Monday, January 5, 2009

Enso Inklings & more Mink Mile Picks

When is a circle not just a circle? When it's an enso, goshdarnit! I didn't know what an enso was until I went to the Japan Foundation's concise show on the topic, which I enjoyed for its riff, I guess, on culturally ingrained formalisms, or places where formalism meets feeling. You can read on this and a few other mink mile shows in my gallery hop for Saturday's National Post. It's also after the jump.

On and Off the Avenue
By Leah Sandals
National Post, Jan 3 2009

New Year's brings many resolutions. Some promise to take a course; others vow to master new languages and visit faraway places. Interestingly, our local galleries and museums can be ideal places to start putting such resolutions into action. (Heck, even if your goal is to lose weight, there's a lot of walking involved.)Here's an Avenue & Bloor culture crawl to get your '09 started right.

Gardiner Museum
111 Queen's Park
When an art exhibition is co-sponsored by a foreign tourist board, you tend to think, "OK, this is going to show lots of beautiful, cliched beach-scene stuff, and not much else." Well, the Gardiner's exhibition Harvest of Memories: Mexican Days of the Dead proves that assumption wrong. Sure, there's some jaw-droppingly beautiful objects here-- the massive clay Tree of Life sculpture and the huge satin-draped remembrance altar, both key to Mexican Day of the Dead tradition, are must-sees. But the Gardiner also takes a savvy, non-resortland spin on Mexican experience, exhibiting photographs of Mexican migrant workers toiling at Canadian farms. Also adding depth is a collection of clay figures created by migrant farm workers in Ontario during summer 2008. These small, vital works -- many of them ornate incense burners used in honouring the dead -- demonstrate the deep cultural reach of Mexican art forms in a way that no massive masterpiece can. To Jan. 18.

Japan Foundation
131 Bloor St. W.
Over at the Japan Foundation, the exhibition Enso highlights a different type of nationally ingrained artwork. An enso is, simply put, a circle -- one created in the Japanese calligraphy tradition using ink on paper. It sounds basic, but as this exhibition demonstrates, the form has considerable complexity. Besides showing sublimely holistic ensos by a master artist, Noriko Maeda, the Japan Foundation also displays ensos by a variety of unusual amateurs: Olympic athletes, car company CEOs and restaurant designers, to name a few. This unexpected variety of input supports a key principle of enso practice -- that each circle reflects the creator's state of mind. Bill Crothers, a runner, writes that his enso is "always incomplete, yet perfect," like his life. Yoichi Sato, a judge, comments, "I was thinking of my mother as I drew the enso." And Ryohei Miyata, a university president, says: "How can a single circle reveal so much of what is in my heart?" Even if you don't leave this little show as an enso believer, there's something very pleasing about seeing the human soul (and its variety) so elegantly portrayed. To Feb. 26.

Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park
Housepaint and Unbuilt Toronto, two exhibits at the ROM, aim to address closer-to-home subcultures -- those of the city itself. Unbuilt Toronto, which wraps tomorrow, is the more straightforward of the two. It's a small display of failed proposals for city buildings and parks that leaves one wondering, "Wow, what would a 36-storey Eaton Centre -- or a rectangular City Hall -- have looked like?" Housepaint, which runs to July 5, is more complicated, attempting to meld stories of homeless people at Tent City with the visual appeal of graffiti-style art. While each of these phenomena is compelling in its own right, the connection here--graffitied canvases as public-art tribute to Tent City -- isn't completely convincing. Visually, Evoke, Patrick Thompson's painterly touches, and Lease, Lisa Mansfield's indie stencil-art cool, are very appealing, while Dstrbo's street portraits point most strongly to the theme. But these clean, protected canvases seem a world away from the reality of Toronto's homeless. For their sake, the promised auction of these works to benefit Habitat for Humanity certainly can't come soon enough.

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