Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recommended & Closing Today: Takao Tanabe

A couple of weeks ago, I had planned on reviewing Takao Tanabe's Mira Godard show for the National Post, as well as a couple of other exhibitions in the (let's admit it, fairly hit-and-miss and overtly fusty/unhip) Yorkville galleries area. Because those reviews were pushed back a couple of weeks by the paper (as often happens in the media game) the review came out today, when the show is closing. Nevertheless, it's worth a look this afternoon if you can still make it. Here's my take.

Mira Godard's spotlight on senior Canadian artist Takao Tanabe, which closes today, is a treat. In addition to showing off some of Tanabe's striking abstract paintings of the 1950s and '60s, Godard does a real service to viewers by exhibiting later prints and a couple of more recent landscapes. The results provide a sense of how Tanabe's art has evolved. Small, bold, hard-edged jewels of paintings from the mid-1960s, for instance, have clear connections to the op-arty, mathematically inclined screenprints of the late 1960s. Tanabe's Landscape Fragment paintings of the late 1950s, which riffed on the graphic shapes outlined by rocks and trees, echo in recent woodblock prints of the B.C. coast. There's even a small collage, gifted to the gallery's owner in 1965, that shows off an elemental playfulness that's sometimes overlooked, given Tanabe's usually precise execution. Admittedly, some works here are stronger than others. A few 1950s paintings seem muddy in comparison to clearer, cleaner later works.

Image of Tanabe's Bands 1964 from Mira Godard Gallery

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Fashion, War and Beauty: Q&A with Wangechi Mutu out in today's National Post

Wangechi Mutu's solo show just opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Wednesday, right after Deutsche Bank announced her as its artist of the year for 2010. All in a week's work for Mutu, who is gearing up for a lot of big shows this year (some of her work is at the Guggenheim right now too). In my Q&A with her for the National Post, we got to touch on a some of the small aspects of her large, intense works. Here's an excerpt:

Q Your art is beautiful, but can also be difficult to look at. Why is it important for you to conjure both?

A I think the fact that we can't agree on what is beautiful and ugly is one of the things my work is founded upon. I don't go out of my way to do either one or the other, and I don't see massive divisions between them. It is hard when I ask people what they find beautiful and disturbing in my work, because I don't always agree. I'm like, "You don't find this beautiful? It's beautiful to me." But the discussion of what is beautiful and what is ugly is really deep and visceral. It's also a point of contention, because we often have beauty standards that only work in one direction.


Q You appeared in Vogue magazine last year. What was that like for you, as someone who's cut these magazines apart?

A I don't believe fashion magazines are an all-encapsulating evil. But I do think fashion plays a part in the oppression of women - you see the same kind of person in them all the time, and that's a fiction I was frustrated with because there's women of so many different cultures and sizes and shapes. So I was actually very proud to be photographed as a pregnant artist who is continuing my life with a career and a family. I think it's something a lot of women don't let be known, because for most women it is hard to be taken seriously while having a family.

For those who are interested in finding out more, I recommend reading this long-form interview Mutu did with the amazing Barbara Kruger in Interview mag a couple of years ago. Seeing the show isn't a bad idea either!

(Image of Mutu's Sleeping Heads 4 of 8 from the National Post )

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Today! Free student screening of Yoshitomo Nara film @ Reel Artists

Ample snowfall has cancelled some school buses in southern Ontario today. But I hope some students still make it out to the Yoshitomo Nara film screening at Reel Artists this afternoon. Why? I'm introducing the flick, and found it to be surprisingly sweet and touching as a story. It screens at 2:30pm at the Al Green Theatre. For more information on student ticketing (ID and some advance confirmation is required) visit

Image from the film Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara from Pop Matters

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tonight! Face the Critic at the Drake Hotel

Tonight, two of the most reviled and debated elements in the Toronto art scene come together: art critics and the Drake Hotel. The occasion is an event called "Face the Critic," featuring Andrea Carson, RM Vaughan and myself. (Hat tip to Mia Nielsen at the Drake for organizing it all.)

