Friday, August 29, 2008

Quebec Puts On A New Face: Arts Cuts Turn the QC Red; Raphaelle de Groot Interview Extra

Just in case you thought those arts cuts weren't reverberating.... Today's Toronto Star contains a very interesting column from political writer Chantal Hébert on how PM Stephen Harper's arts cuts have created enough backlash to get Quebecers thinking Liberal for the next election.

As Hébert puts it: The recent Conservative cuts to arts and culture have done what neither the pursuit of the unpopular Afghan war nor the demise of the Kyoto Protocol had accomplished: wake up a sleeping Quebec giant that is now gathering strength for a show of force in the upcoming election campaign.

We can only hope! (It doesn't hurt that Newfoundland also chimed in today with the news that they would replace the cut funding for their own province's artists.)

On a different Quebec front, it seemed like a good day to run a few extras from my interview with Quebec region Sobey Award finalist Raphaelle de Groot. My condensed exchange with de Groot and other finalists ran in yesterday's National Post. Here's the complete convo from our brief phone chat in early August:

Q You’re in Italy right now. What are you doing there?

A Well, I spend lots of time here because since I did a project here from 2002 to 2004 and since then I’ve been coming back regularly. I had a show in Rome last year. And my husband is an Italian—we’ve been married for a year—so I come here to work and sometimes to stay. But most of the year I spend in Montreal.

Q Like last year’s Sobey Award winner, Michel de Broin, and last year’s Venice Bienale pick, David Altmejd, you went to UQAM in Montreal. What do you think makes their program so strong? Or do they just attract strong students?

A I think it’s a mix. It’s quite a dynamic place, there strong teachers, and so on. It also really depends on the type of program that you are looking for. Concordia is also very good school but it’s more based on media—painting being separate from sculpture and so on. UQAM has a more open approach, one less based on media. It’s probably also because Quebec is still mostly of French-speaking people and UQAM is where you go if you have problems speaking English. I don’t know; these are just some ideas.

I do feel that now in Montreal there is now something really nice happening. Because it’s less Anglophone on one side or Francophone on another side. It’s starting to blend more. And also a kind of generation in their 30s that are very strong. I don’t know why exactly, but I know something’s happening now there in a more open way. That I feel is good because the Francophone community used to be more closed. I’m also a person who believes that you need to open and to travel and see lots of things not stay always in one place. It’s good if there’s more mixing up and going around opening up.

Q Lately, You work a fair bit with faces. Why?

A Well I guess I am interested in faces because often, for me, the face is a form of pretext. It’s a kind of excuse. Since I work a lot involving participation or the direct input of another, it’s useful because face is such a very accessible thing. It’s also human; it’s us, it’s me, it’s you, it’s everybody. And it’s something we have imprinted very much inside ourselves in our subconscious. We see faces in the moon, we see faces in ménages. The image of a face is close to us; in the subway and other places we get lots of information from someone else’s face— from basic emotions like sadness and happiness to how we feel one person can be in their life. But all that is unsaid. It’s like a very intuitive and nonverbal communication. We just analyze all this data we get from seeing someone’s face and we just intuitively get a feeling from a person.

So I guess that’s why the face—it’s a pretext. And it’s not just the face that interests me as an end in itself, it’s also a pretext to involve the other.

Q What work will you be showing in Toronto? What are the origins of it?

Well, I will be presenting different things that will allow the public to see different aspects of my work.

One is more intimate in a way. They’re studies I do alone in my studio in front of the camera, where I try out stuff to do in public performances or interventions. are what I call video performance studies and there will be many of them. So the public will be able to see a bit of my research, of what I search for.

And then I will also be presenting an installation which is kind of like another aspect of this research about the face. Basically they are different elements that come out of a previous intervention I did in Ottawa where I asked visitors of an exhibition to sit with me and imagine the portraits of different people starting with data found on ID cards that I’d found. So they started with the colour of hair, of eyes, with weight, height and occupation and from there we sat together and they would describe these features and how they saw the face of this person. I did the drawing on my face, which was covered by a white mask, so I was blinded. So there will be photography and a video and ID cards and a soundtrack from this piece -- different elements. The installation is called Casting; I’m looking to identity, you could say.

