Try South of Queen

Unlike many in the art world, I'm not in Miami this week. I'm in minus-zero environs instead: good old Toronto. Still, even if I can't hit South Beach, there's plenty of good art to see south of Queen Street--namely, on Tecumseth Ave. Today the National Post published my picks for the art stroll there. Click here for the condensed version or read on after the jump for the full take on my beachless beauties.

This weekend, what’s left of the art market converges in Florida for one of the world’s largest art fairs--Art Basel Miami. If your own Coconut Grove cravings are stymied by a beer budget, take heart. South of Queen may be far from South Beach, but there’s still plenty of fair-worthy works on view. Wrap your trip with a Red Stripe and peppered shrimp at Irie Food Joint for an extra Hogtown hit of tropical flavour.

By Leah Sandals

1. Diaz Contemporary, 100 Niagara
You think the city’s keeping a close eye on your garbage and recycling these days? Beijing-trained, Toronto-based artist James Carl takes the phenomenon of waste transformation to a whole new level. It all started in the early 90s, when Carl made precise replicas of TVs and stereo speakers out of cardboard, then placed them carefully in piles of streetside trash. Then he started carving Styrofoam takeout containers out of white marble. And for the last year or two he’s been creating some absolutely remarkable sculptures out of old venetian blinds. The latter are currently on view at Diaz Contemporary, and they are an absolute must-see. Carl weaves the blinds’ metal strips together to encase space in ways that are both repetitively rhythmic and magically morphing. Some of these sculptures are pure silver in colour; others are a riot of orange, red, blue, green and yellow. All work very well. If you find yourself taken with Carl’s skill, be sure to check out an associated survey of older work running at the U of T’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery to January 25.

2. Birch Libralato Gallery, 129 Tecumseth St
Critic John Berger once observed that in pop culture, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Montreal artist Janet Werner is a master at capturing this delicate gender-dependent balancing act, painting portraits of women that simultaneously exude seduction and self-consciousness. Sometimes these women are based on prime eyelash-fluttering, Hollywood-trapped examples: both Christina Ricci and Keira Knightley make an appearance in Werner’s show at Birch Libralato. At other times, Werner’s women recall nameless fashion models, or even idealized snapshots. But in all cases Werner hints at how “cute” can be cutting, something quite painfully and pointedly constructed. Toronto artist Ed Pien, who has a concurrent show at the gallery, offers a different but equally effective take on the dark side of beauty. His cut-paper silhouettes trap fragments of bodies and clothing in dense networks of electrical lines and tree branches. Are those trees and towers safe cover or snaring cages? It’s hard to tell. But it’s lovely to visually investigate, and attempt figuring out.

3. Georgia Scherman Projects, 133 Tecumseth St
The month of October—with Nuit Blanche, the Toronto International Art Fair, and multiple exhibition openings—is a busy time in our corner of the art world. Gallerist Georgia Scherman upped the ante considerably this year, however, when she decided to move her business from a warehouse near Lansdowne and Dupont to a smaller, easier-to-access venue on Tecumseth during that same month. Interestingly, for her reopening Scherman is showing Spring Hurlbut, an artist who has often meditated on architectural change. In the 1980s, Hurlbut was known for her attentive modifications to the architecture of buildings, adding a column here or replastering a wall there to alter a space. In more recent years, Hurlbut has investigated a different type of architecture—that of the body. Photographing the cremated remains of pets and other loved ones, Hurlbut explores the inequity between spirit and matter, suggesting the galaxies of meaning that persist after a body’s dead and gone. Best: A film that shows the minutest fragments of remains wafting into dusty air. Were it bigger, it could easily compete with MoMA video fave Bill Viola.

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