I'm looking forward to the event, if only to discover what my colleagues have brought as their examples of "most loved" and "most loathed" work. The event kicks off at 7, with everyone welcome and free admission. There's also a bonus: 100 people will get free a free work of art by Nikola Nikola, in keeping with the Drake's weekly Thursday art giveaways. Come on down!

Image of the Drake Hotel by Simon P from Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Out today: Q&A with Eija Liisa Ahtila on Art and Cinema

Finnish artist Eija Liisa Ahtila has won worldwide renown for her experimental approach to cinema. I got to ask her more about it in a phone chat last month on the occasion of her opening a show at the DHC/ART Foundation in Montreal. Today, the National Post published a condensed take on our exchange. Here's an excerpt:

Q You've made some notable films about illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia. Why is it important to you to expose viewers to these mental states?

A Essentially, I'm interested in the world of people who see things and hear things that are "extra" to everyday, ordinary life. What also fascinates me is the idea of the border between who is sane and who is not. Looking at characters with psychosis and schizophrenia also gave me a chance to explore formal structures in film. In their world, I could look at really different possibilities of fictional narrative. I could make characters do things that really don't take place in our ordinary lives -- I could make people fly, for instance.


Q Do you ever still enjoy just going to the cineplex and watching mainstream movies?

A Yes, for sure. There are a lot of good new films out there. But I have to say I tend to like those films that have experimental narratives. I think that many Hollywood films don't really appreciate thinking about humans, and thinking about how we experience life. Well, maybe that's too strong. We all have our own education in watching moving images. Maybe there should just be more different ways of writing and producing drama.

Image still of Ahtila's The House from the National Post

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Public Art Inspiration from LA: Billboards-for-Art Project

Everyone seems to be swooning over a current public art project in Los Angeles that turns billboards over to various artists. And you know what? I'm going to join right in. Given the billboard-tax-for-art and illegal-signs debates ongoing in Toronto, this has some special resonance for Hogtown. The project is coordinated by the Mak Centre for Art and Architecture and features art by Brandon Lattu, Martha Rosler, Kori Newkirk and others. It looks like the project will continue through March.

Tip of the hat to Stanzie Tooth for the suggestion.

Image of Jennifer Bornstein's billboard from the Mak Center

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Artist thoughts on Clement Greenberg: "Clem was full of shit"

Further to a previous post about art vs words, I came across this entertaining passage today. It's from Robert Ayers' interview with painter Lawrence Poons, which Ayres posted on his blog A Sky filled with Shooting Stars in February of last year. Though it seems Poons benefited from critic Clement Greenberg's writings in the 1960s, he makes clear in the exchange below what he thinks of Greenberg's approach.

Q [If] art is never finished, how can we tell whether it’s any good or not?

A The art that we’re talking about is never finished. It can’t be. It isn’t in its nature. When things are finished isn’t a willful thing. Is a Mondrian finished? No. But is a [Fritz] Glarner? Yeah. That’s why a Mondrian’s better. And Mondrian or Glarner, they have no control over this. Beethoven had no control over being that good. Impossible. It wasn’t his fault he was that good. And it wasn’t Pollock’s fault that he was that wonderful. So if somebody says, “Oh, that’s good!” you can’t get a swelled head because you know that if perchance it is any good, that’s almost the way it is – it’s by chance!

Almost every time I come back to one of these new pictures, I almost don’t remember it. It looks different every time. I don’t understand it. Well, I do understand it because I see it, and seeing is understanding when we’re talking about painting. There’s no gap between seeing and understanding.

Q Not everyone believes that, though. A lot of people think that words are very important to understanding painting. Clement Greenberg, for one.

A Clem was full of shit. And why? Because Clem wasn’t a painter, that’s all. Clem tried all kinds of writing. Clem wanted to be a playwright, or a poet, or a novelist, or a short story writer. But he was a writer in search of a subject. He realized that his gift was in language, but he didn’t have a subject that would utilize it without it being all phoneyed up with plots and stuff, which obviously was not his thing. So art became his subject, and then he could write. And it’s his writing that matters – whether he says black is blue or blue is black, it doesn’t matter. It’s how he puts it all together that makes it such a great read! And that’s Greenberg. If it hadn’t have been for his writing then he would have just been somebody else who liked Pollock, and there were a lot of people who liked Pollock. My God, even Pollock’s wife knew he was terrific!