Image: Raphaelle de Groot, Portraits de clients, 2007, performance, photo: Jean-Michel Levert, Ottawa Courtesy of Sobey Art Award

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

As the Cuts Continue: Parliamentary Vids, Overseas Protests, and How to Speak Directly to Pols

As reported in the Globe and La Presse today, about 2,000 people turned out in Montreal yesterday to protest the government's $44-mil in sudden arts cuts.

La Presse ran some great pics and audio of the event, like the one above, and notes that attendees included Isabelle Hudon, the head of Montreal's chamber of commerce and Kim Nguyen, a video artist featured in the current Quebec Triennial, among others.

The Globe also notes that joint protests were held around at Canadian embassies in Berlin and Paris.

That's in front of the scenes. To get a look behind them, Jennifer McMackon at Simpleposie pointed me to this video from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that took place on Tuesday. (Click on August 26 to get the correct file.)

If you'd like to speak directly to the Committee on this matter, you've got a chance if you act fast. Izida Zorde at Fuse Magazine forwards the information that NDP MP Peggy Nash is looking for capable witnesses on the impact of the cuts. Nash has to submit her witness list by tomorrow morning, but if you email a bio and contact info today to, you may get the chance to give the pols a piece of your mind in person.

Photo: Martin Petit at Aug 27 arts cuts protests in Montreal; photo by Robert Mailloux of La Presse If you don't get the sign's 80s CanCon reference, get thee to Mitsou on Youtube maintenant!

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Interview Extra: Terence Koh on Canada, Oilsands, Punk Anger and More

As arts funding cuts (and related debates) continue their impacts in Canada, it's a strange time to consider the burgeoning biz of private-co arts awards. Yet here we are with the $70,000 Sobey Award finalist exhibition just opened last night at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

I'm not clear enough of mind right now to grapple with the ideological contradiction that even though bankers and CEOs clearly value art, our small-c, pro-free-trade conservative prime minister cannot. (And yeah, I know they get a tax write-off, but still.)

What what I can offer is this unedited email exchange with Sobey finalist Terence Koh. The condensed version appeared in today's National Post alongside exchanges with the four other finalists—Tim Lee, Raphaelle de Groot, Daniel Barrow and Mario Doucette. I'll be posting longer excerpts from them throughout the week too. But for now I thought I'd leave it to the oft-praised, oft-reviled, almost always compelling Koh.

Q You are arguably one of the most famous artists worldwide right now. What does it mean to you—if anything—to be nominated for this Canada-only Sobey award?

A I am proud to be Canadian. Even though I am often somewhere else in the world, you know when you feel you are Canadian, you are Canadian. It's not a cliche, I have lived all around the world but where I feel most at home is in Canada cause I really believe Canadians have the warmest hearts in the world. My parents live in Mississauga, Ontario and though that is not my favorite part of Canada, when you get off the plane its like, dont laugh! I feel " Aye! I am now in Canada. Aye!" I always think I have entered a Margaret Atwood novel when I land in Toronto and when I land in Vancouver, lo and behold I am in Jack Hodgins land! I have always said that if I die I want to die in Barnaby Island in a white picket cottage and look up at the sky getting dark in autumn as I plant white double chrysanthemums flowers in my garden with my boyfriend next to me. So yes I am very happy to be doing something in canada.

Q Even though you are no longer working as “asianpunkboy,” your work still manifests a brash, angry punk sensibility. Why does this sentiment continue to appeal to you?

A I don't think I am angry or brash anymore. I admit I felt I used to be. I am generally quite happy and content these days and sit around and hide in my house (wherever that may be) and read books. I want to make stuff that adds beauty to the world. Well I guess all art, every single thought of art adds beauty to the world. But I want my ideal of beauty to be of total freedom and happinesss and love. Hallmark card happy thoughts. My motto after having lived this long, is this conclusion, to have: LOVE FOR ETERNITY.

