Monday, July 19, 2010

Reviews: Adaptation, Combine and Craft at Harbourfront

The Harbourfront arts hub is a little less than aesthetically pleasing right now, with a huge area fenced off for redevelopment. While future results (greenery above, parking below) might be pretty, the current construction-zone motif is not. Fortunately, there's pleasing stuff to see indoors, including the Power Plant's summer blockbuster and York Quay's focus on Saskatchewan artists. I briefly reviewed these and another smaller show in this weekend's National Post. An excerpt:

231 Queens Quay W., to Sept. 12

It's a good thing Power Plant admission is free all summer, because it'll take multiple visits to digest the sprawling show Adaptation. It's the last exhibition curated by Helena Reckitt, who recently left the gallery, and of all the large themed group shows Reckitt produced (the ones on social change and emotional life were standouts) it has both the heft of a grand finale and the unfocused, scattershot quality of a last-tasks list. All the works (culled from 21 mostly international artists) deal in some way with interactions between humans and nature. Often there's a viral-video, YouTube-era feel, particularly in the front room that showcases John Bock's Fischli & Weiss-like collabo with a pet rabbit, Cory Arcangel's piano-playing-cat collage and Marcus Coates's Punk'd-worthy shaman shams. Elsewhere, there are more solemn, cryptic takes, such as Allora & Calzadilla's film of post-Katrina Louisiana and Robyn Cumming's admirable "nature-faced" portraits. It's partly this radical divergence in sensibility that makes Adaptation feel like a vast, unbounded (and sometimes uncertain) project. Ultimately, the one work that plays the middle of the field is also most worthwhile -- Javier Tellez's direct, funny and touching film A Letter on the Blind for Those Who See Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See. In it, six blind people encounter an elephant, but we end up seeing how many different kinds of human animal there are in the world. If you're only doing one drop-by, make sure you find Tellez's flick upstairs.

One of the reasons I post this review here is it's one of the few shows we may get a "Rotten Tomatoes" effect with this summer in Toronto. By that I mean several critics have weighed in on it so far, and I've been pleased to see that Tellez's artwork seems to be a highlight for a few of us. Can a Tomatometer for this one be far off?

Image from Javier Tellez's Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See from Accessibleartny

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