Saturday, October 31, 2009

Criticizing the Critics: Three takes on Searle

Apparently the audience for Guardian critic Adrian Searle's Toronto lecture last Sunday was a packed one. I unfortunately couldn't make it, though I did see Searle on an Art Publishing for the Digital Age panel on the Saturday. (Problem with anything containing the words "digital age" -- it seems to be an excuse for everyone to bring up their general complaints with the Interweb. But it was good to see the different approaches of Searle (literary, slightly cantankerous, no-blogging) and Vidokle (interested in high crit, free access, having readers in Islamabad).)

Anyway, I just wanted to point out three takes on Searle that I found informative, given my absence at the lecture:

1) Terence Dick's latest blog post at Akimbo.
An excerpt:

Searle ticked off some people by repeatedly referring to the AGO (the gallery he visited earlier that day) as the National Gallery. He then stuck his foot in his mouth again, talking about the Ydessa “Hernandez” Gallery with Ms. Hendeles sitting in the audience before him. He made up for this faux pas by gushing over her curatorial acumen and favouring her lack of instruction through wall panels and explanatory texts over the far too obvious strategies of the “National Gallery” (aka the AGO).

2) Bryne McLaughlin's Q&A with Searle at (which I know about because I help edit there). An excerpt:

BM: As we have here with the Sobey Art Award, which was just given out last week to David Altmejd.

AS: A set designer really, isn’t he. I mean he’s all right, but where would he be without silicone glue?

BM: Perhaps, but his exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale did bring significant international attention to a young Canadian artist, which can be a rare thing.

AS: Janet Cardiff got it, didn’t she? And Rodney Graham’s Vexation Island was one of the big hits of that particular biennale.

BM: And Mark Lewis this year…

AS: I’m not the biggest fan. It’s all a bit rhetorical isn’t it? And you know what, I can’t remember a single thing about his show. I can’t remember anything, really, although I spent half an hour in there. Whereas the Czech and Slovak pavilion, which was literally nothing, I remember intensely. Isn’t that strange, but it’s the way it goes.

3) Stephanie Vegh's summation of the lecture (accompanied by her misgivings about TIAF) is briefer. A tidbit:

In addressing a theme only briefly discussed during a preceding forum on Art Publishing in the Digital Age, Searle expressed a certain regret over the realities of art-writing in a deadline driven culture, particularly one exasperated by the immediacy of the internet. This generates a criticism of first impressions, which leaves little time for the transformations of opinion and impact that come from reflecting on an exhibition; a second thought may prove more fruitful, more correct than the first.

Any other opinions on the lecture knocking around out there?

Image of Searle lecturing in Toronto from

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roller Derby Radness - Review of Lois Andison @ Olga Korper Gallery

As I hinted last week, I really enjoyed some of the works in Lois Andison's current show at Olga Korper Gallery. Today NOW ran my review of the exhibition. Here's an excerpt:

It’s pretty unusual (or as some might say, terrible) for a critic to wish that an art show had opened earlier to coincide with movie premieres and celebrity sightings.

Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that Lois Andison’s current exhibition, which features a compelling video of women on roller skates, could have benefited from launching with Whip It at this year’s TIFF – if only to make a couple of sales to Barrymore, et al., and benefit from associated word of mouth.

Andison’s work is certainly strong enough to deserve a wider audience, be it in Hollywood or elsewhere.

NOW also ran its Best of Toronto picks today. If readers are wondering about the process for this on the art front, basically the editors ask their critics (in this case, Fran Schechter, David Jager and myself) for potential winners in each category. Then the editors decide the ultimate winner. For my part, I was pulling for James Carl as best artist -- the three-venue survey last winter was a real eye opener in terms of both virtuosity and incisiveness. And while the Barnicke, NOW's top pick, is a great gallery that had a super year (what with that little trip to Venice and all) I had been thinking of Diaz Contemporary, a commercial gallery that does consistently solid and well installed shows.

I can be blamed, however, for the pick of Nuit Blanche as top art event. I think it has tons of problems and areas to shape up on to maintain this title in the future, but for now there ain't nothing else with its audience and potential.

Image from a still of Andison's video work from NOW

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

RBC Competition had "Most Difficult Jury Ever" - Q&A in today's National Post

One thing that's great about the increasing numbers of arts awards in Canada is they draw a lot of news attention to young artists. But these prizes can also be quite difficult to decide. Today the National Post published my Q&A with RBC 2009 juror John Kissick—and while Kissick thinks the award is doing a great job, he also admits that the jury was one of the most difficult group dynamics he had ever encountered (albeit with the caveat that getting nine art folks to agree on damn near anything can be a challenge). Here's an excerpt:

Q Though all the artists in this competition are Canadian, there's little of what we might call "identifiable Canadian content." Why?

A One thing that is pretty clear right now, with technology and art magazines being what they are, is that anything new and interesting in New York City on a Tuesday can be all over Toronto by Wednesday. The older notion of a regional group of painters all doing the same thing doesn't happen significantly anymore. Unless a painter is quoting from a national art history, the arena of discourse is big--it's global now.