Q You are showing a few works in this Sobey nominee show in Toronto. What are the origins of each of them?

A I was hoping to produce everything in Canada. I wanted it to be all MADE IN CANADA but reality hit... well the main part of the installation is a gigantic round ball and the surface is completely covered in Canadian oil sand. And then painted all white to hide all that black, that darkness... I have no fear in giving out my thoughts for what it represents. Of course its about our future. The future of canada and in a way a comment on the future of humanity. What is going to be Canada's biggest resource? Our oil sands. I wanted to make a perfect ball out of that and cover it in white. So it becomes neutral. I think I have said more than I should. Thank you.

Caption: Terence Koh My Path to Heaven You are a Blind Bastard GOD 2007

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Canuck Arts Communiques Aplenty

Well, though many in the arts community (myself included) are still on the freelance version of "vacation," the emails are really starting to fly about letters to send to the government regarding the millions in recent arts cuts.

Some of the communiques include:

  • Tech expert Michael Geist's commentary on how these arts cuts hurt the digital dissemination of Canuck culture worldwide. A tidbit: These program cuts seemingly guarantee Canada will fall further behind the digitization race, leaving Canadians without online access to their cultural and historical heritage and doing precious little to promote Canadian content to the rest of the world. The decisions may provide short-term gains among some voting constituencies, but also promise long-term pain for Canada's presence in the online world.
  • Simpleposie's ongoing and extensive archive of coverage on the cuts, as posed in the form of cogent questions such as What does The Canadian Writer's Union say? What does The Straight say?
  • Man Booker prize winner Yann Martel's appeal on his blog: The cancellation of PromArt was recently announced. The program, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, helps cover some of the travel costs of Canadian artists and cultural groups going abroad to promote their work. The grants to individuals are small, often between 750 and 1500 dollars. The budget of the entire program is only $4.7 million dollars. That’s about 14 cents a year per Canadian. For that small sum, Canada shows its best, most enduring quality to the nations of the earth. .. to cut an international arts promotion program is to vow our country to cultural anonymity.
  • Fuse magazine editor Izida Zorde's form letter to the Heritage Committee based on one by Penn Kemp: To Heritage Committee members: I understand that you are meeting today to discuss the recent Arts cuts. The latest news is that Mr. Harper plans to "redirect all savings" from his drastic cuts to Arts programs to support Vancouver Olympic programs and bilingualism. What an unfortunate dichotomy this sets up.Arts or Sports? Surely this Either/Or situation is not necessary! Here’s to Both/And!Sports and Arts are both funded by the Department of Heritage, so why are arts programs being targeted? There are many Roads to Excellence and Action Plans. I’m holding the torch for Arts as well as athletics, in both official languages.
  • Theatre artist Jacob Zimmer's extensive draft of a letter to same at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation blog: Capacity for doubt, challenge, hope and curiosity is as vital for a nation as it is for a writer, a physicist, a politician, an athletics coach or a medical researcher. None of these fields should by tied to a single simple “majority rules” moral ideology. (This is not to say that there are not conversations of ethics that are crucial to address in all these fields.)

As a bright note to round it all off, the Conference Board of Canada released a report in the last few days stating that the arts makes a big contribution to the Canadian economy: In 2007, it estimates the sectors represented $46 billion of the overall economy, or about 3.8 per cent of GDP.

Not that Harper's actually listening, but y'know, the stats do help.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Weekend Wonderings: Tory cuts, Harbourfront hops, Queen West walks

So the Tories revealed yesterday that the some of the $40-mil they've cut from the arts will be mainly be redirected to athletic teams, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Mr. Harper, I know you must be a dedicated reader of my blog, but such misguided accounting decision was not what I meant when I posted on Art vs. Sport earlier this summer.