I don't get the "even Pollock's wife" thing, but I find the rest of it interesting...

Archival image of Poons in the studio from Triangle Arts Trust

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Last Chance: Koki Tanaka at YYZ

Even though David Balzer and Terence Dick didn't like Koki Tanaka's show at YYZ, I really, really enjoyed it. Tanaka's playfulness and slight silliness really worked for me. Such a steadfast, elegant approach to lightheartedness is rare. So I just wanted to flag that this weekend is the last chance to check it out--the show closes today, February 20.

Promo image for Tanaka's show from

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Collecting Cultures: Q&A with Helen Gregory

Sometimes I must admit I feel a bit perverse in my story planning. All eyes are on Vancouver and where do I focus an artist interview on? The other end of the country, in St. John's. Ah well. Art does happen everywhere, even (gasp!) during the Olympics.

I have to say I did enjoy my chat with Helen Gregory, a well-regarded Newfoundland artist currently exhibiting at the Rooms in a show curated by award-winning novelist Lisa Moore. Where I thought our conversation would focus on death--Gregory includes a lot of skeleton imagery in her work--it ended up being more about collecting, both personal and institutional. Here's an excerpt from our condensed chat published in today's National Post:

Q [You say you were inspired by 16th-century wunderkammer, or cabinets of curiosity.] What were cabinets of curiosity?

A They were predecessors to the modern museum -- basically accumulations of objects meant to inspire wonder in the viewer. Things were displayed quite crammed together, with the theory that if each object was awe-inspiring individually, the effect would be even more so when things were displayed together.

A lot of these cabinet collections were started by the very wealthy, and they were more about a display of wealth than about education. They weren't divided scientifically -- that came later. A lot of the stuff in my paintings is from natural history collections at the Rooms, the Redpath Museum in Montreal and the Canadian Museum of Nature near Ottawa.

Q But a lot of your paintings conjure death, not just collecting. How do you account for that?

A Well, some of these items, especially in earlier paintings, are from my own collection. In one painting, there's a sparrow skull that still has a ball of feathers attached -- this is something I picked up on a walk, and kept. A lot of people might find it disgusting, but I see the beauty in decay. And I like to collect these types of objects as a result. I used to think about my tendency to collect things as a personal impulse. But in my recent studies -- I'm doing a doctorate right now -- I've been looking at collecting as a global and social impulse, an institutional impulse, too. Granted, some of my images are very personal -- of sentimental souvenirs like dried roses, for example. But I can also recognize that it's a general human impulse to collect.

There's also a nice bit in the interview about a mollusk with body issues and a legendary giant squid.

Image of Helen Gregory's Blue Tanagers courtesy of the artist and the Rooms

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

UPDATED Sighted on Dundas West...

...a slightly creepy, slightly compelling pasteup jobbie. It's also quite tall, maybe 7 feet? Huh. Snap taken by yours truly near Morrow Ave intersection in January.

UPDATE: Simon Cole from Show & Tell Gallery emailed to say this is the work of Dan Bergeron, who is doing a series called "faces of the city" that have so far appeared in Toronto, Paris and London. Thanks Simon!

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Upcoming Sandals-riffic Events: Face the Critic & Reel Artists Film Fest

It's a bit of a slow news day here at Unedit My Heart Central, so I thought I'd highlight a couple of upcoming events that I'll be speaking at:

1) Face the Critic - Drake Hotel - Thursday, February 25 at 7pm
The plan for this panel is for three critics—RM Vaughan, Andrea Carson and I—to show and talk about one work we loathe and one work we love. We will also prove we have faces! I'm looking forward to seeing the other critic's picks and responding to audience questions/comments/faces.

2) Canadian Art Reel Artists Film Festival - Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara - Friday, February 26 at 2:30pm
Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara is one of three free student screenings happening Friday afternoon as part of the Reel Artists Film Festival. I will introduce the flick, where I hope to make the leap beyond my typical experience of Nara's work, ie. fun products on view at Magic Pony.

