Thursday, January 29, 2009

Symposium Report: We, Ourselves and Us

In addition to running exhibitions on collaboration in art this season, the Power Plant also ran a symposium last weekend called "We, Ourselves and Us." My report on same was published today at It's pretty bare bones, but I'm expecting a lecture there this weekend by Prospect 1 curator Dan Cameron might cause some other ideas to gel.
Image of Maria Lind, Saara Liinamaa, and Janine Marchessault from

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Review: Strip Mining for Creative Cities

Toronto has a love/hate relationship with Richard Florida. After all, he tells us we too can be a creative city, just like New York and London and all those "world class" places. He even moved here to prove it to us. But his theories haven't always been sensitive to the ways "creative cities" can ultimately push out the poor--artists among them. This month, politically oriented gallery Toronto Free opened a show on this tension, "Strip Mining for Creative Cities." Today NOW published my condensed review.

Terrarea by Janis Demkiw, Emily Hogg and Olia Mishchenko from NOW Toronto

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Q&A: Julie Beugin on Indoor/Outdoor Painting

Julie Beugin is an emerging Montreal painter who drew me in this summer with her technicolour landscape "The sequence of doors we passed made me think of all of the rooms of my past and future," pictured above. Recently, because she had a show of more paintings in Toronto, I got a chance to chat with her on the phone about why so many Canadian painters of her era--think Martin Golland, Melanie Authier and Melanie Rocan, among others--are into exploding the walls between indoor and outdoor landscapes. Our condense Q&A is at the National Post and also after the jump. (Show @ Paul Petro to Feb 7)

Inserting home on to the range
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This week's throne speech emphasized uncertainty. But what if that uncertainty wasn't reflected just in fiscal policy, but in our homes and backyards? Such ideas come up when looking at artworks by Montreal painter Julie Beugin; in her topsy-turvy landscapes, instability is both stomach-churning and sumptuous. Now, with an exhibition at Paul Petro Gallery in Toronto, Beugin tells Leah Sandals about literary inspirations, '70s home décor and nouveau-Crusoe attitudes.

Q Recently, you've shifted from painting shoddy cardboard house models to creating technicolour meldings of inside and outside - meadows inserted into living rooms, swamps into kitchens. Why?

A Making cardboard models became a way to create a space that didn't exist - an imaginary space like Robinson Crusoe's hut, say. And I wanted to paint the models because photography would make it too actual for me. I also liked the way the cardboard was falling apart; it was a useful way to represent how imaginary spaces are unstable.

That shifted when I wanted to bring back colour and explore the drippy, liquid nature of paint as another metaphor for instability. I guess cutting open the walls of houses in more recent works reflects how landscape can become a projection of a mental state.

Q Books often appear in your paintings, whether stacked in huge shelves or open on tabletops. Why?

A Well, a lot of the paintings start from literary sources and stories. That was a way to make sure I didn't make the same images all the time. I'm a huge reader, with piles of books all over my apartment. When you're reading and you have images floating in your brain - that's a singular experience, but it's also something many others can experience through the book. Books also become a metaphor for mental clutter, I think.

Q Do certain books inspire you?

A Yes. But the images I get from the books are really subjective; some people who have read those books often say, "Wow, I didn't picture that at all."

I liked working with Paul Auster texts for a while, because he's interested in writers' desks and other spaces of creativity. Lately it's `. He was born in Japan and grew up in the U.S., so he's got this mix of pop cultures. And crazy things happen in his books that let me create spaces that have less logic to them. Novels are starting points for me to be more imaginative.

Q Where else do your source images come from?

A It's a mix. Sometimes it's found images; I have a big collection of interior décor books from the '70s that I found in thrift stores. There's this mix of nostalgia but also a bit of kitsch, a sincerity as well as a bit of irony. Old postcards can be good. I also use my own photos, and I always have my camera with me. I'm constantly digging through image sources.

Q Are any of these paintings inspired by places you've lived?

A Sometimes. I grew up in Calgary and my parents have a cabin in Invermere, B.C. So the whole cabin motif keeps coming back, and views of the Canadian landscape from hiking and camping. But it can also be inspired by places that I live now; I'll go take photos of Montreal and particular libraries and stuff like that. In future, I might explore making paintings of specific places rather than imaginary ones.

Q There are some other youngish Canadian painters working in this vein, combining interiors with exteriors - Martin Golland, Melanie Authier and Melanie Rocan come to mind. Why do you think this theme recurs for you and your peers?

A I think that landscape is inextricable from the Canadian imagination, how we see ourselves and construct our identity. So it is no surprise that so many young artists are engaged with it. But the challenge is to avoid perpetuating that idea of an untouched pristine wilderness, which was popularized by the Group of Seven and others. That idea of wilderness makes no sense within a context of deep environmental concern.

Though there are big differences between artists, I think a lot of young painters are approaching this concern by emphasizing ephemerality - using paint and brush marks to represent an unstable and transitory version of landscape. Some painters also represent a very personal mental landscape, one that is constructed through memory and imagination rather than an unquestioned, static idea of wilderness.

-Julie Beugin's paintings show to Feb. 7 at Paul Petro Gallery in Toronto. For more information, visit

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Recommended: Jason McLean, Adrian Norvid & more

Some quick hits: I recommend the current show at Jessica Bradley. Montreal's Adrian Norvid provides more sad rock and roll references than you can shake a Helix LP at and Toronto's Jason McLean brings the colour with large-scale text and abstraction paintings. (His cardboard watches upstairs are also fun.) Tis indeed a no-brainer.

Also recommended: Julie Beugin & Gretchen Sankey at Paul Petro (impressionist mishmash in development and humorous ghost-inpired sculptures), Leopold Foulem at David Kaye (ceramic witticism to accompany a show at the Gardiner), Jon McCurley at Gallery TPW (anti-anti-urbanist performance, high-concept comedy, and low-concept silliness in sculpture), and Stripmining for Creative Cities at Toronto Free (a small but thoughtful look at gentrification, and prevention thereof).
Jason McLean, Hello Ruby in the Dust (top) Adrian Norvid, No Brainer (middle) from Jessica Bradley Art & Projects,

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Vicariously Enjoyed: The Greater NYC Smudge Cleanse

So I went to the Power Plant's symposium "We, Ourselves and Us" on Saturday. Generally the day of talks was meant to address ideas of collaboration and community in artmaking, with the Nina Montmann-curated exhibition "If We Can't Get it Together" serving as a jumping-off point.

There was lots to digest during the day, and I may do a mini-report for Canadian Art Online later this week. But the main highlight for me was Emily Roysdon's talk. It focused a lot on her own personal artwork as well as her longer-term collaborative publication LTTR, which stands for "Lesbians Tend to Read," among other things. But one of the works she highlighted that I really enjoyed was from artist Jeanine Oleson, who spent 4 days in Fall 2008 performing "The Greater New York Smudge Cleanse" meant to wipe out "classism, heterosexism, imperialism, election anxiety, gentrification, eco-destruction and greed" around the city.