Having said that, there are several artists who deal with issues of landscape, a form that is pretty entrenched in the Canadian psyche. Another thing that identifies Canadian artists is a tendency to articulate their practice in a way that doesn't happen as much in other countries. Because the art market is not great in Canada, artists are tied to granting organizations. The need to make an effective artist statement to justify one's practice is a huge issue. It's pretty hard to survive without being able to do that.

Overall, I think our nationality is now reflected in acceptance of a plurality of styles --and I think that is a very Canadian attitude.

Reader, if it's not apparent to you by now, I very much enjoy asking basic questions.

Image of RBC Canadian Painting Competition award winner Brenda Draney's Aim is Important 2009 from RBC

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Re: Readings

Just wanted to highlight a few items from other media:

Report from Vancouver (Akimblog) - Writer Aaron Peck provides a nice snapshot of recent events in Vancity, from the much-reviled funding cuts to the Owen Kydd show at the VAG, which I had been wondering about. A lament is also made for the Helen Pitt Gallery.

Shary Boyle wins $25,000 Iskowitz Prize (VoCA) - While I'm not in the "Shary wuz robbed!" camp on the Sobey Award front this year, it's good to see Boyle get some recognition from the AGO here, a much more appropriate venue. Boyle's practice is really strong all around: on craft, concept and a certain exploratory dreaminess. Well deserved.

Blogging the Best TO Shows (Sally & LM) - Sally and LM continue to post photos of top Toronto shows before anyone else, really. And the ephemera posts, like pics of Emmor Ray Sperry's boardgames, continue to blow the mind.

Farewell, Anonymous (Prairie Artsters) - Edmonton critic Amy Fung ixnays anonymous commenters, raising issues that many art outlets should now be thinking about.

Image from Hark! A Vagrant at

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Bought: Art!

Seeing as how the Toronto International Art Fair, which wrapped today, put the focus on the purchasing of art, I thought I'd use this opportunity to review my most recent art-collection addition: a ceramic bird-form from Creative Works Studio, seen above. It ran me into the mid-single digits, and I absolutely love it, for some unknown and mystical art reason. I partially blame the Harold Klunder paintings I reviewed earlier in the month, which I think attuned me to a similar colour palette. It's that, or, you know, my childhood or psychic compost or something.

In any case, I bought this work at the Creative Works Studio booth at the Queen West Art Crawl this summer. My friend Marlena Zuber, a talented illustrator and artist, works in a support capacity at the studio, which "offers healing and recovery through the creative arts" and "provides an oasis from the daily rigors and challenges of life for people living with a mental illness."

CWS is a pretty great place and I swear that every time I drop by there, I see something I want to own. Though I usually have to stick with the small stuff.

In other art-purchasing news, the Art Gallery of Ontario bought three works at TIAF:
Suzy Lake's Are You Talking to Me? 1979 from Paul Petro Gallery
Cal Lane's Love Rug 2008 from Art Mur
Elizabeth McIntosh's Untitled (Sale Flags and Crowns) 2008 from Diaz Contemporary

I am really glad to see the AGO purchasing these strong works by Canadian artists who, er, happen to be women. I think they are all pretty solid. If I had more cash money, I might have bought them too.

In terms of other sales figures for the fair, I'm not really sure what the situation is. (I think I may have to go to a few more fairs before I have the sales radar--saydar?--that those hardnosed international art-market reporters have.)

I do know that overall the best TIAF elements from my perspective (as I tweeted earlier on the weekend) were the Next Dealers section (which seemed to bend the rules a bit on "up and coming" criteria this year), the Castor Design lounge, which was made of bubble wrap and resulted in hours of delightfully obsessional popping activity, and the AGYU booth featuring the Buy-Sellf Collective. A lot of the rest of the fair was so-so.

Most disappointing/sad was TIAF's Heartland exhibition, which was supposed to feature Canadian art through the ages (and maybe make up for a lack of Western/regional dealers?). It was quite disappointing--a lot of the works were super, but the installation really bit the dust, a fact highlighted by the appearance of my mega pet peeve, horribly crafted and installed exhibition labels! A higher quality of installation and wall texts is really needed if this kind of thing is to be undertaken again. Kind of shameful, really.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last Chance: Blue Republic @ Peak

Someone tweeted the other day that they felt TIAF was worth about three hours of their time. I can't vouch for that yet myself, but if you do happen to be looking for other art options this weekend, I recommend catching Blue Republic @ Peak Gallery. The show, which features totally wonderful photos of water-on-rock drawings, closes tomorrow.

Also worth seeing up in that neck of the woods:

Lois Andison @ Olga Korper - Loved, loved, loved a couple of the works in this show. More on that next week, hopefully, but for now, recommended.

Elena Popova @ Tinku - A small, enjoyable show of colourful, lovingly made prints. It's about the visual pleasure, people.

Christy Langer @ Christopher Cutts - Langer's impressively crafted zombie-like animal sculptures have almost always wowed technically. But in the light of North America's vampire craze I have to say they become even more compelling -- whether the artist likes that reading or not. You think Bunnicula is the last word in bloodsucking cuties? Try Langer's Peacockcula, or Sparrowcula. (To be clear, these are my titles, not hers.) There's a lot of other content here, of course, around the uncanny, environmental meltdown, taxidermy, etc. But so help me Van Helsing, the True Blood connection is what stayed with me this time around.