Serendipitous image of poster from the Bronson Pinchot feature film Mr. Art Critic (yes, you read that right! Bronson Pinchot, Art Critic and Feature Film all in the same cultural reference) from

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thinking About: Nicole DeBrabandere at Alison Smith

You know when you see one piece from an artist previously unknown to you, and you find it so intriguing that you are dead-set to go to their next show and see if the rest delivers?

This is the way I feel about Nicole DeBrabandere, a Toronto-based artist who has a show opening Saturday at Alison Smith Gallery. I saw one of DeBrabandere's smallish ceramic sculptures at Smith's TIAF booth this fall, and I really liked it. That sets up the possibility of potentially really liking (or really not liking, or really feeling indifferent about) a wider span of her work. In any case, I do play to drop by sometime after the show opens. You can find a few more images here and here.

Image of one of DeBrabandere's works Alison Smith Gallery

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not in Vancouver, but Still Lovin' Vancouver Links

The other day, someone emailed me to say, "Hey, looks like you're in Vancouver, hope you're enjoying it!"

Sadly or happily, I am not in Vancouver, just enjoying various net manifestations of it. Here's two items on that theme that caught my eye today.

1) On the sad Vancouver front: Vancouver Olympics one of most challenging ever for journalists from This blog post looks at what happens when media "sponsor" an event--Are they obliged to be positive about it? How do readers think the influence is working? Writes BC Civil Liberties Association Director David Eby,

As ugly as it is out there for a journalist who wants to write critical stories [about the Games], what is less apparent is that the current environment in Vancouver is also bad news for those who want to write an honest to goodness positive story about the Games. Nobody will believe them.

It’s hard to blame the public for being skeptical about anything published by the corporate entities that control all of our local news but also have a major business stake in the Games. Even if, as it often is, the story published is of the highest quality either positive or negative, our journalists have been forced to become the story, and as a result, they have had to give up their cherished observer status.

More than anything, journalists should rue this loss.

One wonders how these types of ethical questions might relate to media sponsoring art events... it ain't a crime, and is far less dramatic, but questions of credibility still often arise for the reader, perhaps?

2) On the happy Vancouver front: If only there were gold medals for pin collecting from the Tacoma News-Tribune. This article offers a fascinating/absurd look into a truly obscure collecting subculture--almost as obscure as art!?--the "pinheads". As staff writer Craig Hill reports,

Today, pin collecting is such a popular part of the games that sells more than 300 types of pins and even a bag designed for carrying them.

Media, sponsors and even activist groups promote their organizations by circulating pins at the games.

In Vancouver, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will distribute a pin depicting the games’ mascot bludgeoning a seal. The group hopes to encourage Olympic organizers to take a stance against Canada’s sealing industry.

The epicenter of pin collecting in Vancouver is a large trading zone packed with licensed sellers and areas where collectors can wheel and deal. Regardless of whether you’re interested in pins, [Tacoma pin collector Greg] Murphy says, it’s worth dropping by to take in the spectacle.

“It is a frenzy,” he said. “You might not expect it if you haven’t seen it before, but it will blow you away.”

Murphy says it’s not uncommon for him to be surrounded by so many people that he can’t move.

“I come out of their sweating like a competitor in the Olympics,” he said.

Pin collectors are easy to spot at the winter games. They typically wear a scarf covered with pins. Murphy puts up to 300 on his.

“It’s so heavy it gives me a headache,” said Murphy’s girlfriend, Cindy Berg.


The hobby isn’t all fun and games. It has a dark side.

“I’ve seen fistfights when a couple people want the same pin,” Murphy said.

He was nearly arrested at the 2004 Summer Games in Greece when he was accused of selling pins without a permit. He’s also had pins stolen off his scarf. Some people deal in counterfeit pins.

A 40-year-old Vancouver trader agreed to talk to The News Tribune only if identified by his online pin-trading handle, Rabbit-Horse.

“There is massive gossip and drama in pin trading,” Rabbit-Horse said. “It’s worse than high school.”