For those who don't know, a smudge is a Native American ritual that uses smoke from a bound stick of sage to cleanse bodies, spirits and spaces. It's a ritual that's long since been appropriated by new agey types and other non-natives for use in healing ceremonies. So Oleson and her helpers basically made the world's largest smudge stick--it looks about 10 feet long--and carried it to four locations--the site of an oil spill in Greenpoint, say, or of the Stonewall riots, or Wall Street financial meltdown.

The images of this massive smudge stick and its tie-dyed purveyors are priceless--just the right mix of sincerity and absurdity. It really resonates for me because of my own past participation in smudges from native to new-agey contexts (thank you Ghost River Rediscovery), and how this optimistic, fruity--and actually much-needed act of symbolic cleansing--constrasts with the typical mindset of urban environments.

Also, the pics are 200% awesome examples of sexing the city in a queer feminist way--including a "Tarot for Tomorrow" booth! Yes!

All images from Credits: Marina Ancona, Khaela Maricich

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Q&A: Kees Van Dongen's North American Survey Premiere in MTL

Yesterday, the Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts opened the North American survey premiere of Kees Van Dongen, an oft-overlooked Fauvist painter. The paintings look luscious and intense--so why isn't this guy as well known as his contemporary, Matisse? I gave Anne Grace, associate curator of the show, a call to find out. The Q&A is in today's National Post, or you can read on after the jump for the text too.

Kees Van Dongen, The Manila Shawl, approx 1907, from the MMFA

A shocking fauve pas
Kees Van Dongen broke much the same aesthetic ground as Matisse, but found himself written out of the art history textbooks
National Post
Published: Friday, January 23, 2009

Brilliantly costumed dancers. Sultry cabaret singers. Red-light district ladies. And even a dolled-up wrestler or two. Such are the underworld figures populating early 20th-century painter Kees Van Dongen's luscious, vibrant, seductive canvases. With the first North American survey of Van Dongen's works opening yesterday at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it's clear Picasso ain't the only word in painted perfection. Here Anne Grace, associate curator of the exhibition, tells Leah Sandals more about this oft-overlooked original.

Q Why this big, first North American solo show on Kees Van Dongen?

A Well, it's quite surprising that Van Dongen's art is so little known in North America. His painting is very strong, stunning and intense, and it occupies a critical place in the development of modern art. He was extremely well known in his lifetime during the 1920s and '30s, and he was an incredibly sought-after portrait painter.

There's also a local connection. Dealer Max Stern from Montreal's Dominion Gallery showed Van Dongen's art, and as a result there are a number of Quebec collectors who own his works. The Sterns were actually at an exhibition in Paris and followed Van Dongen to his studio, wrote down his address and began a correspondence that way.

Q Why don't we know Van Dongen's name as well as that of contemporaries like Picasso or Matisse?

A Well, there was a rivalry between Matisse and Van Dongen. One of the first books on Fauvism-- the style they both worked in-- was written by Matisse's brother-in-law. The publisher of the book had to convince him to even just include Van Dongen's name.

Q What about controversy over Van Dongen's trip to Nazi Germany in 1940? Didn't that severely damage his reputation?

A I think that explains it in part, but there are other artists, like Vlaminck and Derain, who participated in the same trip whose work is much better known. Basically, Van Dongen and other painters were invited by the official sculptor of the Third Reich to go. It was an ill-advised decision; definitely something the artist regretted.

Q On a more positive note, there are lots of great-looking paintings in your show, like The Wrestlers, which hasn't been exhibited publicly for 50 years. What's the story with that work?

A That wonderful painting was acquired by our exhibition partner, the National Museum of Monaco, directly from the family of the artist. In a way one can see it as Van Dongen's response to Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. In 1906, he started to live in Paris's Montmartre district right beside Picasso, and they were close. So what we see here is a kind of separation between Van Dongen as a colourist and Picasso as a cubist. Also these are very strong women, defiantly looking at us; in a sense they become the archetypes of Van Dongen's women, who are very seductive but also very strong characters as well.

Q Were they really women wrestlers?

A Yes, they really were women wrestlers. It was this strange genre of burlesque and performance in its day. Van Dongen always loved to challenge standards of taste.

Q I wasn't sure if they were prostitutes, which the artist's contemporaries often painted. Did Van Dongen work in that vein too?

A Yes. He often painted the red light district in his native Rotterdam, and then when he went to Paris, he was again drawn to this demimonde. In fact, there's a famous series of drawings that he made for a periodical where he narrated the life of a prostitute. Interestingly, though, one of his most controversial paintings --Tableau, which has a full-frontal nude and was thrown out of an exhibition-- was based on his wife. Dealing with these themes, we have an essay in our catalogue on feminist ways of analyzing Van Dongen's work.

Q What contemporary artist do you think would fulfil Van Dongen's role today, of using portraits to talk of other things?

A I'm almost wondering whether Cindy Sherman might fit. She is always in disguise, and the surfaces really create the work. Overall, however, I don't really think it wouldn't do justice to Van Dogen to compare him to somebody else in this way.

Still, I do think there are links between abstract American painting and Van Dongen, particularly in how strong and palpable his paintings are. It's the same qualities we see later on in Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, that primacy of colour that makes the artwork's meaning.

Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve runs to April 19 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mmfa.

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Why Does Toronto Hate Haegue Yang?

So... I've noticed Toronto doesn't really seem to like Korean artist (and Venice Biennale 09er) Haegue Yang.

In her recent review in the Globe, Sarah Milroy described Yang's work, currently on display as part of a group show at the Power Plant, as "anemic, ... (Having dutifully digested the support material, I still found it pretentious and smelly.)"

And in his less recent review on Akimbo, Terence Dick described the exhibition as "frustrating and it often feels like the idea, instead of the art, is driving the curation."

In contrast, in my initial review of the show, posted the week of its opening back in December, I found I loved the show overall (excluding one or two serious missteps), but especially Yang's work. And I maintained this view in my Jan 15 review in NOW.

What's more, I really felt an emotional response to the works, not just a conceptual one. That emotion wouldn't seem compatible to me with an overreliance on supporting text or concept, rather than art, driving curation. To me it really felt right.

All this has made me think (yet again) about the differences between critics that drive differences in criticism, in likes and dislikes, in what works come off as successful or unsuccessful. A lot of it can be objective, but just as much if not more lies in the experiences we bring to the work, in what we see reflected there of our own troubles and triumphs.

[More after the jump...]