After all, funding of art and sport need not be an either-or decision. Both should be funded well in a wealthy nation like ours. Thankfully, others have taken up this point in the last couple of days. Still, to reiterate:

  • Both Art and Sport represent Canada on the world stage. Sport has events like the Olympics and World Championships that highlight this, just as Art has events like the Venice Biennale and Documenta. In both cases, when Canadians perform well in these events, the world takes note. This is as true for David Altmejd at last year's Venice Biennale as it is for Jason Burnett at this year's Olympics.
  • Both Art and Sport are activities that, at an amateur level, improve the quality of life for many Canadians. Whether we're talking little-league soccer or Sunday still-life painting classes, both sport and the arts allow individuals of all ages to participate in something that brings them great pleasure, improved health, and, often, increased community fellow feeling.
  • Art and Sport are hardly mutually exclusive domains. As Martin Creed and, closer to home, the Movement Movement have shown, sports like running can be performance art in themselves. And as scoring structures for sports like diving and gymnastics demonstrate, aesthetics can be a vital part of sport. Further, as recent art exhibitions on sport have shown, these domains further interrelate on a mass level around the world.
  • Some aspects of Sport may be as negatively impacted by some of these "arts" cuts as Art is. Why? Because part of these cuts related to ending a collections digitization program--in other words, doing things like scanning historical photographs from museum collections to make them available online. There are many historical photographs, of course, that deal with sport from past years, whether it be awards ceremonies for 1950s hockey tournaments, group shots of Calgary curling teams from 1919, or images of past Olympic heroes like Bobbie Rosenfeld.

Sigh. Election, anyone?

In other news, there's still some art at Harbourfront, and on Queen West.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shout-out: Vid Ingelevics on Canadian Arts Cuts

After doing some more online reading related to our huge arts funding cuts of late, I just wanted to deliver a shout-out to Toronto artist, curator and educator Vid Ingelevics. That's his Woodpile 7, 2006, above, and you know, I'll be damned if Ingelevics, in the troll-laden fray of online commenting boards over at the Globe, doesn't manage to neatly stack a cord of reasons why these cuts are ill-thought-out. For example:

I will give an example of exactly the kind of thing that we will not see anymore with these short-sighted and ideologically-motivated cuts to Canada's cultural programs by the federal government.

As an independent curator I worked with a team on a project for one of Canada's largest public archives to digitize and put on-line a history of Eaton's department store display windows that covered the entire country and almost a hundred years of our history. With almost 200 hundred images, this important aspect of Canada's history is now available to anyone in the country (or the world) who has access to a computer and the net. A significant chunk of the funding for this ambitious project was provided by Canadian Culture Online, a program that the Tories have just cut.

Speaking for myself, it is truly disheartening to have a government that demonstrates such utter contempt for our culture and, ultimately, our history.


Skeptical Realist from Canada writes: 'Can someone give me an example of our 'unigue' Canadian culture that we tax payers need to support? Do we have any?'I just did.

See above. Culture = history.

Sensibly pointing out flaws in logic without hitting the wall of invective is also useful:

sally stink from edmonton, Canada writes: "grants from the heritage department to ethnic groups decidedly on the left of center are great vote getters as well."

Hmmm. Just out of curiousity would you mind identifying for us which "ethnic groups" are left of centre? Do you mean like all Indians, all Pakistanis, all Nigerians, all Mexicans, etc? Who are you talking about?

I didn't realize that entire nations were now being classified by our lovable Tories according to some bizarre ideological scale.

Thanks, Vid, for the clarity at a time of high emotion. I know others are probably doing as much behind the scenes, but it's hopeful to see some commentary in the Internet forums.

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Review & Interview: Circus Posters in Toronto, Animal Feats in Halifax

A couple of quick links to my articles in the media today:

  • German artist Corinna Schnitt's Once Upon A Time... (still above) looks to be one of the many highlights of a show opening tonight in Halifax on human-animal relationships. Today the National Post published my condensed interview with show curator Peter Dykhuis.
  • Art shows at the Toronto Reference Library are a real hit and miss affair, but they've rightfully entered the big top of show quality with their current exhibit on circus ephemera. Read more in my review today in NOW.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Analysis & Thorny Issues: Canada's $44-mil in arts cuts

Well, it looks from the news like $44.8-million has been slashed from federal arts funding in the past two weeks, with more arts cuts coming.

