I'm going to try and spend a whole day without going on the Internet! It will be part of my tribute to Canada and its nondigital glories, like socialized medicine, the Alberta Rockies, Newfoundland gales and much more. Back Thursday!
Image of Diana Thorneycroft's Group of Seven Awkward Moments, a hilarious revamps of classic Canadiana, from Skew Gallery
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Summertime is cycling time for many of us in the art crowd--I've enjoyed reading @cmonstah's tweets on related observations of late. But it's a bummer to show up to one of many locations in Toronto and find there's not enough bike stands. So it was interesting to write up an article for OCAD's Sketch mag about their recent bike stand design competition. Taking inspiration from David Byrne's creatively designed bike stands in NYC, as well as recent creative stands in TO communities, students at the college came up with some pretty cool ideas, like inserting massive wooden planks into the concrete or making a bike stand based on a pile-o-keys design. You can read the article in PDF form here. Happy riding!
Photos of Parkdale bike racks by Shaun Merritt from Spacing.ca
Monday, June 29, 2009
With a city workers' strike on in Toronto and the garbage piling up, the time (and stench) is ripe for a roadtrip. For this, I recommend stopping by the Art Gallery of Hamilton's summer show Turn On: Contemporary Italian Art. (FYI to non-Canadian readers: Hamilton, an hour away from Toronto, is kind of like Canada's Pittsburgh, with a strong Steeltown history.)
Though Turn On is part of a slightly cheesy all-Italy focus at the museum this summer, I have to say it's a show that makes the theme-arifficness worthwhile. Three prominent Italian artists are featured, with all of the work--remarkably!--receiving its first-ever showing in Canada. Two of the artists also actually making Hamilton-specific work.
First off, it's a treat to see Adrian Paci's films Turn On (2003) and Centro di Permanenza Contemporanea (2007) in person. The former features various men, who seem to be labourers, lingering on the steps of a building in silence. As darkness descends, each one fires up an electric generator which fires up the lightbulbs in their hands. The latter video riffs on similar themes, with workboot-clad folks stepping onto an airplane boarding stairase on a tarmac. As the camera pulls back one realizes that there is no plane attached to the staircase; these people are in a state of permanent transition.
Both these works do well to deromanticize the experience of migration and casual labour work—a point that I also brought up recently in regard to Richard Florida's theories but that Paci addresses in a more universal way here. Paci also seems to make pains to linger on people's faces, underlining the individual stories and souls that lie behind these global trends. (Again, it's hard to believe it's the first showing of these films in Canada... this summer Universal Code at the Power Plant has a Paci image or two from the Per Speculum series, where Hamilton has a slideshow of same.)
Sculptor Patrick Tuttofuoco takes a rather different approach, installing a large room with neon lighting and several interesting, colourful vertical sculptures that represent different places. For the "Hamilton" themed sculpture, Tuttofuoco supposedly produced a massive fiberglass mask that evokes both hockey goalies and phantom of the opera. Compelling.
The weakest works in the show for me came from Massimo Grimaldi, who installed five wall texts--one of them on the street in Hamilton. Though the gallery calls Grimaldi's texts "evocative," they just seemed a bit dull in our text-heavy internet age. It was nice to see the integration of the streetscape into the museum's work here, though.
AGH curator Sara Knelman, who organized this show as well as other strong offerings, like a group show on young Japanese artists and a solo show of Pascal Grandmaison, says she is leaving the gallery this fall to do a PhD at the Courtauld Institute. She has done good things for the AGH and we in the greater Toronto area will be well served if her successor, yet to be named, is anywhere near as energetic.
Image info from top: Still from Adrian Paci's Turn On from PS1; Still from Paci's Centro di Permanenza Contemporanea from 18thStreet; Patrick Tuttofuoco's Cameron from Studio Guenazani; Massimo Grimaldi installing a text work on a James St N hoarding in Hamilton from the AGH
Saturday, June 27, 2009
As I was out and about at the galleries this afternoon, I noticed two major Distillery-area venues seem to have vamoosed in the past couple of weeks.
There's nary a trace of Toronto's most reliable Art Newspaper advertiser, Fabrice Marcolini, at his former outpost, Distillery building no. 62. When I had checked his Artcore Gallery website before venturing out, it merely seemed the gallery was closed for the summer. But looking inside things seem pretty cleaned out--not just "paused", as indicated by the "gallery info" page on their website. All signage both inside and out has been removed:
On Twitter, Artcore says, "After 6 consecutive successful seasons at the Distillery, we are ready to pioneer a new district with a new model for our artists & clients." No new address is yet listed.
Then, in another double-take moment, I walked by Distillery building 32--home to Sandra Ainsley Gallery for the past couple of years. Again--all signage removed from the entrance and things in a visible state of flux inside.
Granted, part of the Ainsley space has been taken over the Thompson Landry Gallery. Staff there told me they've been in the space for a couple of weeks, and that Ainsley is now dealing art out of her home. Her website is a bit contradictory, with info about a summer group show running to Aug 15 on the homepage and a letter on the "gallery" page that says
Dear Valued Clients and Supporters of the Sandra Ainsley Gallery,
After eight years in my current gallery, I would like to let you know that I have recently decided to leave the Distillery District, and will be restructuring my operations while remaining very much in business.
I will be operating business as usual via the phone and email. As well, please visit our newly updated website which will be up by Friday, May 22nd. My staff and I are available to help you find the right piece and would be pleased to arrange private viewings at your home or office, or at our gallery warehouse.
I will continue to keep you informed of exhibit ions or special events, and look forward to further announcements in the near future.
Click "location" and it reads "to be announced"
I'd speculate that the market downturn must be in part responsible for these shifts--both of these galleries were huge spaces that no doubt had quite high rental fees, ones hard to meet without strong sales.
And though I've critiqued shows at both these galleries, it's sad to see them go (or downsize as the case may be). Artcore Fabrice Marcolini consistently provided a venue for large-scale and international-level work like Ryan McGuinness, while Sandra Ainsley specialized in glass art—not always popular with the contemporary crowd but some of the artists she brought in were very interesting, like Matt Eskuche.