For instance, I know I related to the Yang work almost immediately for the way it spoke to a mental and physical state of migration and inbetweenness. I don't mean to get overly maudlin, but I'm a first-generation Canadian with parents from two other immigration-fuelled countries: The United States and New Zealand. I've lived in a few different parts of Canada, and immediate family is scattered a fair distance away in different cities, extended family further.

Of course, I'll be the first to admit that I've always enjoyed the life-smoothing privileges of being whiteish and middle-classish. My experience of migration is considerably less harsh than that of those who don't enjoy those societal perks. But nonetheless I find that the tidal-wave emotion of an "Inheritance of Loss" (as Kiran Desai put it) resonates with me. With every move, a migrant hopes for (and often gains) aspects of a better life; but the rootlessness that comes with such harvests also has its problems.

What I recognized/projected onto Yang's work (perhaps in mirror-neuron structure, as Sally McKay might put it) is very much that state of statelessness. And not only that, but an attempt to connect through the most elemental of means -- heat, air, odor -- those things that communicate/touch/affect in any place and any language.

And sure, I'm a brainy, anxious type who thinks a fair bit about these conditions in my life, about symbols; maybe Yang is too. I've also lived in enough crappy apartments to know those cheap weird universal venetian blinds she uses, those heating pads of marginal comfort, those standing in the street moments of not belonging to anyone or anything, just attempting to navigate how the good and the sad of life might reconcile. Not awful, not great, just thinking about the long stretches of in between. Being shocked out of it or into it by a physical sensation; the heat of the sun, the breeze on my clothing, some respite of immediacy from the future/past negotiation.

So even though Toronto doesn't seem to like Hague Yang, gosh darn it, I sure do. And as I've made clear, I have my reasons. I'm sure others do too. (It seems a lot of those globetrotting curators can sure as hell relate....)

Image of Haegue Yang's Blind Room 2006/2007 from eflux

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Golden Hippos Make Life Better

Golden Hippos--as brooches or anything else--make life better. Vultures wearing Olympic medals too. All this is proven by Felieke van der Leest, a wacky Dutch artist and designer. Amazariffic. Waste more time in a good way here. (Thanks to Claire Pfeiffer for the link!)

Top: Felieke van der Leest, Prima Ballerina Hippo Lolita, 2008 Bottom: Felieke van der Leest, The Outsiders, 2008

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Feature: Orlan @ OCAD in Sketch Mag

One of the highlights of my fall was meeting iconic French artist Orlan at OCAD. The college brought her in at the end of September for a one-week residency, which included a public lecture, classroom visits and a collaborative Nuit Blanche project. I took on the task of writing a feature on her visit for the OCAD periodical, Sketch Magazine. To be frank, the lecture was a bit of a gong show owing to an inept translator, but I was still quite agog at just meeting her, this legendary artist I learned about in my first visual studies course at NSCAD. I learned a lot about her non-surgical work along the way, including Le Baiser de L'artiste, which was part of the acclaimed survey Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Anyway, my profile can be found in the Winter 2009 issue of Sketch, which is available here as a PDF if you don't happen to have a hard copy.

Image of Orlan performing Baiser de l'artiste in 1977

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Q&A: Brian Howell on Wrestling, East Van, Mickey Rourke & More

I still haven't seen The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke's surprise comeback movie. But I have seen some of Brian Howell's wrestling pics, and they've almost convinced me to go--especially after hearing him talk about them in a phone chat last week. The National Post published a condensed version today. Click here for the goods or read on after the jump. And there's more pics of Howell's work here at Vancouver's Winsor Gallery, which is hosting a show to February 8.
Image of Brian Howell's Asian Tiger from Winsor Gallery

A welcome mat inside the ring
Vancouver photographer Brian Howell's series on wrestlers illustrates the inclusive, sensitive side of those men in tights
National Post
Published: Monday, January 19, 2009

Mickey Rourke surprised many people -- not the least himself -- when he won a Golden Globe last week for his starring role in The Wrestler. But the fact is that very few actual wrestlers will ever get a comparable Champagne-tinged tribute. They do, however, get an homage in B. C. photographer Brian Howell's artwork, which had its opening at Vancouver's Winsor Gallery last Thursday. Here, Howell tells Leah Sandals about the blood and the blues that captivate him ringside.

Q You're a journalist as well as an artist. What distinguishes a newsy photo from an artistic one?

A Well, I'ma work-for-hire photographer. A magazine or newspaper will want a certain story covered, and I'll want to make a good picture for my client, but the topic might not be something I'm interested in. So I tend to take on personal projects where I get my own way, and have control of the story. Those projects turn into exhibitions and books.

Q One of your major projects has been on amateur wrestling. Why?

A It works on two levels. Initially, I was taken aback by what I saw at these matches: real blood, fighting that went into the streets, cops, costumes. There was no shortage of stuff to photograph!

But then I realized there's a community involved, both fans and wrestlers. I liken it to punk rock in that it's a forum for discussion and it's without pretense. People who may not be comfortable in mainstream society can go in and do anything they want. You could show up in a clown suit, no problem, and I thought that was quite beautiful in a modern context -- very inclusive.

Q What do you think of the movie The Wrestler? Do you think it's accurate?

A One of the wrestlers I know is convinced it's incredibly accurate, right down to the way they talk in the dressing room. The movie shows a real brotherhood, a real camaraderie working together --much like a theatre troupe would. It was completely authentic, like watching a documentary.

I think there's a sadness in the movie that also exists in wrestling itself, in that it's not for everyone; it draws a certain type of person. Some people are just happy to be out engaging in any way they can.

Q Did you ever wrestle?

A I did. A guy was trying to show me a move where I was to run through the ring and fall back when he stuck out his arm. Instead, I ran into his arm hard and hurt my neck. And once a show needed a ring announcer, so I did that. Also, when my book came out in 2002, I was hit over the head with a chair, which wasn't supposed to injure, but the guy really smoked me and I got a concussion.

Q You've also done a book on celebrity impersonators. How much of amateur wrestling is imitating celebrity?

A In both cases people are dressing up as someone else, assuming a character that isn't their own. I was interested in that transformation and trying to photograph subjects between those two places of character and non-character. In both cases, people always want to pose, and as soon as you ask them not to pose the pictures take on this whole different quality; it's more a look at the person behind the costume.

Q It seems with your newer photos of wrecked homes in Surrey, B. C., that you're again looking at a grittier side of life. Do you see a connection?

A Both the wrestlers and the Surrey homes series are about people. There are a lot of pictures from the abandoned houses series of holes in the wall where copper pipe and wire has been stripped out by people who need money to survive. And these abandoned houses also show what people leave behind. An old yellow fridge, for example, was painted silver to look like a stainless steel fridge. To me it's a very sad picture about status and money and wealth.

Q What are you working on next?