I’ve been holding off on a post on this rather massive matter, as I’ve been trying to get a sense of what the response has been across the country since the beginning of the cuts were announced. I also, quite frankly, have my own cynicisms about the arts, and was unsure how to rationalize (beyond the usual "art is important"!) to non-arts lovers why spending on these things is important, how it serves us all. (More on that later on in this post, where I outline some challenges to reversing these cuts.)

So far it seems most of the outcry is from the traditional arts centres (and traditional non-Conservative political sectors) of Toronto and Montreal. There have been a few op-eds decrying the cuts from Edmonton , Ottawa and St. John’s . Vancouver alt-weekly the Straight gave a little coverage to recording industry outcry, but little response as far as I can see from the websites of Vancouver dailies.

The best coverage as far as I can see has been from the French media, like La Presse (who tracked down our erstwhile Heritage minister Josee Verner first). The Globe has also done a good job on tracking the story, and the franco and anglo CBC's okay too. Internationally, there's been little on view except for the post I found at Art Fag City -- a blog written by a Canuck.

Some of the orgs who have publicly criticized the cuts so far include: the Canadian Independent Record Production Association , l’Union des Artistes , Movement pour les arts et les lettres , l’Association nationale des editeurs de livre , Regroupement Quebecois de la Danse, the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal Party , ACTRA (the national performers’ union), the Directors Guild of Canada, and the Canadian Museums Association.

A town hall-style meeting on these cuts is slated for September 3 at Toronto Free Gallery the Theatre Centre in Toronto.

It’s clear to me that there are many challenges to the arts community in effectively reinstating arts funding. Here are a few:

1) As evidenced by the media coverage of this issue, there is little linkage right now between outcry in the Conservative government strongholds of the West and more rural areas of Canada and the traditional arts/Liberal party/NDP strongholds of Toronto and Montreal. In order to defeat these cuts, it is crucial that linkages be made between cultural communities across Canada regardless of past regional rivalries. We need a statement from the Glenbow Museum. We need a statement from the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Art Gallery of Calgary, and Calgary artist-run centres. We need letters from their board members, from their patrons, from those who collect art, and from those who sell it. We need editorials—or at least letters to the editor-in the Vancouver Sun and the Calgary Herald from these people.

2) Another challenge will be connecting anti-cut endeavours across disciplines. It’s not just visual artists who are affected by these cuts, but the book industry, the magazine industry, dancers, theatre artists, and musicians. These are groups of people who tend to have their own associations and factions in their respective creative communities. They will need to bond together for this one, and get out of their usual circles to create a wide-ranging movement.

3) All artists in every discipline (film, music, literature, art or performance) against these cuts needs to get better at explaining the importance of the arts to those who are not involved in them. This explanation needs to be multipronged, with emphases on economics, educational benefits and community development as well as on aesthetics and the intangibles of art. The explanation also needs to apologize for (or at least recognize) the elitist way in which many arts have been presented to the public in the past. It needs to link the pleasures of big-ticket hits like Juno and Bon Cop Bad Cop and Arcade Fire and Cirque du Soleil to the funding systems that have been cut. (Ellen Page got her start in Canuck-funded TV and film, dontcha know. If it weren’t for that, even given all her talent, she might be barista-ing it up in Halifax like so many talented young people.) This explanation also needs to talk heritage, like the memories that will be lost from generations past—we’re talking historical artefacts, not art--through cuts collections digitization program.

4) Efforts from the arts community will need to put pressure on both the Liberals and the New Democrats, who up to this point have been loath to come together in vocal and concerted opposition to Conservative policies. I understand the Dems don’t want to give any votes to the Libs, but come on, we all have to start somewhere in actually acting like an opposition instead of like warring siblings. This goes for matters on the climate change and job creation fronts—which the Conservatives have handled horribly--as well as on the cultural ones.