The gallery offerings in Toronto would surely be poorer without them. Anyone with additional info on these changes is welcome to email me or comment.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Fellow TO arts journalist Murray Whyte has been dropping hints all this week on his blog that he's been working on a feature about Richard Florida and the increasingly vocal criticism of him in certain sectors of the arts community of late.
The feature is due out in tomorrow's Toronto Star, and I will most certainly be reading it. But I don't know if it will change my skepticism about Florida's registered-trademark "Creative Class" views and their impact on urban planning policy.
Of course, I've been trying to stay reasonable about all this myself, thinking, "man, what is it that really bothers me about Florida's theories and the way they've been embraced over at City Hall?" (Some commenters on this blog have pointed out with deserved annoyance that some critics focus overly on Florida's six-figure income and Rosedale residence. It's really not that stuff that bugs me.)
What does keep coming to mind when I try to put my finger on all this is the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, an artist who long ago pointed out and critiqued the presumed divide between artistic activity and maintenance tasks.
This presumed divide comes up in Florida's work in spaces—designating one sector of people to be working the valued field of "creative class" activity and another sector of people, much less valued and economically desirable, as working in "service industry."
Ukeles broke down the hoity-toity barrier between these ideas--and symbolically highlighted the importance of maintenance--when she wrote her 1969 Manifesto on Maintenance Art. She then carried out its ideas in 1973 by mopping the steps of the Wadsworth Anathaeum, and also later in 1978 when she carried out a public art project called "Touch Sanitation" where she shook the hands of thousands of New York City sanitation workers.
As Helen Molesworth noted, one of the key points of brilliance enabled by Ukeles' art is the realization that maintainance, however "boring" and undervalued, is "the work that makes all other work possible."
Florida has written that the service sector is key to supporting his theorized "creative class economy." And I suspect the "Florida's theories have merely been applied incorrectly" rationale will form a main defense of the guy in tomorrow's article.
Yet I truly doubt that Forida really values that maintenance and service work as much as supposedly "creative" work—that he really sees maintenance and service as "the work that makes all other work possible."
Who knows? Maybe "Maintenance en Masse" just wasn't as trademark-catchy as "Creative Class". Maybe it's them bad old book marketers who can take the fall for changing Florida's title at the last minute unbeknownst to the rest of us.
Or maybe Florida really just does effing downplay one of the key sectors of people (and people activity across all sectors) that keeps life on earth clean, sane and possible.
What do you think?
All images are of Mierle Laderman Ukeles artworks from Ronald Feldman Gallery. Top: The Social Mirror, 1983. Middle: Touch Sanitation, 1978-1980. Bottom: Ceremonial Arch Honoring Service Workers in the New Service Economy, 1988
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Though fall tends to be a killer time in the Canadian art world—with the Toronto International Art Fair, several Nuit Blanche-styled festivals and major exhibition openings all lined up in a row—there's still room once in a while for a big, sweaty summer blockbuster.
To that end, for the last few years the Power Plant in Toronto has been lining up some pretty interesting group shows with broad, wide-ranging appeal. Show popularity is further boosted by the fact that admission to the gallery for the last few summers has been free (thank you Jackman Foundation) and that they do fun artist-playlist events on the lakeshore on the weekends.
So last year, curator Helena Reckitt put together the well-received "Not Quite How I Remember It". And this year, gallery director Gregory Burke has taken the reins for "Universal Code," a group show (originally conceived as a biennial) that addresses the mega-mega-mega themes: life, the universe, and everything, um, basically. Like any good blockbuster, it's also got some marquee artists: Gabriel Orozco, Thomas Hirschhorn (with the Dancing Philosophy piece I loved in Madrid), Trevor Paglen, Josiah McElheny and the like.
Last week, I met with Burke to discuss the origins of the show from his perspective. Today the National Post published a condensed version of our exchange with some nice pics to boot. Here's an excerpt, focusing on what could be one of the main problems with Burke's premise:
Q Some might say that we experience life very differently based on our sex, race, culture and class. Can a work of art ever really be universal, and speak the same to everyone across these differences?
A I don't think there's a yes or no answer. Most artists now accept that we come to anything with a set of cultural ideas. Henrik Hakasson's film of monarch butterflies in this show is very mesmerizing and moving, and doesn't seem to have any cultural baggage. But the framework of art is itself a kind of baggage. I think we humans encounter the world through systems, and all those systems are inherited. There's a danger in thinking there could be a system outside of that that is "pure" and somehow universal.
It's a tension in the show that remains unresolved, this showdown between the specific and the universal. But I'd say the show's definitely still worth a look, especially for Tania Mouraud's video installation, Keith Tyson's compelling reformed bronze block and Henrik Håkasson's film (I heard it had tech problems, but when I saw it it looked fine.)
Images from top - Cerith Wyn Evans's Harmonia Mundi, 2009 (still from a fireworks event at the Power Plant earlier in June); Henrik Hakansson's Monarch - The Eternal, 2008 (film still); Keith Tyson's The Block 2001-2002 First two images courtesy of the Power Plant; last one from othercriteria.com
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
One of the world's biggest Pride celebrations is upon us in Toronto, with lots of sexuality-related shows in local galleries. But one of the more interesting shows I've seen on this theme of late has nothing to do with Pride per se. In Robert Waters' show "Shooter" at PM Gallery in Leslieville, the artist seems a bit obsessed with masculinity as anatomy and analogy—but in a fun, thoughtful kind of way.
Walking into the gallery, you first see Waters' recreation of a type of porn-selling kiosk found in Mexico, where he currently lives and works. The kiosk is filled with DVD cases -- but in Johnson's version each DVD case displays a photo of this type of kiosk, instead of a porn title. The photos alone would be interesting, but the self-reflexive presentation is a nice mini-architectural touch.
On the wall across from the kiosk, Waters displays black-and-white prints of men's underwear displays, also from Mexico.
Both these works offer unusual meditations on the public depiction of male sex and sexuality—it reminded me in a distant way of a another show at PM Gallery by Craig LeBlanc. Gallerist Powell McDougall may be a new mom to a young daughter, but she's good at picking out these artists/works that address male identity in interesting, ambivalent ways.