Image of Blue Republic's "Ladder" from their Water Drawings series from Peak Gallery

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Friday, October 23, 2009

TIAF Plan of Attack Now Up

Further to my post on the Toronto International Art Fair's gallery dropout the other day, my plan of attack for getting the best from the downsized fair just got posted at the National Post's Toronto blog. (It should also run in print tomorrow.) Here's an excerpt of my recommendations:

1. Montreal Madness The fair continues to boast a strong presence from excellent Montreal galleries. Top space Parisian Laundry will feature witty sculptor Valérie Blass and humorous trio BGL, while Pierre-François Ouellette plans to show intelligent work from rising star Adad Hannah and thoughtful photog Isabelle Hayeur. René Blouin, a respected long-time dealer on the Montreal scene, is always worth a peek, and the presence of fair first-timer Galerie Push, which has organized shows by compelling younger artists such as Wil Murray in the past year, gets the curiosity vote.

2. Taking the Long Way Home In an appropriately eccentric turn, Iris Haussler, one of Toronto’s most enigmatic artists, will be debuting new works at the fair via the booth of Vienna, Austria’s Galerie Grita Insam. Haussler, who created an art-installation-cum-clothing-library at Honest Ed’s last winter, and who currently has a mysterious archaeological dig ongoing at the AGO’s Grange, is premiering bronzes by imaginary sculptor Joseph Wagenbach. Confused? Haussler will be on hand to explain at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Monday.

3. Top Talks A series of chats organized by the Power Plant will be a TIAF highlight. Guardian art critic Adrian Searle, one of the world’s best-read cultural journalists, will give a lecture on Sunday at 3 p.m., while Richard Flood, a zeitgeist-setting New York curator, will gab at a forum Saturday at 11 a.m.

If you are going to hear Flood speak, it's worth keeping in mind the critique that Hrag Vartanian recently made of the New Museum's decision to show the collection of one of its board members -- takes the bloom off the rose a bit, but I think it will still very much be worth hearing Flood talk, if only to get a sense of his take on the matter.

Image of a past TIAF from

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EnCana Just Says No to Being Mentioned Alongside Ed Burtynsky

A couple of weeks ago, after my Q&A with Ed Burtynsky was published in the National Post, I got an unhappy letter from Calgary-based oil co EnCana.

See, sometimes I start my art Q&As with an attempt at a newsy lead—-a stab at underlining that hey, art can relate to the real world sometimes! Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I like to at least try.

In the case of my chat with Burtynsky, which focused on his huge oil-documentation project currently on at the Corcoran in Washington and Nicholas Metivier in Toronto, I observed at the top of the article that EnCana had just announced a big oil project of their own.

Here's an edited version of what EnCana wrote in response, published in the letters section of the Post last week:

Re: Man In Fractured Landscapes, Leah Sandals, Avenue, Oct. 9; EnCana To Launch New Oil Sands Project; Greener Process, Oct. 2.

I would like to express disappointment about a reference to EnCana Corporation in this question-and-answer feature about a photo exhibit that is a largely negative portrayal of the oil industry. The published photos are of a freeway interchange, an oil sands tailing pond and a refinery. Yet the article begins with a mention of a distinctly different proposed project by EnCana.

It appears Ms. Sandals may not have taken the time to read the Post's Oct. 1 story. If she had, she would have realized that the proposed EnCana project is not a mine and that it is considering a new technology that has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EnCana has no mining operations and its enhanced oil operations are considered to be industry-leading when it comes to environmental responsibility.

It is unfortunate Ms. Sandals chose to make a misleading connection between EnCana and the art exhibit in her article.

Alan Boras, manager, media relations, EnCana Corporation, Calgary.

Overall, I'm glad EnCana wrote in--admittedly (and sadly) it's an exciting thing for an art writer to get a letter! But it also shows how sensitive oil companies are to the way they are presented in the press. According to View on Canadian Art, Ed Burtynsky's oil project is slated to open at the Art Gallery of Alberta next year... I look forward to the work being displayed there, but I wonder, especially now, how openly it will be received.

Image from

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Wide-Open Views: A Q&A with Eric Deis

Vancouver photographer Eric Deis does some really interesting wide-angle views of urban environments. In them, the human action is often dwarfed by human architecture, generating a sense of the context in which photographic scenes happen. I chatted with Deis about his work, which is showing at Elissa Cristall Gallery, earlier this week, and today the condensed Q&A was published in the National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q Buildings seem really prominent in a lot of your images, dwarfing human activity. What's the interest there for you?

A Well, cameras are generally designed to focus on one subject, focusing and centering in a certain way. I'm trying to break down that relationship, to make both the foreground and the background the subject.

For instance, you might walk through a town in, say, France, and feel its history oozing from the walls and roadways. A picture of one building wouldn't capture that. But if you could capture one building and the next, and the space between them, that would get closer.

I'm interested in how a lot of Canadians visit Europe for the sense of history we feel in its cities. Canada, going back to First Nations, is just as old, but it seems we just like to demolish our old buildings or markers more quickly, and build up new stuff. Often our traces of history are only there for a brief moment. Sometimes I'll see something at a construction site, go home to grab my camera and come back to find that what I wanted to shoot is already gone.