These are my thoughts on the matter so far. I look forward to hearing what others might think, especially on how to rationalize arts funding to the unconvinced.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Quick Hits: Kitty Scott Q&A, Roy Arden review, Mary-Anne Barkhouse interview

I'm away this week, so posts will be few and far between. Still, here's a few quick hits on my recent stories published elsewhere:
  • Last fall, former National Gallery of Canada curator Kitty Scott left a much-vaunted post at the Serpentine--after just one year on the job--to be director of visual arts at the Banff Centre. In a Q&A with her this week at Canadian Art Online, Scott talks about why she left, as well as her views on the recent David Franklin/Pierre Theberge debacle at the National Gallery. Also of particular note is the curating symposium she's co-coordinating for the fall, which will have (gasp!) actual curating grads speak on their programs, rather than the program heads themselves. A smart move. It will be interesting to see what she does next, and whether her goal of refocusing the Banff residency program on artist (rather than administrator) interest will succeed.

  • Respected Vancouver photog Roy Arden has spent the last decade-plus amassing 32,000 images from the Internet. In my recent NOW review of his current show at Monte Clark Gallery, I talk about how this practice makes the internet a kind of uber-camera for human experience. Don't know if Arden would agree and all, but I think it's an interesting idea. It also fits with the very conceptual approach of the Jeff-Wall-epitomized Vancouver school of photography.

  • On a (strangely) more fun note, Ontario artist Mary-Anne Barkhouse has coin-operated horsie rides stand in for the four horses of the apocalypse in her current installation at the Ottawa Art Gallery. In my interview with her published recently in the National Post, Barkhouse makes a compelling case for why "end of days" fears actually have a recurring, short-term quality for each generation. If you're in town, sounds worth a spin.

Image of Figure In a Mountain Landscape creative residency working plein air at Sunshine Meadows, Banff, photo by Adam Costenoble, courtesy of the Banff Centre

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shout-out: Chris Nuttall Smith on the Royal Ontario Museum's Reno Woes

Given my continued griping about the financial mismanagement at the Royal Ontario Museum (and related admission fee jumps) I want to do a shout-out to Toronto writer Chris Nuttall-Smith, whose much-needed feature on the ROM's renovation-cost woes is the highlight of the recently released September 2008 issue of Toronto Life magazine.

In it, Nuttall-Smith reveals the following ROM errors of judgment:
  • In 2001, the consulting firm KPMG predicted that with an appropriate reno, the ROM could raise attendance from 650,000 visitors annually to between 1 to 1.6 million visitors. The ROM (unwisely) then projected their post-reno attendance to hit 1.65 million right off the bat (that's 4,500 visitors per day).
  • The project's cost spiralled over an 18-month delay from $200 million to $320 million. At each step of the way, the ROM trustees okayed going into debt and blue-skying things like monies to be received from a (still unapproved) sale of a nearby planetarium for a 46-storey condo development.
  • In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the ROM greeted 986,171 visitors—fewer visitors than in pre-reno 2000.
Of course, Nuttall-Smith's assessment attempts for balance too, with a profile of past successes of CEO Bill Thorsell, as well as a general tone of detachment and recognition of international accolades from Conde Nast travel mags. 

Still, it's not hard to see that Thorsell (who, it's implied, has a very hard time taking constructive criticism or naysaying) and the ROM trustees have really dug their own boom-mentality grave on this one.

Interestingly, in anticipation of this expose (however gentle) Thorsell has issued his own press release linked on the ROM frontpage, a very rah-rah assessment noting that attendance is now averaging 3,000 a day (still well below the basic budgeted requirements detailed above), with $232 mil raised (still $90 mil short of what's needed) and a 94% guest satisfaction rate (that's of people who managed to get into the museum, not those who are kept out by admission barriers, or who decided, as Nuttall-Smith documents, hin the past year that they will never return). 

Definitely worth a read or two, or three.

