Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reviews: Stephen Appleby-Barr, Ydessa Hendeles & Andrea Nunes

Stephen Appleby-Barr has been getting a lot of buzz lately in the Canadian mediasphere. Today's National Post offers my take on his work, which is appealing but which I also feel cautious about. Reviews of the new Ydessa Hendeles show and a small look at Andrea Nunes are also included. Here's an excerpt:

Stephen Appleby-Barr at Narwhal
Appleby-Barr is a young, much-buzzed Torontonian who gained fame as part of the cheeky art-and-illustration collective Team Macho. In his second solo show, The Invisible College, he pays tribute to the artists -- members of Macho among them -- who've influenced his creativity. Granted, there's considerable sleight-of-hand involved: Appleby-Barr's portraits are influenced by heavily hued classical paintings and turn-of-the-century sepiaphotographs. This approach is particularly successful in a portrait of recent Iskowitz Prize winner Shary Boyle, who is rendered as an officious Governor General, and in a restrained painting of Owen Pallett, revealing a dapper duke of all that is young, eccentric and creative in Toronto. Overall, the warmth of this coming-of-age project is palpable, but a caveat: The artist's self-conscious, Anglo-fetishizing style can come off a bit gimmicky. To Nov. 29.

I also liked Appleby-Barr's painting of a young Francis Bacon done in similar style. So many artist list their influences, rather than pay tribute to them... so it's nice to see. (The idea of the artist's cat being one of his "artistic colleagues" also comes off very humorously.) Because the original review had to be trimmed for space, I'm also posting more observations on the Hendeles show after the jump.

Image of Appleby-Barr's Punchy Graduation from Narwhal

Strait-Jacket at Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, 778 King St W
Many were saddened last year when the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, the best (and until recently, the only) private-collection exhibition space in Canada, suddenly shut down for looked like an indefinite, and possibly permanent, period. Accordingly, the relief was palpable when Hendeles reopened this fall with a new exhibition, Strait-Jacket. This show is smaller than past ones and some items on display, like Hendeles’ Punch and Judy puppets, have been previously shown. Nonetheless, this mix of top-notch works and artifacts successfully evokes complex knots of questions about sanity, culture and power. Pippilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All is a perfect example, with a video that shows a beautiful, carefully dressed woman violently shattering car windows—using a flower-shaped truncheon, no less. Joan Crawford’s lover-annotated charm bracelets, in this context, suggest both amulets of adoration and shackles of romantic obsession. Similarly, Barbara Kruger’s text works point to more immediate tensions, ones that question the sanity of seeking relationships with objects rather than with human beings. This latter point is a dilemma that any collector or art lover must grapple with, and it’s one of the many fascinating threads of ambivalence that rise to the surface in this worthwhile exhibition.

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