Image of Eric Deis' Hipsters and Drug Dealer courtesy of the artist

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Readings: Ron Mueck Baby Banned from Calgary Buses

Okay, so being a part-time Cowtowner myself, and having enjoyed my years there, I feel I do a fair bit of defending Calgary's unique cultural advantages. But when I read a story, as I did this morning, about an image of Ron Mueck's baby sculpture being banned from Calgary Transit, well, I have to say that the city itself sometimes does dig its own arts-publicity grave. Here's an excerpt from the National Post:

Calgary Transit decided that an ad, from the Glenbow Museum, featuring a picture of “A Girl,” a sculpture by hyper-realist artist Ron Mueck, was too controversial. Transit spokeswoman Theresa Keddy didn’t say exactly what it was about a newborn baby’s body that makes it any more controversial than that of, say, an anorexic teenage model pushing designer jeans. Just that there were “community standards” to think about. "Some people would find a brand new newborn baby beautiful, and other people might find it a little bit too much to see it like that” -- by which she probably meant being all wrinkly, fluid-streaked, unsmiling and bent, its umbilical cord blue and bulging.

Pretty interesting turn of events, ones I'm not sure would happen elsewhere.

(Image of Mueck's sculpture being installed at the Glenbow from the National Post)

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TIAF Trouble: Gallery Dropouts for '09

I'm looking forward to a day at the Toronto International Art Fair this weekend, particularly the Art Publishing in the Digital Age panel happening 2pm on Saturday with the Guardian's Adrian Searle and e-flux's Anton Vidokle. (Seriously, I think only an art writer could be as excited as I am about seeing these two guys chat on this topic. Happily nerding out over here...)

However, I wanted to note there's some serious gallery dropout at TIAF this year. Though the numbers don't totally reflect it--commercial exhibitors are at 92 this year compared to 106 last year--some pretty prominent dealers, especially from the West, have ixnayed participation this year. These include super-top Vancouver gallerist Catriona Jeffries, as well as respected Vancity galleries Winsor, Equinox and Monte Clark (though the latter of which will be partly repped by Toronto's Clark & Faria). Also conspicuously absent, to my mind, is Calgary's Trepanier Baer, who I usually look forward to seeing given their representation of Evan Penny and Chris Millar, among others.

To me this is a sad, if understandable, turn of events. I definitely am aware that commercial galleries, particularly in a fair setting, are not the last word in contemporary art. But TIAF is one of the few chances in Canada to (theoretically) see what dealers across the country are showing and believing in. And the West, a huge part of that national equation, seems to be largely absent this year--Blanket's providing the sole Vancouver rep far as I can tell, I'm not counting Bau-Xi because they have a Toronto branch. Also, there's zero galleries from Edmonton or Calgary, since Douglas Udell is also absent this time around.

I would hope, if only for my selfish, non-airmiles-flush self, that this 2009 pattern reverses itself in years to come.

Interestingly, I note that travel to Canadian art fairs (as well as international) is supported by the Canada Council's pilot program for Assistance to Professional Canadian Contemporary Art Dealers, with the list of 2008 grantees available here. (Even more interestingly, Jeffries is among the grantees, though the monies can be used for catalogues and for international travel too, helpful given Jeffries is in at Art Basel Miami in December.)

Still, part of me thinks the market probably needs to recover more to make even grant-covered gallery travel worthwhile. What do you think? Am I lamenting what is actually a good thing (a blow to the "evil art-fair system")? Am I too "I Want the West In"? Let me know.

Image from an artist we likely won't see at TIAF--Ryan Sluggett, who is repped by Trepanier Baer. This work is Fake Lake 2007 from

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Gareth Moore picked up by Tate @ Frieze

It seems lately on this blog I've been heading towards the fame-whoring end of my art interests. And you know what? I can't stop now. I have to note that Vancouver artist Gareth Moore's work was purchased by the big ol' Tate this week at the Frieze art fair. Represented in Canada by Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Moore was repped at Frieze by Berlin dealer Lüttgenmeijer.

The acquisition was made through a Tate collaboration with both Frieze and Outset, a foundation for supporting new art. According to a press release, "78 works by 50 significant international artists have been collected [through this collaboration] since 2003. The selection panel for 2009 consists of Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate; Tate Curators Frances Morris, Jessica Morgan and Ann Gallagher; Hou Hanru, Curator, San Francisco Art Institute and Joanna Mytkowska, Curator, Warsaw Museum of Modern Art."

Other artists acquired this year through this initiative are Alice Channer, Zbigniew Libera, David Maljkovic, Marwan Rechmaoui and Artur Zmijewski.

Image of Moore's Frieze installation, Neither Here Nor There, 2009 described as real estate signs at Art Fag City and as "flags, waving" by the Observer, from Frieze

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Noticed: Steven Shearer Brings the Canuck-ness to W Mag's Art Issue

W Magazine's annual art issue is out, and where last year saw Peter Doig providing the issue's CanCon, this year has Steven Shearer on tap. As the magazine notes:

Vancouver artist Steven Shearer makes collages, paintings and drawings, often using images he finds online as a starting point. His commissioned piece for W brings together crayon-on-paper drawings, his photograph of a painting in progress and a collection of downloaded photographs. Originally meant to serve as reference material, the Internet printouts became worn and splattered with paint. “They’ve been transformed by being in hand and around the studio,” he explains. As is the case with much of what he’s drawn to during his Web trawls, the found images “echo some kind of historical idea of portraiture,” says Shearer, pointing out the similarity between the subjects’ rocker hair and the tresses of Pre-Raphaelite ladies.