Image of fireworks at the ROM's June 2007 opening from the Royal Ontario Museum website.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quick Hits: The Left Bank Meets Cowtown, while Trade Shows Meet Marx

These weeks of August are supposed to be the dead days of the art scene... but I feel like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Not a good thing in many ways (I'm over the whole "it's great and important to be stressed out" thing), and especially not good in that all I can do blogwise this week is post some links to recent print stories.

Anyway here ye be: a Q&A on the young Calgary painting scene with artist/curator Wil Murray in the National Post (Dave & Jenn detail above), and a shotgun review of Michael Lewis's current show at Landymore Keith in NOW. (For the record, I didn't write that deck; as I say in the piece, the contempt I perceived in Lewis's work is at the level of "a bit" not "a lot." Sample image below, not capturing the 8-foot by 8-foot scale in the least.)

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Toronto Reviews Roundup

This is a long weekend, which makes the city seem extra-dead, but if you're around there's actually a lot to do under the sun. Here's some strong shows closing soon that I recommend seeing:
  • Matilda Aslizideh at Pari Nadimi Gallery – An emerging Vancouver artist takes on the tragedies of real-life child soldiers to both fantastical and visceral effect in this must-see show. (Though Nadimi's site says it goes only to July, NOW listings have updated it to run to Aug 2)
  • Working Title at Diaz Contemporary – I’m not normally a fan of abstraction, or of painting, but Monique Mouton’s work here (image above) really wins me over, as does Sally Spath’s careful, electric-feeling installation. Mina Totino I’m less crazy about—could be that her work fits into more traditional painting tropes—but the show is still worth a look, as I point out in this week's NOW.
  • Enacting Emancipation at A Space – A Space raises the political art flag (that many others shy away from) yet again in this show highlighted by work from Venice Bienniale Golden Lion winner Emily Jacir. Jacir, who is Palestinian and splits her time between Ramallah and New York City, is represented here by a 2001-3 work that documents requests from people banned from the West Bank, as well as photos of her enacting those requests. They include both the poignant—"put flowers on my mothers grave"—and the practical—"pay my phone bill." This work has traveled a lot, and with good reason; it is very deeply effective.
  • Proof at Gallery 44: In this 15th edition of the artist run centre’s emerging artist show Gallery 44 features work from a diverse array of practices. Susan Blight was the highlight for me with her self-portraits that show the practice still has relevance, and will continue to into the future, for many individuals. Also good, in a different way, is Michael Love’s pinhole photograph of himself in which he takes an unusual turn of using a bullet to create the pinhole. (I have to say I disagree with David Balzer this week in his assessment that Love's "intellectual" take is more worthy than Blight's "emotional" one; intellectuals have their own form of self-aggrandizing and narcissism, dontcha know.) Michele Crockett’s more conceptual work on the value of a penny is less compelling, but lingers.
Closing later, but worth seeing too:
  • Stories in Pieces at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery: A really nice group show with both big Canuck names (Geoffrey Farmer) and relative newcomers (Liz Knox). As I mentioned in the National Post last week, I especially loved Jon Sasaki’s Antihero Décor Room, which plunges you into your own spooky film noir.
  • Wu Wing Yee at Drabinsky Gallery: Delicate and strong at the same time, this recent Toronto-via-Hong Kong arrival has created a masterful series of work that positions Chinatown kitsch in protective cages and cocoons. Could be maudlin; instead, marvelous. I wrote last week that it's one of the best shows of the summer, and I'm standing by that.
  • Summer Group Show at Paul Petro: Like many other summer shows, it’s a grouping of largely leftover inventory. But there are some really lovely works here, including Fastwurms' glittering Frog Tire from the late 90s (apparently just recently released from their own storage vaults in Creemore’s backcountry) and Julie Beugin’s lush indoor/outdoor painting (pic below; watch for her show in February 09). I also really liked Jennifer Murphy’s collage work, Natalka Husar’s uneasy Judgment Boy Study, and Olia Mishcheko’s eloquent pen and ink drawings.

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