But the piece de resistance is in a separate part of the gallery, where a sketch of Duchamp's bottle rack morphs into a gun rack--complete with authentic guns. It's a nice inversion and a funny joke for the geeky art crowd set. This work is mounted close to a two-video projection of a hunter shooting at paper targets, as well as well as examples of life-size targets that have been altered by bullets, stickers and xacto knives to provide further statements on male roles. Up to June 30, it's worth a look before or after Sunday's parade.
Images from top: Inside Outside; Nurture vs. Nurture; and Target that Will Not Feel a Thing (Central Nervous System Removal), all by Robert Waters and from PM Gallery's website.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Well, it's been a busy day here at Unedit my Heart central. But it seems that it hasn't, perhaps, been busy enough.
What do I mean? I mean that overall, the space (aka column-inches aka paid gigs) allotted to contemporary and visual art in Toronto media is shrinking.
Of course this is a long-term trend, one made trendier by the "print is dying" zeitgeist.
But it's even harder to deny this sad situation when looking at Toronto's two alt-weeklies of late.
Eye Weekly, I've noticed, has lately been running gallery reviews in print only every two weeks rather than weekly. Sometimes, if you go on their website, you'll find a review by Eye arts editor David Balzer that will only appear in print the following week. (For instance, this review of the Toronto Sculpture Garden's Disco Fallout Shelter went up on the Eye Weekly site last Wednesday, but did not appear in Thursday's print edition. Maybe it will this coming Thursday? )
Of course, this trend also reflects changes I noted in December for Now Magazine, the Toronto weekly to which I contribute most regularly. Around that time, Now cut its weekly art reviews from two to one. Having flipped through a number of exhibition binders in my time, I know that they years ago they used to run as many as three reviews in one week. Those days are loooong gone.
I'll admit that Now, Eye and other media have increased and altered their coverage of the art world in other ways to compensate. Now has started to run intermittent interviews with local artists on its website, while Eye has been pegging more art happenings in its "Best Bets" section. Cover features (see here and here) also appear to be an occasional option, mostly in controversy-friendly situations.
So.... it might seem strange for a blogger to be lamenting the decline of art coverage in print media. But in the end, it equals fewer paying jobs for art critics (yep, that's the self-interest!), as well as less public coverage of art.
This public-connection aspect of art media also comes up in terms of newspapers in this post by former Seattle Post Intelligencer critic (and proflific blogger) Regina Hackett. In this post, she points out that art writing in newspapers can at least be found by the public, while blogs tend to more specialized/cloistered readerships. Further, Andras Szantos' much referenced Art Newspaper feature on arts writing ponders the longterm consequences.
What can galleries do to change this situation, if they want to?
First off, frankly, I'm not sure galleries do want to change it... it seems most art dealers make their living on relationships, not on mainstream media coverage, and hey, I can respect that.
Second, it's going to sound terrible but I have to bring up the old chestnut of advertising. There is more music coverage in NOW and Eye, as well as theatre coverage, because there tends to be more ads placed by concert planners and theatre companies. It's consistent advertising too, and basically reserves column-inches for those topics.
What do you think? Would you like to see more art reviews and art coverage come back on a weekly basis to alt-weeklies like NOW and Eye? Are you happy to see unpaid art blogging fill the gap? What other declines in art coverage, if any, have you noticed in Canada?
Image of a German journalists' protest from the Art Newspaper
Saturday, June 20, 2009
It's dang rainy out there in Toronto today, which could be a bit of a bummer for the Big on Bloor, an arts and community fest that runs from 1 to 9pm between Christie and Lansdowne.
Still, there's lots of art to see indoors too--today the National Post published my gallery reviews for a few venues in the Ossington district, an area that's recently had an ixnay on its bar scene imposed by the city. But phew--galleries, and boozy openings, are still legal!
The article takes in Keith Jones at Hunter & Cook, Shake-n-Make at MKG127 and Ryan Dineen and Matt Janisse at Show & Tell. Here's an excerpt:
Show & Tell, the newest gallery in the Ossington district, focuses on artists with experience in the worlds of graffiti and street art. Toronto artist Ryan Dineen here offers paintings based on city-street sights. Though many of Dineen's images are interesting--particularly his studies of locked-up bicycles and rusted-out cars -- it seems he's still learning how to paint on canvas rather than concrete. More compelling to hard-core contemporary art lovers, perhaps, are Matt Janisse's prints of city streets. The prints are actually made when cars drive over paper that Janisse tapes to local laneways, providing a nice conceptual twist on "street art." His grey-toned prints can be remarkably lovely, morphing from cloudy sky to abstract landscape in one viewing.
Friday, June 19, 2009
It was standing room only at "Town Hall: Demystifying the Creative City" the Richard Florida–critiquing panel and convo at Toronto Free Gallery last night. Even with the back room opened for a simulcast of the proceedings—complete with bar—viewers often spilled out onto the street, testifying, perhaps, to the degree to which people want to see more critical takes on Florida and his ilk.
What follows is my general report on the event. Speakers and commenters covered a lot of ground, so unfortunately I’m not going to be able to reproduce all their observations. (The group Creative Class Struggle did videotape the event, and say they hope to post it in sections on their website in the coming weeks, so that might provide a fuller picture.) Anyone who would like to note their observations are very welcome to add to this report in the comments section.
Fuse Magazine publisher and event co-coordinator Izida Zorde kicked off the town hall with a helpful summary of its aims—namely to discuss critiques of Florida and his colleagues that she feels have largely been missing from media coverage of his work.
Zorde said she is not interested in simply a “creative city,” but in a “just city,” and that Florida’s model seems to work against the latter. She also noted that an outcome of the meeting would be the eventual drafting of a joint statement on creative city theories. (Also worth noting here is Murray Whyte's report that Florida was indeed invited to attend. But he was nowhere to be seen last night--maybe the speaking fees weren't high enough?)
Panel moderator and York University PhD student Heather McLean then provided a quick recap of Florida’s creative class theories and its impacts on urban planning, which includes architectural megaprojects and the designation of cultural districts. She also posed three questions I found quite helpful:
1) What is the creative class? Does it make sense to lump CEOs together with graphic novelists, corporate lawyers with college scholars? Does it hold water even as a means of defining a group of people?