A I'm working on a project about the transition of East Vancouver from working class to affluent. I've been shooting a colour, this industrial turquoise colour you can only find on garages or alleys or homes on the East Side. Now this colour's vanishing with everybody renovating their homes. I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but it's a fun project right now. - Brian Howell's photographs run to Feb. 8 at Vancouver's Winsor Gallery (

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

List Gallery Opens, 401 Richmond Rocks

A couple of pieces by me in today's National Post: The first is on List Gallery, a new gallery opened by artist Svava Juliusson at 1385 Danforth Avenue. If you want to attend the official opening party, it's tomorrow from 2-5pm. The second is a gallery hop for 401 Richmond, where I found works to love at Gallery 44, A Space, and Red Head Gallery. Full text for both articles after the jump just in case.
Still from Suzanne Caines's video work from NSCAD -- Caines is a highlight at Red Head this month

Is Danforth East the new Parkdale?
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, January 17, 2009

The stretch of Danforth between Greenwood and Coxwell can be sparse for the culturati -- unless they're taking a break for basement beers at the Danforth Bowl, that is. But that will change a bit tomorrow, with the opening of List, the strip's first contemporary art gallery.

Sandwiched between an Ethiopian convenience store and a defunct Bulgarian social club, List Gallery's now-sunny storefront at 1385 Danforth Ave. used to offer the street-scape little more than closed blinds. But beyond those blinds lay a working artists' studio. In fact, the rest of the unit past the gallery's rear wall still serves as shared studio space for artists Janine Miedzick, Jay Wilson, Kelvin Britton and Svava Juliusson, the Monarch Park resident who opened the gallery.

"We've been renting this unit as studio space for a couple of years," says Juliusson, an East Coast transplant who met her studio mates while doing an MFA a York University in 2006. "It's a really reasonable deal for Toronto, and several of us already lived in the area." When one artist decided to move out post-new baby, Juliusson took on a second share of the rent to create List.

Though smallish at 220 square feet, List is clean, bright and well organized. Its main exhibition space is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 12 to 5 p. m.; an adjoining vitrine showcases a 24/7 piece of public art.

For the gallery's opening, Tania Ursomarzo's installation of fluorescent string radiates fascinatingly through the vitrine, refracting off the ceiling and into the studio beyond. In the main gallery, recent Art Institute of Chicago grad Gillian Collyer offers raw sculptures of vacuum cleaners, while Kristiina Lahde, already showing at west end hot spots such as MADE and Katharine Mulherin, crafts a kaleidoscope of newspaper pages.

Amanda Schoppel rounds out List's initial offerings with sensitive, map-like drawings on time and place. They're particularly relevant here given the question of whether List was wise to open on this oft-spotty stretch of the Danforth -- and during a recession, no less.

"Well, why not?" Juliusson says, smiling. "I'm going into this very low-risk. There are a few galleries on Queen East, and if List can be part of a combined effort to make the east end of town more of a destination for art, then I want to be part of that, too."

Why not, indeed. With Luc-Sculpture art school and studio just around the corner on Greenwood Avenue and Red Sable, another small studio/gallery east of Coxwell--as well as that long-standing promise of unpretentious beers 'n' bowling -- the creative draw of this Danforth stretch is definitely worth keeping a well-trained eye on.
Fun with film
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, January 17, 2009

With temperatures super-frigid this past week, simply getting out of the house seems a worthy accomplishment, never mind hitting the galleries. Yet, the cold actually makes it a great time to visit 401 Richmond -- that revamped factory housing dozens of art endeavours under one (well-heated) roof. Grab a hot drink at the in-house cafe, unzip that bulky parka and you've got a toasty afternoon art escape.


401 Richmond, Suite 120

At Gallery 44, you will find works that question the idea of photographic accuracy. Rising New York artist Nicholas Knight offers some standout work in this vein, taking a mathematical yet strangely fun approach. Knight treats photo prints of golden frames like origami paper, folding them until the power of photography seemingly succumbs to physical realities. His tearing of a long photo into two separate frames is also playfully effective. Buffalo artist Hans Gindlesberger's series "I'm in the Wrong Film" takes a more poetic tack, positing the artist in pitiable, lonely situations -- from dealing with spilled groceries to sticking out like a sore thumb at a children's playground. In all cases, Gindlesberger gestures toward the ways that film is constructed, and perfect fantasies can unexpectedly turn the everyday grey.


401 Richmond, Suite 110

A Space's current show, Memory and Place, gathers three powerful works on themes of home and away. Recent Art Institute of Chicago grad Jing Yuan Huang creates the most immediately striking work, a dark, triangular room with hazy, floaty paper walls. The effect is confusing, yet calm. Nearby is Huang's source imagery for those massive walls -- two small drawings from her sketchbook. Overall, this piece captures flip-flops between dry paper records and related felt experiences. In a different but still pleasing aesthetic vein, South Koreaborn, Alberta-based artist Hye-Seung Jung brings new meaning to the term "mental map." Jung's installation uses light-catching wires to connect dots from a map on a table to hand-drawn pictures on the wall. Each of the locations on the map is labelled with a childhood memory -- "My grandma's place," "scary big white tree," "tofu factory with strong smell of soya." In contrast, her drawings of related buildings and streets vary to reflect the sieve-like nature of early memory. Finally, Toronto's Marissa Largo captures the feeling of being in two places at once with Jet Lag, a lovely, contemplative video of a sleeping figure projected on to an actual pillow and mat.


401 Richmond, Suite 115

Artist Suzanne Caines is able to endure quite a bit of social awkwardness for her art, which makes her strangely endearing. Caines's art centres on interacting with strangers in slightly off ways. In one video, she politely stops strangers in Halifax (her home base) and asks them to "describe a special location." In another videos, Caines invites people to "test" hammers at a British hardware store. What's evident is that her art is more than just naive Kumbaya or ironic Punk'd theatrics. She includes numerous "failures," or refusals to interact, as well as her few "successes," where people rhapsodize about, say, an Arctic expanse. Caines also gives participants objects in exchange for taking part in her project. These objects don't always make sense -- a fragile plaster hammer, for instance -- but the gesture (and its implied curiosity about social roles, intimacy and community) is solid gold. - 401 Richmond is located at 401 Richmond St. W. For more information, visit

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Interview: Jennifer Stillwell

Canadian artist Jennifer Stillwell makes very fun conceptual sculptures, and I'm sad I can't get to Winnipeg to see her show at Plug In ICA. But I'm glad I got to talk with her on the phone about it. Canadian Art Online posted the interview yesterday. Click here to read on.
Image of Jennifer Stillwell's Grate from

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Sad News: David Mirvish Books to Close

Sad News: David Mirvish Books on Art, a Toronto art-and-lit institution (with a Frank Stella painting to boot) has told employees it will be closing February 5 or threabouts. The bookstore has already informally started to notify people coming in with gift certificates that they should use them up before the end of the month. I understand that Amazon has got the best of most bookstores, but this is a shock. For some time, people speculated that the bookstore was losing money but still retained value to the owner because it anchored "Mirvish Village" real estate on Markham in Toronto. In the meantime, the store has slashed prices on books throughout the store. More news as it becomes available.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recommended: Ushioda Tokuko @ INDEXG, Wish You Were Here @ Gladstone Hotel

I headed over to INDEXG gallery on Saturday; was going to go anyway, but Glober Gary Dault's Saturday review on the Simon Glass show there upped the ante. When I got a chance to look around, I found I actually preferred a show in back--beautifully printed black and whites of books both holy and unholy--more so than Glass's efforts, digital prints which are obviously thoughtful but didn't grab me.