I'm not a massive Shearer fan by any means, but I can see the fashion appeal. Hair + prettiness + retro = fashion friendly?

Also worth noting: if Linda Evangelista counts as an artist (?) her modelling for Maurizio Cattelan in the same issue might also up the maple syrup quotient.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

RIP Gerald Ferguson - Obit Roundup

It was some sad news that came down the pipe last week--iconic Halifax painter and NSCAD art instructor Gerald Ferguson passed on. I never took a class with Ferguson in my time at NSCAD, but I did see him around and agree he had a strange curmudgeonly charm, as well as a huge influence over developing painters. He was no angel, and was famously brutish with students who didn't meet his favour, but he was one of those guys for which begrudging respect was most definitely held. Here's a roundup of some of the related coverage and obituaries:

CBC - Conceptual artist Gerald Ferguson dies - some of the comments on this form a really nice tribute.

Halifax Chronicle-Herald - Conceptual pioneer loved Nova Scotia - this provides some more details about Ferguson's everyday life and note his wife passed on in 2008, as well as the fact that he is survived by two children in the New York area.

The Coast - Gerald Ferguson's legacy - Some nice quotes here from NSCAD profs - Gerald Ferguson: 1937-2009 - a reminder of some of Ferguson's breakthrough artworks, and his Diet Coke habit!

NSCAD - President's statement - Pretty much sums up the sentiment of sadness that I'm sure many are experiencing.

My sympathies to the family.

Image of Ferguson from

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fab Photolands: An Interview with Gabor Szilasi

Montreal photographer Gabor Szilasi is well known for his portrayals of Quebec, as well as his poetic black and whites of his Hungarian homeland. My Q&A with Szilasi, conducted on the occasion of a major survey at the National Gallery of Canada, is now up at the National Post website. Here's an excerpt:

Q Tell me about the title of your show, The Eloquence of the Everyday.

A The title actually came from my curator, David Harris. But it really is everyday life and ordinary people who interest me in photography. When someone has a great reputation, like Mick Jagger or Céline Dion, you can't really take a bad picture of them. Also, I enjoy photographing people in the intimacy of their homes, where they don't feel a need to put on an act. This title also reflects my interests in architecture and urban landscapes - I don't look for very spectacular interiors or buildings, just ordinary ones.

Q If the everyday is so eloquent, why can't most of us see it? Or, why is it that we can see it better in a photograph than in real life?

A Photography can have a surreal quality. In it, we're able to reduce the world to an 8-by-10-inch piece of paper. This allows us to really study the image or the subject. Usually when we meet someone, we don't have time to really examine or listen to them. But a photograph permits us to reflect on the person and the objects that surround him or her - all these things describe a personal taste, a culture, even social classes, and that tells a lot about the subject.

What can I say? He's 82 and still rockin' it. Good to know that's a possibility, eh?

Image of Szilasi's Motorcyclists at Lake Balaton 1954 from

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nuit Blanche Reviews Roundup UPDATED

I mentioned in a previous post that one researcher had called for more reviews of Nuit Blanche in the media--ie. not just previews. So I put in my (morning-after disjointed) two cents, and wanted to round up the rest that I could find here:

A Nuit To Remember & Poll - Torontoist

White Out - Eye Weekly

Mixing Art & Reality - National Post

Nuit Blanche: A City Changed
- Spacing Wire

Eat Your Heart Out Toronto-Haters
& Nuit Blanche: Magical Moments Amid the Mayhem - Globe

Minds are Open to Nuit Blanche but Streets Aren't
& From Tower to Toilet Another Bonne Nuit - Toronto Star

Nuit Blanche in Photos - BlogTO

Fastwurms Tarot Pics - Sally & LM

Please let me know of any I've missed. Hopefully this will be the last NB post of 09!

UPDATED - for a couple more...

Artstars* - Nuit Blanche video

Clone Gallery - Chris Le Page

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Monday, October 12, 2009

And On the Other Hand...

On Friday, I posted an interview with Ed Burtynsky, including his take on how he might respond to people in the petro industry who feel worried about his current decade-long project on oil.

Today, I also wanted to note Burtynsky's response to an "on the other hand..." question I posed to him—one that requests his reaction to those who find his work too ambiguous, or not critical enough of the oil industry or other industries. This response didn't make it into the published interview, but here it is:

Q: On the other hand, people who are very conscious of environmental issues might say that you're not critical enough of the oil industry or other industries in your photography. How would you respond?

A: As an artist, I think that the power in a work is often times when the meaning is not fixed. If I go out there and say "this is a critique against the oil industry, period, there's no ifs, ands, or buts..." then, in a way, the work doesn’t have a chance to become a point of departure for a kind of sobering, honest conversation about something that exists in our world.

I call [more critical] work photojournalism and more politically based. Of course, we’re all political beings and there's politics in everything, I’m not kidding myself. But at the same time with I think that the work has this ability to form its meaning differently in different people’s minds. And I’m not necessarily against that. I think if it creates dialogue and it makes people think, from the CEO down to the workers, that's good thing.