2) What does creative city planning mean for citizenship? Who is encouraged to participate (or have greater influence) in city governance under this model? Who is discouraged from same?
3) What happens in the creative city model to the people and places left behind? (In terms of people, one could say that the thousands of people in cities who work in maintenance, service, social services, policing and other “non-creative” fields are devalued. In terms of location, Florida has made a fetish of joining geographic location and economic success, and has famously said he is happy to let small towns die.)
Following this introduction, the floor turned to the three panelists. The most effective and energetic of these is, I would say, Uzma Shakir, a community-based researcher, advocate, activist and a past Executive Director of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). Shakir’s charisma and humorous, theatrical delivery would make her, I say, a wonderful foil to Florida in any panels to possibly come.
As Shakir put it, her reaction to Florida is complex. “All you [Florida] want is for me to unleash my creativity? Well, that doesn't sound so bad. I don’t know whether to love you, like you, hate you or despise you.”
Shakir also turned it around as well, saying “Hey, supposedly I am the creative class. Richard Florida was attracted to Toronto by people like me… I make the city exotic.”
In the end, Shakir underlined that she remains frustrated by the popularity and governmental influence of Florida’s theories because they simply serve to reinforce existing patterns of racism and unequal opportunities for immigrants. As she put it, “[As far as the Canadian government is concerned] People of colour have never been meant to be nation builders. Now we are doing the same thing and calling it the creative class.”
She also regretted the irony that, trapped in a world of precarious, temporary, minimum-wage work (what Florida might simply call “mobile” work) hundreds of thousands of immigrants and people of colour never have the time or resource to develop their own true creativity
Pamila Matharu, a Toronto-based artist, activist, educator and cultural organizer/ producer who has been working for the past couple of years at a Parkdale high school, also gave an interesting presentation. In it, she discussed how her group of art students—which came from both the class-privileged “IB” program and the regular non-IB “NIB” program—researched ideas of the creative class and how much truth or falsehood they hold in the neighbourhood of Parkdale.
As Matharu describes it, some of the key questions students researched through video were:
1) Where is my place in the creative city?
2) What does a creative community look like?
3) Can a community be creative without selling out?
It was great to some of the students’ videos, in which sidewalk passerby, students and even a policeman were interviewed about their perceptions of the Parkdale neighbourhood and its strengths within and without the creative class model.
Finally, Liette Gilbert, associate Professor at York University, took a more scholarly (and admittedly more dry in presentation) approach. Her final analysis: Creativity is not the problem with Florida’s theories. It is how Florida depoliticizes creativity to the service of capitalism and creating an illusion of racial/sexual/class tolerance—while class separations actually become more pronounced.
Gilbert also pointed out that Florida’s theories prioritize the “3 B’s”—Business, Boosters and Bohemians—to the detriment or loss of almost everything else.
Following the panelist presentations, a commenter from the floor raised a tough question. It was along the lines of: Everyone here at this town hall fits into a description of the creative class. And while we all sat here snickering about Florida and his theories tonight, we are implicated in them, just like this gallery in a gentrifying area is. So what the hell are you actually going to do about these issues after you get home tonight?
Reactions to this commenter included:
-In addition to being superficially praised by Florida, we artists are actually quite economically vulnerable now and would be later under his policies. Florida encourages glorified temp and contract work, which is what the arts and culture community has always been run on.
-The question isn’t who has privilege or not but how do we organize together against that which is unjust.
-The key is to act and speak in solidarity with people who are not in the room.
Where it will go from here remains to be seen. McLean noted that in October, a group is planning to hold an alternative “Creative Places & Spaces” conference to critique the $625-a-ticket official version scheduled for the same time period. Will Florida himself decide to attend that one? Only time will tell.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Canadian Art magazine hit newsstands across the nation this week. In it, you can find my review of "Trade Secrets", a curatorial conference that took place at the Banff Centre last year. Where my web report on the conference, published on Canadian Art's website in the fall, was more descriptive, I took the review opportunity to, um, basically rant on related disconnects between museums and the public. Here's an excerpt:
Whither the "public" in "public art gallery?" Where's the exhibitionism in exhibition-making? If the broadly understood purpose of art can be summarized by that old E. M. Forster chestnut "only connect," why does there seem, at times, to be so much disconnect between art and its audiences?
Such questions were not the focus of "Trade Secrets," a curatorial conference held at the Banff Centre last November, but they did emerge afterwards, as niggling, nagging, circling flies whose swatting became one of the conference's more resonant subthemes...
Though the discussions may appear largely theoretical, it's clear that the public/gallery divide they indicate has grown to near-crisis proportions in North America. Just before the conference, the Canadian government saw fit to cancel long-standing plans for a national portrait gallery, after years of design work and proposals from three major cities. The newly revamped Art Gallery of Ontario—mere months after its reopening—was [at press time] in early 2009 considering laying off 108 workers due to under-target attendance figures. The Art Institute of Chicago, in order to offset years of rising operations costs, has plans to raise admissions fees by 50% (71% for students and seniors)—a strategy that could vackfire in any season, but seems particularly risky during a recession....
The review is also placed across from a nice picture of work by James Carl, so you can glance at that if your eyes glaze over.
[Image of a Banff Centre building from Banffcentre.ca. Fortunately, in my review, I don't blame mountains for getting between publics and their art.]
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Lately, I've been trying to get through a newish book, Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Money and the Moguls that Made the Metropolitan Museum.
I much anticipated receiving a copy of this book, as one of my interests is art museums and providing adequate public access to them. Also, it sounded damn gossipy. The author, New Yorker Michael Gross, won strong reviews for 740 Park, his book on an exclusive Manhattan apartment building. So who better to dig into the lives of rich museum trustees, I thought.
Well, I must admit that so far reading Rogues' Gallery has actually been a bit of a slog. A little "this happened, then this happened, then this happened" style--more textbook than tell-all.
Nonetheless, I thought I'd reproduce a few tidbits that I found interesting thus far. Consider it Coles Notes Xtra Lite:
--"Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skillful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits." -- This quotation from Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees opens the book, and one feels it should perhaps be emblazoned onto the walls of every museum CEO.