Those compelling photographs, I've since found out, are the work of Ushioda Tokuko, a sixtysomething Tokyo artist who hadn't shown in Canada prior to her summer '08 show @ INDEXG. The gallery provides this bio:

"Ushioda Tokuko (Japan) focuses her work on still-life photography. She concentrates on taking pictures of various objects to examine people's daily lives. Her "ICE BOX" series (1998) portrays refrigerators actually in use, open and close, at various households. The series "Biblioteca" (began in 2001) shows books not merely as repositories of knowledge, but equally as attractive in their own right as objects. This exquisite black and white series presents photographs of books as "scenery". Taken in Tokyo library, these images of rare and historic books are printed as beautiful gelatin silver prints.

Born in Tokyo, Ushioda Tokuko graduated from Kuwasawa Design School in 1963, where she studied photography. She taught photography there and the Tokyo University of Art and Design and became a freelance photographer in 1975. She married photographer Shimao Shinzo in 1978 with whom she has recorded their travels to China together. They published over 10 books on China."

This ain't work that's going to turn the world upside down, but it's really well-done and you have to appreciate that from time to time, dontcha? Oh, they also have some nice affordable digital prints of drawings by Jason McLean, who's opening original works at Jessica Bradley this Saturday.

In a totally different vein, the nearby Gladstone Hotel hosts another worth-seeing show: "Wish You Were Here: Postcards from Toronto." Organized by dealer Katharine Mulherin, the show includes work by 40-plus artists each putting a different spin on the postcard format and theme. Standouts were Lauren Bride's index cards detailing emotional formulae like "x/1 = childhood hopes/adult hopes -- find x", Germaine Koh's found photos, Lisa Deanne Smith's postcards-from-others-on-9/11 projectand Michael Klein's returned-to-sender envelopes--all of the latter sent from and addressed to himself at various non-Klein locations. Definitely worth a browse.

Image from Ushioda Tokuko's Biblioteca series from INDEXG

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Power Plant/Nina Montmann/Haegue Yang in NOW Review

In December I mused here about my initial reactions to "If We Can't Get It Together", a group exhibition at the Power Plant curated by Stockholm's Nina Montmann. Today NOW published my more tightly written review. Interesting synchronicity--one of the artists in the show, Haegue Yang, has just been chosen to represent Korea at this summer's Venice Biennale. Makes the show even more worth checking out, I'd say. The pavilion is commissioned this year by New Museum curator Eungie Joo.

Image of Haegue Yang's Non-Power-Plant installation Holiday for Tomorrow 2007 from dealer Barbara Wien

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

ROM Makes Nice to Families with "One Kid Free" Weekend Promotion

Well, it's not as jaw-dropping as Nicholas Sarkozy's just-announced pledge to make under-25 admission free at major French museums, but for the Royal Ontario Museum, it's pretty major. A link on the ROM homepage announces a promotion of "one free Child Admission (aged 4-14) with each regular paying adult, senior or student" on weekends to February 8.

As an ultracynical observer, I'm inclined to wonder whether they're seeking to boost their attendance numbers over these cold, Depression-tinged months. But at the same time, I'm glad a few more kids might to be able to get in and see the dinos as a result--they're seriously one of the best displays in the Crystal.

To recap, regular admission for two adults and two children to the ROM is $74, no snacks or souvenirs included. Under the conditions of this promotion, it could sink to (gasp!) a mere $44--or $11 per person, which I personally think is the max any of our museums should be allowed to charge. Also, for the record, the AGO has a permanent family admission rate for a grouping like this that is $45, but allows kids to be up to 17 years of age. Best case following this would be for the ROM to institute a family rate that's similar AND bring back a free evening every week. Dare to dream, I know...

Image of dinosaur galleries from the ROM

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Ferguson's Flabbergasting Farewell to Frottage @ Wynick/Tuck this Thurs

So I dropped by Wynick/Tuck gallery on the weekend and was stunned to see that the new paintings they have lined up for Gerry Ferguson's latest show are REPRESENTATIONAL, PICTORIAL, BLACK AND WHITE LANDSCAPES.

Okay, so maybe putting this in all-caps is a bit of an overreaction, but fact is that it's been over a decade since anyone has seen new works like this from the CanArt icon. For years Ferguson's been known as the grand king of artistic frottage north of the 49th. (A quick note: I think it's okay to smirk at this appelation--dour as the man can often be, even he has to realize the resonance of this chosen "technique" on so many creatively dirty minds.) Everything from lobster shells to looped hose to garbage can openings to drain covers (as in the image above) were painted by GF simply by draping a bare canvas on top of said object and rubbing with a roller of black paint.

And now... this. Landscapes. Created with a brush on a presumably upright canvas. What gives on this seemingly neocon reversal? The gallery attendant informed me that Ferguson had broken his left hand earlier this year, and could only use his right, which made frottage painting difficult. Whatever the reason for the shift, the new work is interesting to see in light of Ferguson's hardboiled reputation. It's also strangely satisfying, given the extent to which Ferguson is known for haranguing his NSCAD students into mastery of traditional landscape techniques before they soldier on into more experimental territory. (In fact, one of Ferguson's own proteges, Jonathan Johnson, has made his name in this very tradition.) Decide for yourself whether Ferguson's still got his own descriptive chops when his new work officially opens January 15 at Wynick Tuck in Toronto and January 16 at Gallery Page & Strange in Halifax.

Image of Gerry Ferguson's 27 Drain Covers, 2006 from Wynick Tuck Gallery

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Monday, January 12, 2009

AGO, ROM, OCAD ask Gov't to Make More Donations Tax Exempt

Yesterday's Toronto Star featured a full-page ad of interest to anyone who wonders how the recession will affect Canadian cultural institutions--or how desperate those institutions might be to ensure that the recession's impact is minimized.

The ad took the form of an open letter to prime minister Stephen Harper and finance minister Jim Flaherty, and was signed by the CEOs of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ontario College of Art & Design, and the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as reps from Toronto universities, theatre co's and music orgs.