Somehow I think it's the quotes in this story that are gold. Sweat! Fistfights! Worse than high school! Dark sides! Sore necks! Bludgeoned seal activism! Made my day, I tell you. And on top of that, it just makes me happy to think about pin-demonium. I have no clue why.

Image of the official Vancouver 2010 pin album from 2010VanFan

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic Flames: Vid of Isabelle Hayeur's Fire with Fire in Vancouver

Was looking at Vancouver writer Peter Darbyshire's blog this morning and came across this great video of Isabelle Hayeur's Olympic installation, Fire with Fire:

The video was originally posted by Youtuber Kris Krug, and gives a great sense of how the installation works in person (prior to this, I had only seen stills and concept sketches). For more information about the work, which was commissioned by the Olympics but attempts to be critical about its impacts and intentions, visit Hayeur's website.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Online Olympiad - Best and Worst of Vancouver's Digital Culture Offerings

Earlier this week, I noted ways in which some artists were refusing to participate in cultural activities at the Vancouver Olympics.

However, another thing that's also kind of interesting about these Olympics is the way in which arts and culture have been put online for a wider Canadian and international audience to enjoy. (Apparently, it's the first time the Olympics has taken this tack.)

Today, the National Post published a condensed version of my picks and pans for the Games' web-art component. Full reviews are below. Happy clicking! (If only that was an Olympic sport, I'd be a medallist, I tell ya.)

1. Vectorial Elevation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Over the past 15 years, Montreal artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has won international acclaim for his wonderful interactive light installations. But while some of his artworks—like Pulse Front, the heartbeat-driven spotlights that lit up Luminato 2007—rely on bodily interaction, Lozano-Hemmer’s Vancouver Olympics artwork, called Vectorial Elevation, can be programmed by Internet users worldwide. At, everyone is invited to create a design for 20 high-powered spotlights arrayed around English Bay. And every night to February 24th, the site streams video of the spotlights, which shine each design into Vancity’s skies for 8 to 12 seconds. There’s just one snag—the Google Earth plugin needed to submit designs can be tricky. Nonetheless, Vectorial Elevation is a surprisingly lovely thing to view and to think about. As with all of Lozano-Hemmer’s art, individuals can make themselves visible in a different, expansive way, even if only for a few seconds. It’s also cute to see how participants dedicate their designs (“JJ in Vancouver for Theo,” for example) so that the project shines a light not only on individuals, but also on the importance of their relationships—things that loom large in personal life, but not always in public space.

2. CODE Screen
Taking a more traditional approach to the Internet as art venue is CODE Screen. (CODE is short for Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition.) Since it its September launch, CODE Screen has posted slideshow-style exhibitions of contemporary Canadian art every few weeks. Though its intentions—to promote Canadian art to international audiences—are worthy, CODE Screen’s results are often awkward and disappointing. First, the interface for viewing these “shows” (which can be downloaded to one’s desktop) takes some getting used to and never feels quite user-friendly enough. Second, many of these shows seem like mere sketches for bricks-and-mortar exhibitions—with all the art scaled to 1024 pixels (or similar) it can be really hard to understand artworks whose impact depends on physical space, like Kristi Malakoff’s 5-centimetre Fairy Ring and Brandon Vickerd’s 18-metre Northern Satellite. Videos are represented by still images, which only make sense to viewers who’ve seen related screenings. Granted, there are some revelations here—lesser-known works by famous Canuck artists, for instance, or particularly successful sequencing efforts in the exhibits “Group Show,” “Corporatization,” “Test Pattern,” and “When the Night Comes.” But more work is needed to truly rival a real-space gallery experience.

3. HorizonZero: Bridge
Since 2002, the online journal HorizonZero has aimed to explore the changes our digital realm has wrought. Nowadays, in iPhone-besotted 2010, HorizonZero’s take on the idea of “new media” (which is no longer all that new, frankly) can seem a bit quaint. Nonetheless, HorizonZero’s special bridge-themed edition, published in conjunction with the Cultural Olympiad, has some fun surprises. Just ignore the tired, Eraserhead-era drone and click through to Augmented Bridge, Champagne Valentine and Aaron Myers’ playful web project. The setup’s a bit of a hurdle, including some application downloading. But once everything’s installed, you can hold an animated-bridge-cum-virtual-Slinky in your hands, at least via webcam. Not perfect, but nifty. (Bridge Jumping by Mere Phantoms, which provides paper-model blueprints for five iconic Canuck bridges, is less doable and less impressive—but still kinda sweet.)