--One contentious museum access issue in the Met's early life was the debate to open on Sundays. The museum was already free to all comers four days of the week, but Sunday was the only day of the week most working people had off. In December 1882, a Baltimore collector sent the Met Museum $10,000 ($220,400 in today's terms) to pay for two years' worth of open Sundays that would be free to the public. "Months later, his money was returned." Later, "Charles Dana, the editor and part owner of the New York Sun... offered $30,000 [$662,000 in today's terms] if it would only open on Sundays. His offer, too was spurned." -- >These passages provide a reminder, perhaps, that many museums have been reluctant to increase access, even when funds are specifically offered for same.
--New York's mayor actively campaigned not only to get the museum to open, but to get it accessible to all citizens. When the West Wing of the museum opened in 1888, "Mayor Hewitt... stepped forward to declare the wing open. He pointedly added his hope that "the time will come when on no day, the people shall be excluded." (At the time, two days of the week were open to museum members only, while Sundays, as noted previously, were contentious for any entry at all.) --> Wouldn't it be nice to see Canadian mayors today take a similar stand?
Thassit for now.
Book cover image from amazon.com
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Nuit Blanche, Toronto's "all night contemporary art thing," is revving up the promotional engine for its October event, with a press conference today on the plans for this year's fest. I wasn't able to make the event—see the whole "working back-to-back freelance gigs in the freelance economy" explanation in my previous post—but I'm looking through the promo material and thought I'd pull out what look like few potential highlights. Here goes.
ZONE B - CURATORS JENNIFER FISHER AND JIM DROBNICK
These guys look like they have the most exciting lineup so far. It's also the most Canajun, eh?
-Monopoly with real money by Iain Baxter&
-A "rezzed-up pickup truck" performance by Rebecca Belmore
-Cotton candy and two free midway rides satirizing the economic collapse from Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan
-Tarot reading and "divinatory encounters" courtesy of Fastwurms
- A new work by controversy-friendly Santiago Serra - not Canajun, but still sorta exciting
ZONE C - CURATOR MAKIKO HARA
Grab bag of interesting choices from a non-TO (ie. Vancouver!) curator
- Maria Legault's Apology Project, "55 people wearing large brown paper bags over their heads and bodies will congest a public walkway and personally apologize to every person who ventures through them." - apologies are also Canajun!
-Randy & Berenicci - A fabled Canuck performance duo comes back for Nuit Blanche. Gets the curiosity vote.
-Brandon Vickerd's choreographed 13-minute dance for two construction cranes (those better be real construction cranes, Vickerd, and not some miniature stand-in!)
-The One-Off Collective (no website) encourages people to build shelters out of canned food and also take food if needed, as well as donate. Gets the socially conscious vote.
ZONE A- CURATOR THOM SOKOLOSKI
Artist turns curator--will it really pan out?
-Battle Royal from Shaun El C. Leonardo, a performance piece where "20 men will step into a 17’ steel cage and fight blindfolded until one man is left standing."
-A new video installation from ye olde Bill Viola
ZONE A - CURATOR GREG ELGSTRAND
Going for a "down the rabbit hole" thing; not sure I buy it, but some of the individual pieces sound interesting.
-One of Jeff Koons' Rabbit sculptures
- An organ-music installation by loopy art darling Geoffrey Farmer
- Some sound thing by Katie Bethune-Leamen, in which I am curious how much Tupac Shakur she will sample. (She's done tons of drawings of him in the past.)
Also new this year:
-There will be more official road closures so pedestrians and cyclists can take over the streets with impunity, as opposed to last year's punity.
- The subway will run all night from Woodbine to Keele! From St Clair W to Eglinton! This is art in itself.
That's all I got. You'll know where to find me.
Image of last year's Nuit Blanche, namely Jillian Mcdonald's Zombies in Condoland project, from Nuit Blanche. Now doesn't that look like fun? (Image courtesy of the City of Toronto)
Monday, June 15, 2009
[MEGA-CORRECTION: Dear reader, I'm a dumbass. This event is on Thursday, June 18. If it makes you feel any better, I biked halfway across the city myself hoping to attend, only to realize my own folly. I might have realized and posted on error earlier had I not been working three nonstop back to back freelance gigs in the creative economy. Plus, as mentioned, I'm a dumbass. Keep those cards and letters coming!]
Richard Florida, academic and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” created quite a local stir when he moved to Toronto a couple of years ago. While many people—particularly city planners—have found Florida’s vision of creativity as economic cure-all appealing, there are others (here, here, and here to name a few) who express skepticism about his ideas and the way they are presented. (To be clear, I consider myself one of those skeptics--see related pieces on art payments and arts access here and here.)
Tomorrow THURSDAY night, Toronto Free Gallery and Fuse Magazine are holding “Demystifying the Creative City,” a town hall designed to further discuss these issues. The event, to my mind, would also seem to fit in with Bad At Sports’ recent critique of the New York Times’ romanticization of artist poverty, and of poverty, period. According to the event press release,
Fuse Magazine and activists collective Creative Class Struggle are holding a Town Hall to talk about the real effects of the Creative City model currently produced in planning trends in communities across the city and globally. This conversation is intended to demystify this celebration and use of “creativity” in economic development, land use planning, arts programming and community development. We are responding to these recent trends, popularized by urban researchers like Richard Florida.
The Creative City logic, advertises places of innovation, style and interactivity as places that will attract both business and the “creative class” – urban professionals and culture workers. This perspective, critiqued by some academics and policy makers for its vagueness and others for privileging certain types of jobs, neighbourhoods and lifestyles at the expense of others is increasingly controversial. In this Town Hall, artists, activist, community workers, teachers and professors will be brought together to examine the realities of living under this policy paradigm. We will ask: what are the effects of these policies on the livelihoods of ordinary people? Who benefits from creative city planning that is meant to build money making cities in a time of cuts to vital services such as schools and important social spaces for “ordinary” people such as community centres, and pools. What happens to the “non-creative” workers in this script?
The panel’s goal is to address topics of race, class and gender, within the framework of the 'creative class’, exploring how these policies celebrate a select group of glorified yet precarious professions and how cities are being re-structured and re-branded as money-makers, rather than places that offer secure livelihoods for their residents.