The letter requested that the upcoming January 27 budget change Canada's tax laws to soften "unprecendented challenges [to charitable organizations] as a result of the global financial and economic crises". How? By creating more tax exemptions, namely (1) exempting gifts of private company shares from capital gains taxes (2) exempting gifts of real estate from capital gains taxes (3) allowing "non arms length" stockholders like family directors and CEOs to give stock option shares to a charity within 30 days.

To be clear, there are already zero capital gains taxes applied on gifts of publicly traded securities in Canada. And real estate and private company shares are already tax exempt in the US.

It's unclear the extent to which museums and art colleges would benefit from such measures. But one guesses it would have to be substantial to support this initiative--as well as engage in such cheeseries as
"Now is the time to level the playing field with the US and unlock greater private wealth for the public good!"

As a backgrounder, here's the basic requirements for maintaining charity status in Canada: Note that any charity must "Limit using the charity's resources for social activities and fundraising activities as they generally are not considered charitable." -- I wonder how the AGO, OCAD and the ROM managed this limitation when fundraising for their considerable renos.

Image on "Maceration of Money" from George Eastman House Collection @ Flickr commons

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Recommended: Misaki Kawai @ Paul Bright Gallery

Three words on this Bushwick hepster's first-ever Canadian show: So. Effin. Fun. Makes winter sports look good as well as silly, apropos for this bleak time of year. At Paul Bright Gallery to January 24, or what MSNBC calls "the most depressing day of the year." I promise it will be less depressing if you go to this show.

Image of Misaki Kawai's White Paradise from Paul Bright Gallery

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

More on the Jeff Spalding departure @ Glenbow UPDATED

Comment boards at provide speculation as to why recent CEO pick (and general CanArt supporter) Jeff Spalding left the Glenbow so quickly:

Gord Ferguson, instructor at the Alberta College of Art & Design, blames social conservatism:
As the only one-million plus city in North America without a civic art museum, Calgary is in dire need of a site for international contemporary art. The Calgary art community, and I suspect the citizenry as well, was very optimistic when Mr Spalding was hired to lead the dusty and tired Glenbow Museum toward a renewed focus on contemporary art. It appears to me that that the board of directors of the Glenbow like to rub shoulders with creative people and be associated with contemporary ideas, but when an energetic director actually makes these things happen, everyone gets nervous that something might actually change. The Glenbow was an impenetrable fortress catering to a very exclusive clientele before Mr Spalding arrived last January and almost instantly opened the doors to welcome a broad variety of people interested in new art that otherwise could only be seen by traveling to Edmonton, Toronto or Vancouver. He made it possible for students to attend lectures and openings for free and filled the second floor with provocative examples of contemporary art that gave us all access to the cultural debates occurring across the country and around the world. The news of Mr Spalding's departure is yet another example of the conservative nature of this city and how this attitude prevents us from joining the cultural capitals of the world. Gord Ferguson, Instructor, Alberta College of Art and Design

In contrast, "Helen" (anonymous) speculates that Spalding's splashy multi-venue exhibition debut may have caused cost overruns:
"As a former museum professional, I have to say that museum boards do not make a move like this unless they are in a very tight corner. How much did these massive aquisitions cost? If you know anything about museums, you know that "gifts" are anything but free. How much did it cost to mount all these short-notice exhibitions? Did the Glenbow fall into a deficit position as a result? What kind of a mess has he left behind? Judging from the abrupt departure it must be pretty ugly. I've met Evenden [Spalding's quickly named internal replacement] and she is impressive. But if Spalding has left a Bush-style wreck in his wake, even an Obama will have a pretty hard time."

Overall, though, the consensus seems to fall to blaming the Glenbow's rigidity and conservatism for contemporary-art-lover Jeff Spalding's departure:

Pete says: "A shocker yes; i keep rreading about all the amazing things Spalding has done to put Calgary back on the cultural map-- this sounds like a setback."

Sara says: "This is a HUGE disappointment. The Glenbow was finally on track to becoming the public art gallery that Calgary needs and deserves to join the ranks of the leading dynamic, modern cities of North America. Spalding brought tremendous and energy, experience and imagination to the task. I'd like to know more about what went "

CMJ says: "And so it goes ,,, the Glenbow continues once again to remain stuck in its lifeless downtown concrete. It needs CPR with light and fresh air. Several years ago my U of C art history class had a fantastic experience in Lethbridge.It was Jeffrey welcoming us into the storage room of U of L's wonderful collection of Canadian art. I distinctly remember his ability to communicate a refreshing infectious enthusiasm and promotion of Canadian art and culture. Even though we were behind doors with the paintings propped up around us he had 'a way' of making them live outside the box. Not something I could say about any of my Glenbow experiences except for the major one time events several years ago - Dinner Party and The Spirit Sings."

Anyone with tips as to why Spalding left is welcome to comment or contact me anonymously @

UPDATE Calgary blogger DJ Kelly posts Spalding's own farewell email:

A note to colleagues and friends:

This afternoon, Glenbow and I parted company. Enclosed you will find a media release issued by Lachlan Currie, chair of the board. It has been my privilege and honour to work with fine staff, generous colleagues as well as wonderful supportive partners, sponsors and donors. Together much of great note has been accomplished. THANKS!

My personal email is: [deleted for privacy reasons]



Jeffrey Spalding C.M.
President, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

while his anonymous commenter hints that Spalding's financial mismanagement was to blame:

Sadly, it is very good news, for art lovers and for Glenbow, that Jeff has "resigned." For one of the many reasons, you could check on the financial health and art storage/treatment situations at his former places of employment. You could check on the deficit budget and fundraising woes that plague Glenbow. You could ask yourself why "The Big Gift," (the many "unsolicited"(!?) donations), may not be what it seems...usually gifts do not cost the recipient anything, let alone money, resources and space that they do not have. You could ask what has happened to all the thousands of pieces of art that he "collected" for the U of L art gallery. You could cross-check the names of the artists that he "collected" for these same institutions...and see how many are the same from gallery to gallery. And maybe not so "new." And maybe not great examples of the artists' work. Maybe they needed a tax receipt. The vision of arts renewal is Glenbow's, not Spalding's. There is a responsible, thoughtful way to move forward to that goal, and there is...what happened in 2008. To what belongs to all the people of Alberta.

UPDATE x2 At, respected Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft voices her disappointment with the move in a comment: "As an outsider who has witnessed a revitalised Calgary art scene that began the moment the Glenbow hired Jeff Spadling, I say to the board who accepted his resignation, "What were you thinking?""