Concept sketch of Rafael Lozano Hemmer's Vectorial Elevation from

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Billboard-Tax-for-Art Activists Sound Alarm: Councillor Reversals Mean TO Initiative Not in Clear Yet

This week has been a doozy for City Hall politics in the T-dot. Adam Giambrone, a young city hall councillor who is head of the transit commission and was running for mayor, basically crash-and-burned after a former lover took their relationship to the press--and, most importantly, after Giambrone lied to the press about same.

But this post is not about Adam Giambrone. (Though, if you're interested, my views are pretty much summed up by this column by Ed Keenan and this one by Royson James.) What this post is about is another matter at City Hall that has likely flown under the radar this week thanks to the Giambrone-schadenfreunde fest.

In the past few days,, the campaigners who helped push an innovative billboard-tax-for-public-arts idea to approval at city council last year, have put out the call that the fight for this initiative is far from over.

As BeautifulCity explains in a Tuesday email,

The billboard tax for art has been passed at $10.4 million in expected revenue to be fully rolled out in 2011. Approximately $1.8 million has been allotted to policing the new billboard bylaw. This satisfies one of our main objectives in starting and is cause to celebrate. The last key objective is directing the remaining funds to enhancing the public sphere via arts and culture. This is slated to take place during the 2010 budget process. Unfortunately there is strong pressure for Councillors to renege on their commitment due to the perpetual budget crisis, an outdated idea of how to create a successful city and the optics of supporting the arts during potential cuts.

And in an email sent out today, BeautifulCity notes that former supporter Councillor Gord Perks is now challenging the arts funding:

Unfortunately Councillor Gord Perks (Budgeting Committee, Ward 14 Parkdale / High Park) is coming out strong against the billboard tax revenues going to enhancing public spaces with art in the budget process.

This is a serious problem. It is also after he supported the idea in council ( see this video at 2:10 ) and had his staff giving residents the impression that he was in favour of using the funds to enhance public spaces when they were last calling in.

Gord is a great guy and has a history of really good work. We would probably vote for him again despite what we consider to be a critical but changeable lapse in judgment. He honestly thinks he is doing what is best for the community and needs to be respected for that. However, as a member of the Budget Committee he represents all of Toronto and needs to hear from you - especially if he represents you as a resident of ward 14.

As a result, BeautifulCity is asking citizens to contact members of the Toronto City Hall Budget Committee (particularly, but not only) Gord Perks. To find out more on how to do that, visit the BeautifulCity tips page.

Image of Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman's In Sit You at the Toronto Sculpture Garden by FranktheRabbit from Torontoist

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

GaGa for Guido van der Werve - T-dot shows Dutch artist the Love

Guido van der Werve's Toronto show, which opened at Prefix last week, is getting a lotta love (or at least positive attention) with three T-dot reviews published today. Here's an excerpt from mine, published in NOW:

A good nickname for Dutch artist Guido van der Werve might be A Beautiful Mind. Barring that, you could brand him a more cosmic Vito Acconci or a more existential, math-nerdy Buster Keaton.

Whatever moniker sticks, chess, math, classical music, performance, humour and the incomprehensible scale of the cosmos are key themes refracted through van der Werve’s show.

The main work here is a 40-minute film called Nummer Nacht. The first part does a slow pan of a room of chess players. The second shows a man scrambling over beautiful yet desolate landscapes at Mount St. Helens. The third starts with an interior shot, pulling out to survey the San Andreas Fault. One chess game started in the first part continues throughout.

Though the length and slow pace of Nummer Nacht test viewer patience, the film also challenges in enjoyable ways. The classical score, composed by the artist, is romantic and touching. And the data provided – about the number of stars in the universe or number of possible chess games – boggles the mind. If it takes thousands of years to fully explore chess, a relatively intelligible game, how can we ever grasp the complex back-and-forth of the universe?