Though I’m not sure what might come out of it, I’m glad this town hall is happening. The only downfall might be the Toronto-centrism; while I was in Hamilton this weekend, I noticed there is a lot of hope there for “creative economy” style revitalization, and the same was noted when I went to Niagara Falls last year. Still, I guess we have to start somewhere.
This event takes place at 1277 Bloor St W. Doors open at 6:30pm, with the panel running 7pm to 8:30pm. A launch party for Fuse Magazine follows.
Image of Richard Florida from globeandmail.com
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I think it's been a couple weeks since my last news roundup, so here goes:
Re: Venice The Post's Shinan Govani, as usual, gives great gossip, this time on Canadians in Venice. Most cogent observation: "Like in so many instances, when [we Canadians are] harder on ourselves than outsiders are, I found others in thrall of both [Mark] Lewis and us." The Star's Peter Goddard also dishes Venice gossip, as in the Canadian delegation's luggage going missing and the planned party for the Rialto fish market being nixed by Venice officials at the last minute. (I have to say I was less impressed by Goddard's statement in a later article that "Feminists will likely be cheered by a Biennale "special mention" going to the late Brazilian artist Lygia Pape, whose lengthy, beam-like structures tilting up from a darkened floor in a pitch black room suggest spotlights displayed over top of a city." Right... because only feminists would care for Pape's work or something? It reminds me of when I saw him do a public chat with Judy Chicago and he implied that only lesbians would care for feminist work. What-ever.) Goddard's colleague Murray Whyte did a better job on Reverse Pedagogy, a hipster-party-riffic Canuck-canoe art project in Venice. My sorta-boss Richard Rhodes also did an interesting report on the Punta della Dogana for Canadianart.ca. The pictures I helped put up there are society-y but fun too, I think. And one Venice aspect that was way underreported: three smaller Canuck art mags, C Magazine, Fuse and Hunter & Cook, teamed up to do a launch in Venice—a first, or the first in a long time, for all three. Good on ya.
Re: Luminato Though hopes were high for Tony Oursler's work for Luminato, it seems to have been a bust both technically and aesthetically, at least according to the Globe's Sarah Milroy and Torontoist's Amanda Happé. Milroy also points out in a separate review that she admired Luminato art by David Rokeby but not that by Germaine Koh. It seems Sarah Lazarovic's Tweets-as-handpainted-art, a one-day show, got a better reception as evinced by shout-outs from Murray Whyte and the Post's Adam McDowell. Kurt Perschke's RedBall project seemed to have a warm reception, as indicated by this Spacing post. In fact, it seems that low-tech was the better way to go for Luminato art installations, as the Globe's James Bradshaw rounded up a few projects nixed at the last minute due to technical concerns. (Artist/curator/critic Sally McKay also expressed annoyance with the fest's aggressive social media schmoozing.) The Post's Ampersand blog has being doing daily updates on the fest and has helpful recommendations for enjoying its final day today. My verdict: Luminato is getting better at vis-arts programming than in its past couple of years—but still no cigar, given the cancellation of so many projects at the last minute. Proper curatorial planning would have prevented these snafus.
Re: Koffler controversy Murray Whyte rounds up the artist-rebellion fallout surrounding the Koffler's abrupt termination of its Reena Katz project. Torontoist's Jonathan Goldsbie also wonders about the situation from a perspective of Jewish identity and community politics.
Re: Video revelations Twitter has proved a great source of nice art-related video links of late. Toronto gallerist and DJ @Vaneska pointed me in the fun direction of Artstars TV, a project by TO writer Nadja Sayej and TO artist Jeremy Bailey that documents the cattier side of Toronto artworld events. Hogtown media critic Marc Weisblott (@scroll) pointed out Ryeberg.com, a forum for curating online video which counts Sheila Heti and Mary Gaitskill amongst its contributors. The site is the brainchild of writer Erik Rutherford. On Facebook, Vernissage.tv's Heinrich Schmidt also led me to an interesting video interview with Pharrell Williams regarding his$2-mil Takashi Murakami collaboration in Basel.
Re: Miscellaneous Somehow, even though it ditched its most art-centric director in less than a year, the Glenbow scooped "Best of Calgary's" art gallery category. Vancouver artist David Wisdom teamed up with old pals like Rodney Graham for a new exhibition. Critic Amy Fung continues to argue that a lot is wrong with Edmonton's art scene. Maritime-associated artists including Emily Vey Duke discussed environmental issues in art with The Coast. Coast critic Sue Carter Flinn also previewed the bathhouse art show there. TO Blogger Jennifer McMackon/Simpleposie, who tirelessly follows parliamentary and political debates of cultural import, promises a paper version s0on. BlogTO shows that Worn Fashion Journal's museum show and funder auction of pimped out Keds looked pretty damn great. And how the hell did I not read this article on NY artist Swoon and her rafts sooner? (Not Canadian but definitely a competitor to Reverse Pedagogy's canoes, as was the Russian art sub.)
Ok, that's all I got! Now to the sun and a few galleries.
Image from mediabistro.com
Thursday, June 11, 2009
It will be no secret to good friends of mine that I've long harboured a "being a rock star" fantasy. Of late, since I've gotten into more art writing and criticism, the fantasy has taken on a "hey, maybe I could be a rock star singing about art criticism" turn. Maybe even in a band with other art writers -- we could call ourselves "The Critics" and do really horrible performances or something. Nothing I wanted to make too real, mind you, just one of those little flights of fancy.
Well... imagine my surprise to read Jonathan Goldsbie's Torontoist report about Newzapalooza, a benefit concert put on by—you got it—bands of writers/journalists. (The kicker -- the benefit isn't even to help save print media!)