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Q&A: Graeme Patterson

Canadian artist Graeme Patterson has won great acclaim in the last couple of years with Woodrow, a moving sculptural/animatronic replication of his grandparent's ghost-haunted prairie hometown. (Maybe you have to raised on the prairie to get that haunted aspect with the grain elevator, but I don't think so.) In any case, in his latest work, opened at Trepanier Baer gallery in Calgary this week, Patterson went decidedly placeless, focusing on strangers rather than familiar faces. My Q & A with him ran in today's National Post. Click here or read on after the jump for the full story, plus more images.
Image of The Puppet Collective by Graeme Patterson, 2008, from

by Leah Sandals
National Post, January 10, 2009

Though it employs millions of people, and entertains millions more, worldwide, the art world is often thought of as a small place. And as Canadian artist Graeme Patterson shows, it can certainly be miniaturized. In his new exhibition, The Puppet Collective, which just opened at Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary, Patterson unveils tiny replicas of some colourful characters he's encountered during his art-world travels. What's more, any willing buyers of his art will soon be miniaturized, too. Here, Patterson talks about the grander vision behind his pint-sized figurines.

Q In the past, you've created miniature versions of your Halifax art school and your grandparents' Saskatchewan hometown. Why is making miniatures so appealing?

A I guess I've always been into miniatures. As a kid I collected a lot of action figures. It was a big part of my world. The funny thing, though, is that all the action figures I collected when I was a kid eventually disappeared in garage sales. So now whenever I see one in Value Village, I buy it. I have a lot of WWF wrestlers, the big rubber bendy ones.

Q The miniatures you've created for this current show - who are they based on?

A My past projects were based on people and places I know really well. But over the past few years of travelling a lot, I've been taking notes on people I don't know. At the beginning of last year I decided to make one puppet a week based on a stranger who resonated in my mind - maybe it was what they were wearing, or some other visible part of their personality. So now I have 52 puppets of random people.

Q You do have a great variety - from punk rockers to senior citizens. But what makes these puppets rather than just small sculptures?

A Well, I also make animated films, so these are stop-motion puppets, fully posable in everything but their facial expression. They're about six to eight inches tall, about a one-to-10 scale. So buyers can pose them if they want. I haven't used these for films, because they get pretty worn down if you do that, but I have been taking "class photo" pictures of them.

Q Speaking of buyers, you're requiring everyone who buys a puppet to submit a photo of themselves so you can make a miniature sculpture of them. Why's that?

A The more I travel to art fairs, the more I find collectors themselves are interesting characters. Also, this is my first show in a commercial art gallery, and I wanted the project to make sense with the venue. So I tried to put collectors into the project a little more. Rather than just buying a work, they become part of the project. In a way, trying to collect a collector became interesting to me.

Q Do you think collectors are overlooked in terms of their public influence on, say, what museums show

or acquire?

A Not really. I think their names are known. But their image often isn't. I don't know how collectors will react to all this, but I've talked to a few that are quite excited about it.

Q Why did you title this as a "collective" rather than a "collection" then?

A In a way, from this point on, it's more other people's buying decisions than my creative decisions that will determine what puppets I make. If someone keeps buying the same puppet, I will have to keep replacing that puppet with a reproduction of them. So it will eventually be more a community portrait rather than just a collection of puppets - especially if I keep doing "class photos" every year. One day, I'd like to use all the photographs of buyers and sculptures to make a catalogue of who bought who and who's connected to who - almost a Facebook-type thing.

Q Interesting. What's next for you?

A Right now, I'm experimenting with animations, trying to work my own body into them - trying to put myself in with puppets in their scale. And I've got ideas for a big project on my first best friend. He moved to Japan when we were little kids and I don't know where he is. Part of the project is actually finding him in live-action documentary film and the other half is recreating my memories of him through robotics.

• Graeme Patterson: The Puppet Collective runs till Feb. 7 at Calgary's Trepanier Baer Gallery. For details, visit

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Friday, January 9, 2009

News: Jeffrey Spalding steps down at Glenbow

I just received a news release that Jeffrey Spalding, hailed earlier this year as the saviour of the Glenbow Museum's contemporary art program, has stepped down. He has already been replaced by Kirstin Evenden, who was previously VP of Access, Collections and Exhibits at the Glenbow.

No word on why Spalding stepped down, but this is sad to hear. There was much promise to his plans for the Calgary art scene.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Print-Art-Media-Love, Top Tens, Warhol for Kids & more

Wow, them there-ain't-no-demise-of-art-media pieces are comin' in a flurry! Simpleposie directed me to a Village Voice article by Martha Schwendener on the issue, and ArtsJournal did to a similar piece at Jen Graves essay at The Stranger. Interestin'. There's also general print's-not-goin-down-without-a-fight stuff from Russell Smith at the Globe and DB Scott at Canadian Magazines.

Overall, I'm glad this conversation is happening--but then again, I'm an art writer, and this is stuff written largley by arts writers about art writing. How much does it matter to the average person? I sometimes wonder if segments of layoffs in other industries like advertising and pharma are being underreported because they don't like to write quite as much for newspapers and stuff. Just sayin'.

In the holy-stuff-I-don't-know-about-but-should category are the best-of-web Top Tens by Art Fag City.

And from the "bit strange but glad you did the finding out category" is Peter Goddard's TO Star article on the bizarre transformation of the Kitchener children's museum into a repro of Warhol's factory. This Warhol-for-kids theme reminded me of a picture book I saw recently at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Uncle Andy's: A Faabbbulous Visit With Andy Warholby none other than Andy's nephew James Warhola.

Finally, from the non hypertext world, I have to say that Lynne Marsh's show at the Contemporary Art Museum in Montreal is really great. I went to see the rock and roll show, but this was the exhibition that rocked my world. Lots in this about the connections and disconnections between camera-seeing and body-experience, between virtual and real, between the adored and the attacked. Great stuff.

Image of Lynne Marsh's Ballroom, Video installation still from

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bad Poster, Yummy Show: The Latest from the TRL Gallery

The latest show from the quietly diligent curators over at the Toronto Reference Library Gallery has a terrible poster... but I urge you not to make that the basis of your judgment. "Local Flavour: Eating in Toronto 1830-1955" is a very solid little historical show. Basically, like the past TRL success "The Circus Comes to Town", this show features an assortment of archival pics, yellowed books and ancient brochures to illustrate an era in Toronto history. And it does so very well. There it is, a picnic in High Park some 100 years ago! A horse and sleigh delivering meat in the east end! And a Little-House-on-the-Prairie-worthy ice-seller's cart! Larger institutions, I think, could learn a thing or two from this conciseness and focus. To January 11 in-house, online in virtual form maybe forever. (?)