Also bringing the commentary is David Balzer at Eye Weekly and Bryne McLaughlin at Canadian Art.

Y'know, it's actually kinda exciting to have so many reviews of one show out in the same week—we're still a long ways off of being able to construct a Rotten Tomatoes aggregator for Canadian art shows, but it's a micro-dose that is nice nonetheless.

Also, I think something that can be gleaned from this experience is that—man!—all us art critics really love to locate references in van der Werve's work. To me, he evoked Acconci, to David Balzer he evoked Rodney Graham and Caspar David Friedrich, and to Bryne McLaughlin he evoked Marcel Duchamp and John Cage as well as Friedrich. (In the past, Frieze's Jennifer Higgie also famously posited Friedrich as a reference point.)

Van der Werve is also showing at Luhring Augustine in New York right now... wonder what references they'll find down there?

Image of van der Werve's The Day I Didn't Turn With the World--my fave work in the show--from NOW

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just say Non: Artists Exercise Right of Refusal During Olympics Buildup

Good lord, how much do I like Lucy Pullen's photos of people posing in totally reflective clothing? A lot. Even if some of her installations/sculptures with this stuff have left me nonplussed, the photos continue to be really great, I think.

And so the press image above (2010's Wall Street) easily pulled me in to a description of Pullen's upcoming project at Artspeak in Vancouver, called I Would Prefer Not To. The project, staged during the upcoming Vancouver Olympic winter games, would seem to make a spectacle of refusing to participate (or well, kinda refusing to participate) in the Olympic hoopla. Here's how Artspeak is framing it:

Occurring between February 12 and March 21 (bracketing the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games), Pullen produced blinds for Artspeak. The blinds, made from a reflective fabric that Pullen has explored extensively in past work, will remain drawn for the 38 cumulative days of the Games. During the day, the blinds appear silvery grey, but in the darkness they will reflect light sources (from street lamps, cars, revelers, protesters) with a blinding brilliance. Both exclusionary and interactive, Pullen’s gesture questions meaningful resistance and indifference. The title borrows from Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), an existential tale of isolation and passive resistance in the mid-century Wall Street environment of New York. The gesture to pull the blinds on Artspeak, making it an impenetrable space, calls into question participation in the social, ethical, and economic conundrums surrounding the Games. Pullen’s accompanying text investigates the idea of a blind spot within the spectacle, positing Artspeak in a position of complicated refusal.

I find this project interesting, partly because Pullen is involved and partly because of the shutout factor.

Her project calls to mind another window project happening in the leadup to the Olympics, Ken Lum's I Said No:

I have no idea if Lum's project is intentionally referencing the Olympics, but that's certainly how some will read it.

Also, Pullen and Lum's projects resonate with recent news that Vancouver's poet laureate, Brad Cran, has refused to participate in the opening ceremonies and related cultural activities of the games. As he noted on Vancouver Observer,

As Poet Laureate I was offered time on one of the celebration stages where I would be allowed to read poems that corresponded to themes as provided to me by an Olympic bureaucrat.

One of the themes was “equality” but since VANOC had blown the chance of making these Olympics the first gender inclusive Olympics in history by including a female ski jumping event I didn’t think they would appreciate a reading of the one Olympic poem I had written on equality: “In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No: For the 14 female ski jumpers petitioning to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.”

In fact a reading of this poem would violate a clause in the contracts that Vancouver artists signed in order to participate in the Cultural Olympiad:

"The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC."

I do find this to be an unjust attack on free speech but more importantly it shows that VANOC is misrepresenting Vancouver.

Indeed, though there are some very celebratory art projects that are happening thanks to Olympic money (like Raphael Lozano Hemmer's Vectorial Elevation) I think it will be very, very interesting to see how the next few weeks play out on the ground, both culturally and otherwise.

Oh yes, and one last thing -- all of this also reminds me of seeing Santiago Sierra's No here in Toronto during Nuit Blanche. I didn't enjoy it, actually. I wonder, is it too perversely patriotic (or too Canadian) to say I think Canucks have done negativity at a "world-class" level on this one? In a good-bad way?