In any case, reading about this event has re-sparked my "The Critics" stage-rocking fantasy. The only question left now is... what art-crit-relevant songs are appropriate? I'm open to suggestion, but here's the ones I thought of to start with:
For the painful/bad art viewing experience: "Every time I see your picture I cry" by Luba
This one's more for when you're trying to get a hold of an artist or other for an interview, without success: "867-5309" by Tommy Tutone
For the nasty-letter receiving critic/hurt artist situation: "Do you really want to hurt me" by Culture Club
For general errata-related discontent: "Tribulations" by LCD Soundsystem
A few more ideas:
"Fake Headlines" by the New Pornographers for that sense of surreality and the line "I Filled the Whole Front Page/ With the Catchiest Words I could Find"
"The Real Slim Shady" by Eminem also is suitable in terms of plagiarism concerns.
And for a general sum-up of the main critics--at least in Toronto--and of course I am VERY included: "White and Nerdy" by Weird Al Yankovic.
Any other suggestions? My ability to sing other's people's words poorly crosses all genres and time periods.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Mark Lewis is Canada's national representative at this year's Venice Biennale. Though a lot of people have talked to him already about the trouble he had raising money to get to Venice in the first place--which was goshdarn interesting, I have to say, just check out this piece by Peter Goddard and this one by James Bradshaw if you don't beleive it—I just wanted to ask him about his art, y'know? OK and so maybe nationhood too. So that's what I did in a long-distance phone chat. The condensed convo was published in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:
Q Sometimes your films focus on overlooked people in public, like the homeless or dog walkers. Why?
A I think I work intuitively, and it just feels sometimes like there should be people like that in the scene. Or sometimes, I've witnessed a situation very similar to the one I'm trying to depict. For example, I've been to High Park many times with friends who walk their dogs, and I'm fascinated with the complex way people move through that space.
One film I'm showing in Venice, Cold Morning, is actually shot at the corner of Bay and Queen Streets. It was something that I saw one day and I just got a camera and came back and shot it. It's seven minutes of real time unfolding as a homeless person cleans up his spot where he slept on a grate. That's a document --no one's being directed do anything, as happens in most of my films.
Q A number of Canadian artists, such as Roy Arden or Germaine Koh, have looked at homelessness. Why did you?
A Well, I don't know anything about this guy, and I don't think that my film reveals much about him. But I think it does reveal that at some level he's a human being who displays a very normal human characteristic, which is basic housekeeping -- looking after the place you're in and trying to bring a certain kind of order to a very limited domain.
I think people like that are often invisible; you walk by them and give them a dollar. But maybe, in this film, you're forced to look at him and not see not a "homeless person" but a person. That would be an ideal reading.
There's a lot of criticism of this subject matter for making art, and I think that's total bull---t. Any subject matter should be open. When I shot the video, some people said, "That's wrong, you shouldn't be doing that." And I thought, "How is this wrong? How am I helping him by not shooting him?"
I don't think I have an explicitly social message. What I'm interested in is revealing the detail in life, so you can slow down and think about it.
If you actually want to watch Lewis' films, he's got a bunch of them archived on his website. I personally still enjoy 1995's Two Impossible Films.
Image of Mark Lewis at the Canada Pavilion in Venice copyright Margherita Marzorati, Courtesy of Canada Pavilion
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
If you’re heading to the Distillery soon, be advised you might run into what seems to be an apparently fierce alien guarding the entrance of Fresh & Wild.
At first glance, this three-legged piece of public art seems to simultaneously rip both Louise Bourgeois’s massive high-art metal Maman sculptures and Peter Jackson’s blazing eye of Sauron from pop-cult smash The Lord of the Rings.
The name of this monster? “IT.” And its source? California artist Michael Christian, delivered via the Distillery’s Meta Gallery.
According to the Distillery’s 2009 guide, IT “rises 40 feet tall and is constructed of 12,000 pounds of steel. Inspired by George Orwell’s [sic] War of the Worlds, IT was commissioned by Black Rock City Nevada’s 2006 Burning Man Festival and over 50,000 visitors viewed it when it was first unveiled.”
Sooo.... maybe you oughta mix a little mescaline into your next Fresh & Wild mesclun salad? God, I hate to sound so cranky about it all, but there you go.
Last week, Toronto curator Kim Simon asked in a Facebook status update why none of the media covering the recent Koffler Gallery scandal had bothered to question the ethical aspects of the Koffler receiving public funding.
I responded that I had been thinking about the ethics of this situation, and wanted to do a blog post about it. What follows are the questions and uncertainties that came up for me in considering this situation.
To recap on details from The Star, NOW, Xtra, the artist’s website and other sources: Last year the Koffler—a Jewish cultural centre—contracted curator Kim Simon and artist Reena Katz to develop an art project that would open May 20, 2009. Katz, who is of Jewish descent and has worked on projects about Judaism in the past, developed a project called Each Hand as They Are Called, which was to involve a mah-jong tournament with Jewish elders, installing scaffolding in Kensington Market linked to the artist’s Jewish history and performances of songs by the Barry Sisters, a 50s duo that sang a hybrid of jazz and klezmer. On May 8, the Koffler Centre executive director Lori Starr informed Katz and Simon that the Koffler was disassociating itself from the project due to Katz’s participation in Israeli Apartheid Week and related events. The contracted funding would still go to Katz and Simon, but not the Koffler’s logo, name or endorsements. Later that week, the Jewish elders and a voice coach for the Barry Sisters project pulled out, putting the project in limbo. A number of artists have also dropped their contracts to do further work with the Koffler. The dispute is now being handled by lawyers for both parties.
My initial reaction, posted on this blog May 11, was that the Koffler had been quite stupid and unprofessional in its decisions and actions around this whole affair. For over a year the Koffler has been trying to rebrand itself as being more “open” and “downtown” in its attitude, and the kind of toe-the-line rigidity this course of events reflects is well at odds with more flexible and liberal artworld attitudes.
So…. Dumb. But unethical? I wasn’t sure. And I’m still not, which is partly why I’m posting on this—feedback from others would be much appreciated.
Here’s why I still feel the ethical part of this situation is cloudy: Basically, when I think about how most galleries program artists and exhibitions—well, it may just be my cynicism talking, but I think most galleries do program artists who fit with their own political, aesthetic and cultural tastes.
In other words, I’d expect, say, the Japan Foundation to program artists who are of Japanese descent, or who make work about Japan. I wouldn’t expect them to program an artist who had extremely critical views of Japan or who isn’t connected to Japan in any way—and I wouldn’t expect that because artists of this type would be weeded out in the very very early stages of the curatorial process.