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Late-day Linkage: Best-ofs and Bad Outlooks

Here's the best ofs/good stuff:

-Best of Haligonia's 08 arts from The Coast

-And the best of the Calgarian West, for good measure (FFWD)

-The Globe pegs AGO head Matthew Teitelbaum as arts person of the year

-A new arts advocacy group has formed to lobby parliament (The Straight)

-Seattle critic Regina Hackett's Top Ten

-The heritage minister promises culture will be part of the feds's stimulus package

-All seeing blogger C Monster's cogent year-end list

And here's the bad (or well, grim) outlooks for art/art writing:

-The art critical pool shrinks in Seattle, as elsewhere (Arts Journal)

-Federal cash seems to be stymied between coffers and contribuees (The Globe)

-Late payment increases costs of repatriation for a Canuck collection (The Star)

-Roger Ebert laments the chopping of all Associated Press reviews to 500 words (Art Fag City)

-News outlets are folding because none of us are willing to pay for information, newspapers are dying redux, and magazines are abandoning the web (which could save them) (all via Masthead)

In between, value-wise:

-NSCAD recently evaded a strike on the part of their part-time faculty (The Coast)

-TO journalist Murray Whyte says museums should look closer to home in '09

-Art idles in Vancouver parking spots (The Straight)

-Toronto theatre critic J Kelly Nestruck opens a fun can of worms by saying it's okay for critics to moonlight in their area of criticism (The Globe)

-The New York Times's man in Ottawa bones up at last on the National Gallery of Canada's HR problems

-Five questions for magazines in '09 , not the least of which is survival

Image of Marie Josee Laframboise's stretched nets from

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Top Tens Totally Tenacious into 2009

OK, this is my last stuff-I-done-catchup post of the day: NOW's Top Ten Shows of 2008. For anyone wondering how this list happens, NOW's three art writers, Fran Schechter, David Jager & I submit our top picks and our editor hashes 'em out. (There's still also a great variety of top tens to read at Sally & LM.)

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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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Art Resolutions: Lose 5 pounds of cynicism and despair...

Gyms see their biggest membership boosts in January, when resolution willpower is still strong. Could the same one day be said of gallery attendance and art advocacy? Dunno. But I tried to imagine such a thing for NOW's January 1 resolutions guide. Click here or read on after the jump for a (perhaps overly) optimistic take on art goals.

Resolutions: Find your inner art lover
NOW, January 1, 2009

In a consumer-driven society, the power of creativity is often overlooked. But it’s key, especially in hardscrabble times. Here are a few resolutions to get your artistic engines running in 09.

Come out of the closet
Whether you rent DVDs, are massively attached to your MP3 player, browse bookstores and blogs or know all on Nuit Blanche, we all depend on the arts to help us enjoy and understand life. Acknowledging this broad appeal is the first step to developing and protecting our creativity.

Put time on your side
Time spent with art – including music, sculpture, film, fiction and theatre, to name a few – is time pleasing yourself and learning about the human condition. Carve a couple of hours of weekly culture time into your daytimer or iCal to ensure that exercise for the soul actually happens.

Follow the money
Opponents of culture dis it as a costly, grant-dependent niche interest. Keep your eye on the cash flow and you get a very different view. The Conference Board of Canada reports that the arts generated $84.6 billion last year, contributing a total of 1.1 million jobs to our national economy. Use this data to fight arts cutbacks. The arts are a money generator, not a drain.

Be true to your schools
The U.S.’s National Governors Association reports that universal arts education in public schools raises test scores, bolsters self-esteem, sparks student engagement and improves workforce readiness. Help make sure all Toronto kids get access to arts ed: write local school boards and Ontario’s minister of education about these salient facts.

Nurture your inner artist
Knit a scarf, type on Twitter, sketch in a notebook. If you already have a favourite medium, acknowledge its importance in your life. If you don’t, try a class or workshop to discover where your creativity might lie. Making anything – whether it’s meaning, movies or muffins – is a worthy and rewarding act.

Demand equal rights
Sick of high museum admission or concert ticket fees? Want to see more cultural products that reflect Toronto’s diversity? Write the heads of publicly funded galleries/orchestras/theatres to urge that equity and affordability be rated as high as things like star-chitecture and society-page pics. And cc your MP and culture ministers.

Mix it up
Treasure your usual cultural haunts, but explore the start-ups popping up around town. They’ll introduce you to new stuff and might just become your new favourite places. Don’t know where to start? Pretend you’re a tourist and visit the critics’ picks from a variety of local media. NOW’s Best Of 2008 issue, published December 25, is a handy place to start.

Speak truth to power
Gallery- or concertgoers feel they have to be nice about what’s on view even if they don’t like it. Trust your gut, and if a piece of art, music or writing isn’t doing it for you, move along until you find something that does. The more honest we are about art, the more genuine – and rewarding – our response to it will be.

Sink the cynicism
This one’s for arts and culture veterans grown jaded by behind-the-scenes politics and production problems. When you feel deep cynicism coming on, remember that the arts really do enliven the lives of millions of Canadians. Then take a break to seek out some art that speaks to your own life, and return to your work hard-headed but not hard-hearted.

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Art Fag Funding... Wherefore Art Thou? UPDATED

As mentioned here previously, the blog Art Fag City--one of my personal faves--issued a funding challenge to the arts community last month: help it raise $6,000 by New Year's or there would be no more AFC.

On December 30, AFC blogger and general life-force Paddy Johnson announced that she only had $500 left to raise reach her goal of $6,000.

Personally I think $5,500 is an amazing amount of money to raise by a blogger in just over a week. But I was worried Johnson might still keep to her ultimatum of "$6,000 or nothin' doin'." This fear was exacerbated when she promised to blog January 2 but didn't. Neither did she on the 3rd or 4th. All this had me going "C'mon lady, $5,500 is an amazing accomplishment--do a couple of pieces for the Canadian papers and call it an even six grand!"

Today, I see, with some relief that she's back. And I hope she's a-stayin!

In the interim, the episode leaves much to ponder on strategies for funding art writing and criticism--blog-related and otherwise. Johnson published a cogent post on this during her funder; I published a much longer, less pointed, rambling one. Maybe a combo of the charity-funding model (which print mag Canadian Art uses) with ads and subscriptions is a way to go? Any other ideas?

UPDATE Paddy emails me that even though she didn't post the animated sequence of Damien Hirst's skull blinking, she has likely meet or even slightly exceed her fundraising goal. Yay!

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Back to School, Work, Blog, & Bleargh

Back to work/school/blogging/bleargh-ing! I thought this song might help:

It was a toss up between this New Pornographers song and "My Slow Descent into Alcoholism". Though the latter seemed more appropriate post-holiday binging, "Letter from an Occupant" has one of the best lines in upbeat pop music ever: "I cried five rivers on the way here/Which one will you skate away on". At least I think that's what it is. Please, no one rob me of this seeming certainty. The "Where have old sensations gone" part is also fitting to a back-to-work bleargh-ness. Bring it, '09!

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