Also, I'm not being naïve. I know this thing [the oil sands] is going to proceed. The question now is how is it going to proceed. Will it proceed at status quo? If that happens I think everyone should have a problem with that. It’s not a left or a right issue. It’s a Canadian issue.

Image is Ed Burtynsky's Oil Fields #19, Belridge, California, 2003 (a & b) from Nicholas Metivier Gallery

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Oil and Overarching Visions: Interview with Ed Burtynsky

Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky is on a major roll this fall, with a major travelling show on his decade-long oil project opening at the Corcoran last month, accompanied by a massive book from Steidl and a commercial show in Toronto at dealer Nicholas Metivier Gallery. The man is also up (2nd year running) for the Prix Pictet, a newish prize on photography and the sustainability. The winner for the prize will be announced October 22 in Paris by none other than Kofi Annan.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down the Burtynsky and ask him a bit about this huge petro project that's been keeping him busy for 10 years plus. An edited version of our conversation appears with pics from his portfolio in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q A lot of people in the oil industry likely do feel threatened by your project. What would you say to them in response?

A I've always put my images on a fairly ambiguous platform, because I think it's too simplistic a thing to say "this is good or bad." Many good things come from oil. We have our lifestyles, our homes, almost everything we touch. But I've also always been interested in cause and effect --like, we have this lifestyle so there has to be a void of equivalent size in nature to make up for that.

I think as an artist my role is to put things out there that make us ask questions. Like, do we want workers to complain about air quality in Fort McMurray? Do we as Canadians want to be the world's largest per-capita producers of CO2 pollution? How much do we have invested in the science of doing this properly? I want this artwork to be a point of departure for sobering, honest conversation about something that exists in our world-- something that we've created.

Image of Edward Burtynsky's SOCAR Oil Fields #3, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Wondering About... Owen Kydd at the Vancouver Art Gallery

So... I was both excited and bummed to hear that Owen Kydd would be showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery starting this week. Excited because I really like Kydd's work from what I've seen at his Toronto dealer, Clark & Faria/Monte Clark Gallery, and bummed because there's pretty much no way I'm going to be getting to Vancouver before this show closes January 3, 2010.

Stills from Kydd's video works are viewable at his artist site, but it most certainly isn't remotely the same. Also, I'm unsure about how Kydd's newer work compares to the 2006 work of his that so charmed me, Mission. In that work, Kydd offers steady video shots of people and settings in Mission, BC. Really nice, intimate-feeling stuff.

I'll look forward to reading any reviews or hearing any commentary of how the show actually looks on the ground. And tips on teleportation. Thanks.

Video still from Owen Kydd's Mission 2006 from Monte Clark Gallery

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nuit Blanche Yeahs & Nahs

Went to Nuit Blanche last night. Probably say 8% max of what was going on overall, so you can take all this with a grain of salt. But here we go... for my totally individual and biased... Nuit Blanche Yeahs & Nahs. (If you want a more comprehensive look at what went on, I recommend checking out Torontoist's photos and brief comments posted live during the event. Also please feel free to post your yeahs and nahs in the comments here.)

Nuit Blanche Yeahs

  • Crowds... when happy, interested, inspiring... cannot believe the amount of people who come out for this event. Still incredible.
  • Geoffrey Farmer The Blinking Eyes of Everything - I really only had it in me to line up for one work this year, and that ended up being Geoffrey Farmer's the Blinking Eyes of Everything (45 min - 60 min wait) which chilled out the hyperactive Nuit Blanche crowds with a quiet, hushed environment and the atypical suggestion to look inwards rather than outwards. Basically the church was cleared of pews and outfitted with six whirling flashing light machines. (Brion Gysin inspired) Around each machine about 9 cushions were arrayed for people to sit on and gaze into the strobes. Organ keys intoned. A banner near the altar proclaimed "destroy the word". Calming, community-oriented (in a non-festive way, more cultish but not too), contemplative and critical. Really nice.
  • Tom Dean's Sausage and Fires: Small Mercies - I didn't line up to roast a sausage, but just the scent of burning wood smoke, the sound of old-timey piano music and the sight of hundreds of people wrapped in Dean-provided blankets (labelled "Mercy" in reference, I think, to the small mercies that might get us through big downturns and hardships) was enjoyed by me and was certainly enjoyed by a large public -- also nice that this was dispersed throughout the Liberty Village neighbourhood, making the work feel like a repeating surprise of sorts.
  • Videos on the information/ad screens in the subway -- reminded me that this event was indeed affecting many spaces through Toronto, and used an unexpected space to do so.
  • Nuit Blanche info booths, tap water stations and snack shacks -- this seemed to be the only component of the festival for which large numbers were appropriately planned. And the volunteers... you dudes are amazing.
  • Crowds unexpectedly shouting out and cheering the words at DA Therrien's "Beautiful Light" at City Hall -- again reinforcing the sense of communal experience suggested by Farmer and Dean
  • Jeff Koons Rabbit at Eaton Centre - Just cuz. Mega!