Similarly, and perhaps a bit closer to home, I wouldn’t expect La Centrale, a woman-focused gallery in Montreal, to program a male artist. Heck, I would also be very surprised if they curated in a woman artist who happened to be strongly pro-life or homophobic. That kind of value disparity is again the kind of thing that gets weeded out way ahead of time at the very early stages of the curatorial process—those matters of poor fit or alignment.
Even in the contemporary art world in general, I’d posit that views in general on politics are quite liberal, ambivalent and flexible. So it would be quite surprising if any contemporary museum curated an artist who did have a black and white, hardline or conservative view of politics. Again, it’s as if those types of personalities get self-selected (or perhaps just selected) out of the contemporary art world; their values just doesn’t fit with those types of institutions.
At the Koffler, now, we see basically the opposite values dynamic. It’s clear from this episode that the Koffler wants artists who reject political ambivalence and flexibility, who are willing to be hardline when it comes to Israel—or at least artists who do not express any potential difficulties with Israel, period, in their work or public life.
That’s why I labeled the Koffler’s actions dumb rather than unethical. If your programming has to be in line with certain politics and values, you flag any major conflicts (whether consciously or subconsciously) at the very beginning of the process rather than at the end. Since the public funds the Koffler was to disburse were still disbursed to the artists, there is less of a case that can be made there about ethics as well.
Does this mean in future that public funding will be withheld from the Koffler? Well, it’s hard to tell, because as a friend pointed out to me there aren’t many mechanisms for listing “all the wrong stuff we did with the grant monies you gave us” on a funding application. And further, as noted above, culturally-focused galleries do often have an inherently exclusive programming slant in the first case.
Of course, I’m puzzled by my own inability in this case to make a clear ethical judgment. If anyone else would like to express their views on the case, pose their own questions, or clarify my fuzzy thinking, I’d much appreciate it.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Today's a beauty in Toronto--more of a park day than a gallery day, really. But enroute to picnics and ice cream stands, there's 3 shows close together on Tecumseth that are very much worth seeing. Today the National Post published my guide to all three. Enjoy along with a slurpee or 4.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Toronto’s Luminato festival, launched in 2007, has often been met with skepticism in the contemporary art community. But this year the fest has tried to up its aesthetic credibility with the participation of prominent New York artist Tony Oursler. While the artist was setting up his public installations near Grange Park this week, I got to chat with him about last-minute and long-term changes in his projects. Here's an excerpt from the full chat published today at Canadianart.ca:
LS: A lot of your past work can be read as making private traumas semi-public in a gallery setting. Is moving into full-fledged public art an expansion of that practice?
TO: Well this is a voyeuristic situation so in a way it’s highlighted. It will become obvious at a certain point that this is an installation, but it’s also a private space that has a memory, and goes out into the public space. I like the idea that people have a kind of membrane that they have to choose to pierce in one way or another. That voyeuristic dynamic is important; to look in the window is to join into the piece. We’ll see how it works. It’s a new thing for me.
LS: What part is new to you?
TO: Well, there’s a lot. First of all, this house has a mosaic of flatscreens inside. So it’s not projected. It’s also completely three-dimensional too, where a lot of my previous stuff is more frontal or 180-degrees or whatever.
When I had a flatscreen TV around the studio I was thinking of how amazing they are, because they become almost architectural. Whereas TVs are more like furniture, flatscreens to me are almost like tile or bricks or something. They’re also about redesigning and redefining interior space.
So I kind of wanted to play with that. You look into the space and it becomes like a memory palace of things that have happened or that are happening in the space. We edit the characters from screen to screen so they can move around from side to side, and occasionally the whole house becomes one character. Then it breaks back up into other characters.
Image of Tony Oursler with his in-progress installation near Toronto's Grange Park from canadianart.ca
New York artist Kurt Perschke looked at the world's public spaces a few years back. And did he see the need for a bench? No. A public washroom? No. Maybe some planters or bike racks? Nah.
What Perschke identified was lacking in public spaces worldwide was this -- a massive inflatable red ball. Yep, he's shown it from Chicago to Barcelona to Busan, and now it's hitting Toronto as part of the Luminato festival.
To be honest, from the online videos, it does look like this work is pretty fun. And a far cry from good ol' bronze "plop art." So it was enjoyable to chat with Perschke by phone about the project. Today, the National Post published the condensed Q&A. Here's an excerpt:
Q Online videos do show that viewers have a lot of fun with this piece -- running into it, touching it, playing with it. But most of the time we see art in museums, where it has an aura of "do not touch" seriousness. Can something ever be too fun to be art?
A Well, actually, I make lots of the kind of "serious" work that you are describing for museums and galleries. And I think to do something funny, and in public, is much harder. It's a very different environment. When you walk into a gallery or museum you know you're supposed to be looking at art. But if you are looking at art in public space, you don't have any of the crutches one has in a museum. Out on the street you're dealing with people's innate imaginations. I think the hardest thing is to get anyone to break out of their daily routine and get them to imagine, and this piece deliberately uses a moment of whimsy to make that happen. So the work is playful -- but it's playful in a very serious way.
Image for Perschke's Red Ball project in Portland, OR from Redballproject.com
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Holy blog break, Batman! What happened to those six days that just evaporated with nary a post? Was I wooing gondoliers in Venice? Buttering up chocolatiers in Basel? No, I was just in Montreal for a couple of days, then overwhelmed by life and such. I did eat some good pastries, though.
Getting back to the grind... Tomorrow's NOW (online today) publishes my review of YYZ's 30th anniversary show, XXX. An excerpt:
Do artists run gallery spaces differently – or better – than museum CEOs or commercial dealers? Has this changed over time? Where might it go next? And should anyone who’s not an artist give a damn?
As artist-run centre YYZ celebrates its 30th anniversary, such questions come to the fore. Now the gallery is hosting a few related exhibitions under the YYZXXX umbrella.
There also an interesting feature in the paper about the whole Reena Katz/Koffler debacle—I'm glad to see it make the cover of a local publication.
Image of Carol Conde and Karl Beveridge's Cultural Relations: Art from Now