Nuit Blanche Nahs
  • Crowds, when surly, drunk, hollering and toppling over each other
  • Lineups -- had never seen so many stretch on for so long before (30-45+ minutes each). Disappointing. And consequent nah: Better planning needed on crowds front, please.
  • TTC streetcar service on Queen and King -- OK TTC, I hear you on trying to encourage people to go on lesser-used routes like the 509 Exhibition. And I appreciate you running the subway all night in certain sections. But fact is, people on Nuit Blanche are going to expect they can use longstanding routes like the Queen and King cars. Without them shortturning at Yonge or passing them by after waiting for 20 minutes. Also: TTC streetcar driver letting people off at an Exhibition stop for which all exits were closed... what up?
  • Santiago Sierra's "No" - this work contained little of the force of the work for which this guy is known. Maybe if it was installed over a course of many days, or during the daytime, but it really didn't work here. Maybe that was the point, but if it was, it fell flat.
Nuit Blanche Whas? and Ah-Has
  • Discussing the crowding/overpartying problems with my boyfriend on arrival home, he said, humorously, "Well Art, welcome to the jungle! Music [and musicians and music performances] has had to deal with these types of distractions and transportation and presentation problems for years." Ergo... if we build a Lollapalooza-like setting for art, we might have to expect a Lollapalooza-like crowd atmosphere at times--with all the positives and negatives, attractions and turnoffs, that that suggests.
  • At the Venice Biennale, from what I understand, there's also huge lineups, lots of drinking and a party atmosphere. Why might some critics accept crowds, star-chasing and spectacular presentations over there, but not here?
  • Next time, I should stretch more, not be in ownership of a sore knee, and also commit to stay out all night (from what I understand, the crowding problem drops off severely from 4am to 7am)
  • Could we call Nuit Blanche Toronto's Stampede? (Toronto actually has many iterations of a citywide party fest, like Pride, Caribana, etc. But "Toronto's Stampede" is how I described the fest to an Alberta-raised out-of-towner.)
  • It's impossible to see everything in one evening. One solution for next year might be just sticking to one of the three zones, and hanging out there all night seeing all the official and unofficial projects (I totally missed all the independent projects in Queen West, which seemed like they could have been really good.)
  • Some of these projects would be great as longer-term public art works. Iain Baxter's Monopoly with Real Money was not so great as mass spectacle, but as an ongoing video installation/performance by the Toronto Stock Exchange ticker, it could be really great.
  • Overall theme that stuck out for me (could be personal, of course): People wanting something to believe in, something to engage in, something to see and belong to, either inwardly or outwardly. Wanting an epiphany, even if it comes (more from what I've noticed this year) by sensory deprivation and cloistering (esp. evinced in the Centre for Tactical Magic's Witches' Cradle) and returns to poorer, more closed-down, more stripped-down ways.
That's it from me! I look forward to hearing what others thought.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Best Bets for Nuit Blanche #267,899

Oh, I feel for the general media audiences of Toronto right now... being bombarded with Nuit Blanche recommendations from all sides in what seems like all possible newspapers, magazines and blogs. I think in the end it might be more confusing than it is helpful? In any case, I'll keep the faith for the moment and let you know that my best bets for Nuit Blanche are out in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

The economy and its downturn get the focus here, appropriately sited in the financial district. Here are the works worth investing in:

Wild Ride by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan
Bay and King Streets
The stock market rollercoaster comes to life in an offering from witty Winnipeg duo Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan: Two midway rides run free to the public whilst staffed with recently downsized business people. Hold on to your hedge fund/hat!

Sheraton Centre Hotel, Waterfall Garden, 123 Queen St. W.
FASTWURMS, a wacky Wiccan pair from Creemore, reliably create some of the most wonderfully out-there artworks in Canada. Here, they’re aiming for rock-and-roll-styled divination, complete with crystals and tarot cards. If only Bear Stearns had consulted them.

Vodka Pool by Dan Mihaltianu
Commerce Court West, Lobby, 25 King St. W.
Early in his career, Romanian-born Berlin-based Mihaltianu distilled scents into liquor bottles. Now he’s gone large-scale, piling alcohol and other illicit, valuable liquids into intoxicatingly distorted reflecting pools.

Gone Indian by Rebecca Belmore
Streets throughout the Financial District
Vancouver’s Belmore scored a hit at the 2006 Nuit Blanche with her icy tribute to Neil Stonechild. For ’09, she shines a light in a similar direction, reclaiming the financial district for First Nations creditors with drumming, dress and dance.

How to Win the Lottery by Melissa Brown
First Canadian Place, Lower Level, 100 King St. W.
Who wants to win the 6/49? Everyone. Who’s here to tell us how? Brooklyn-based artist-cum-lottery-ticket-financier Melissa Brown. BYO office pool to split the note-taking, all night long.

In that zone, I'd also recommend Iain Baxter's Monopoly with Real Money, especially now that the players list has been released: creative class figurehead Richard Florida, Owen-Pallett-slammed condo mogul Brad Lamb, Art Gallery of Ontario curator (who I criticized the other day) David Moos, supermodel Yasmin Warsame and more. Seriously, this attendees list is just as good as the real-money idea--really ups the stakes. (For a full list of players go to the NB media room and open the press release for September 23)

Readers with a more contemporary-arty bent might also want to check out the top-10-to-tour list I put helped together for my weekly gig at - note that this is where a recommendation for Santiago Sierra turns up... was a bit cautious about directing art newbies in his depressing/dangerous/dire direction but it will definitely be a stop-by for me and other regular gallery-haunters, I think.

Image of Kyohei Sakaguchi prepping his Nuit Blanche installation from the National Post

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Nuit Blanche Point to Ponder: Is Bigger Really Better?

Nuit Blanche is Toronto's most popular contemporary art event/exhibition, clocking almost a million visitors in just 12 hours—-more in sum total than dropped in over past 10 months at both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

In today's National Post, I talk to a couple of people about Nuit Blanche's incredible popularity vis a vis the typical art-audience numbers we see in Toronto, as well as the challenges that might still be faced by the fest--like attracting not just huge numbers of people, but attracting more diverse ones, or trying to maintain quality programming (which some critics might argue is already in the dumps) while dealing with safety, spectacle and crowd control issues.

If you're interested in a more indepth overview of the challenges and opportunities presented by Nuit Blanche in a contemporary-art context, I urge you to read Joseph Banh's essay in the current fall issue of C Magazine. Banh, who spoke to me for this National Post article, wrote his graduate thesis on Nuit Blanche, was an assistant curator for its 2008 event and is also helping to organize a York University Robarts Centre conference on urban festivals.

One of the recommendations that stands out in Banh's article for me is the request for media/journals to do more reviews of the event after the fact, rather than just previews. I'll give it a try here if I can, because I think his point's a good one.

Image of 2008 Nuit Blanche from / courtesy City of Toronto

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Down with Success at Esse

The mid-eighties seem to have been a pretty fertile time for art publications in Canada—this year, C Magazine, Canadian Art and Esse all turn 25, while Border Crossings turns 27. (Fuse is the big bro, around since 1976 - 33 years!)

Of all these, I think Esse has taken the most unexpected approach to its milestone anniversary. Rather than running a theme issue on the subject of "promise," as Canadian Art has, or dropping a quiet acknowledgment in an editorial, like C has, Esse has released a theme issue that is offers explicit b-day buzzkill--"trouble-fête/killjoy".

I gotta say, I'm impressed with Esse's ballsiness. (Plus, seeing the cover did make me chuckle... such a contrast from the usual celebratory hoopla.) Some anglo text from La Societe des arts technologiques elaborates the reason for the theme:

In the context of a crisis that has ramifications in the cultural sector, the desire to celebrate is certainly not as strong. And so, it is under the sign of anti-celebration that esse marks 25 years of activities. The double theme of trouble-fête (party pooper) and killjoy seemed the perfect locus for this kind of event. For this reason esse has invited eleven authors to develop a perspective on the many aspects of celebration—both in its joyous and festive manifestations, and in its darker tones.

Also adhering to this theme/sensibility are esse's new thank-you badges for donors, which read "ça fesse". As esse explains,

The ça fesse slogan has a very ironic double meaning [i.e., a hit or a blow] in the current economical context. Enthused by the vitality of the artistic scene and its practitioners, esse says that Art is a hit—ça fesse! However, the funding of not-for-profit organizations is sometimes submitted to cuts from our governments. The culture cuts is a blow—ça fesse! ... Often humorous, at times irreverent, esse could not resist this friendly pun.

Overall, I just really wanted to salute esse on this anniversary tack they're taking—-even with all the successes the art scene in Canada has experienced, there very much is an ongoing sense of crisis, be it in funding (hel-lo BC), shrinking column-inches/writing venues (though Parachute was an int'l critical fave, it kicked the bucket in '07) or overall precarity.

If you want to help esse celebrate (or anti-celebrate) its cultural coup, do take note of its "party" (whassat?) at Divan Orange in Montreal on October 15 and its fundraising auction at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on November 11.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Megawatt Messaging: Q&A on the Electric Aesthetics of D.A. Therrien

Don't you just love art projects that make you fear for your life? Electricity-obsessed Arizona artist DA Therrien has created a few in his time, like suspending performers in a cage in a high-voltage field, or creating huge jolts of electricity on plates attached to people's chests.

Thankfully for Nuit Blanche viewers, Therrien, who's creating the centerpiece work for Saturday's fest, has mellowed a bit with age. Rather than tempting corporeal disaster, he's tempting verbal mishaps instead, installing a massive lit-up work, "Beautiful Light: Four-Letter Word Machine" at Toronto City Hall. (Therrien installed a similar work in Scottsdale this year, though this iteration will be a bit different.)

Today, the National Post published my condensed Q&A with Therrien. Here's an excerpt:

Q Besides this huge machine, human performers are part of the piece. What will they be doing?

A The performers will see information on a screen and process it physically to create the display text. I wanted to make the process more complex than it needed to be, because that's the way society is, and the way language is. We create complex situations, and that complexity creates error -- but error creates new information. It's like DNA code; our mutations make us what we are.

There's also a part of the work where a computer runs the display, and that part is, of course, perfect. But error is a very important thing in society. We tend to want this safe, perfect society, but that's not the kind of society that leads to invention or creativity. It's the screw-ups and the mistakes that make for some of the most interesting art and science and literature.

Q So you're hoping for some system crashes on Saturday?

A [Laughing.] Yes.

Image from Beautiful Light's January '09 installation in Scottsdale from Nuit Blanche

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