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pushing Painting: Q&A with Etienne Zack in today's National Post

Montrealer Etienne Zack's paintings are like crazy eyeball fiestas--there's always a lot going on in them, so much that it can be hard to keep track of. At the same time, Zack has made a name for himself by bringing the dazzle from a display of relatively unremarkable materials—the paints, brushes, models, palettes and other accoutrements of the painting studio. Masking tape ain't never looked so fancy!

With Zack getting his first major museum show this month, I wanted to talk with him about where (the heck!) his paintings came from and where he sees them going. (Turns out the answer is, in part, into sculpture.) Today the National Post published our condensed Q&A. Here's an excerpt:

Q One of your old paintings, Model for Success, seemed to poke fun at art-world status games. How do you see that piece now that you're having your first big museum show -- what some might identify as that kind of status?

A When I made that painting, it seemed like everybody was making art for a certain idea of success. I wanted to talk about that in my own way, to make a structure that speaks to a certain attainable stardom.

It's not that I'm against success --I work really hard, and almost have no choice in doing so. But I also know there's a whole system around art, and a lot of my paintings are about that, too--about art objects and how they are presented in institutions. They're about the systems that aid and diffuse art after it is made and how those affect the value of art.

Image of Zack's Spills in a Safe Environment from the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal

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Colour and Mood Study Brings Science to Aesthetics

There's a big study that's getting a lot of publicity today on colour and mood. It doesn't need any boost from me, but I wanted to note it because of the way it brings scientific perspective to what some might regard as just an aesthetic matter. According to the Daily Mail,

To work out how our moods colour our thoughts, the British researchers created a 'colour wheel' based on the charts used when choosing shades of paint.

They then asked hundreds of men and women, some of whom were depressed, which of the colours they were most drawn to, which was their favourite, and which best represented their mood.

The chart included black and white plus various shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and pink.

Healthy volunteers in a 'normal' mood, usually chose yellow to reflect how they felt but people classed as anxious or depressed were drawn to grey, the journal BMC Medical Research Methodology reports.


Both the depressed and the non-depressed said they were most drawn to yellow.

As for blue, far from associated with sadness, it was voted the favourite colour, regardless of a person’s mood, said Professor Whorwell who worked with researchers from the University of Manchester.

The team believe the chart, which they have called the Manchester Colour Wheel, could be used to help diagnose depression.

This study also makes me think of Pantone's annual "Colour of the Year" designations. In December, the colour co. announced that the hue of 2010 was turquoise, which "Transports Us to an Exciting, Tropical Paradise While Offering a Sense of Protection and Healing in Stressful Times". The way Pantone delves into this stuff--into articulating what colours can mean--is both hilarious and fascinating, I find.

Colour wheel from Tiger Color

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Worth a Look: Dennis Lin @ 47

I already tweeted about this, but I just wanted to post a (bad cellphone) pic from Dennis Lin's current show at 47. Putting old trees in a gallery is nothing new, but there is some really nice execution and use of space here. Overall, I found the piece very calming and contemplative, if a bit butcher-like (the tree is sliced up an hung from metal hooks). Lin is one of the space's co-owners, and here certainly seems to take good advantage of it here. More pics are available on the gallery's website, and the show runs to March 5.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Are the (Janson & Janson-loving) Kids Alright? McMaster Art History Students Protest Closure of Program

When I think of art history, I think of two massive bricks of books behind the counter of the NSCAD Library—good old Janson & Janson. You know, something old, distant, heavy—and that's just my experience, I'll admit.

But this week, a small group of students from McMaster University in Hamilton have tried to remind me (and others) of the ways art history can be vital. This group certainly feels that it is, which is why they're angry and upset at the prospect of their university phasing out its art history major program in favour of a minor, and expanded studio-arts courses.

A letter from the group, which has started an online petition, states:
If phasing out Art History is approved by the Senate, McMaster will be the first University in Ontario, with an established and Fine Art and Art History Department, to reduce the Art History discipline to a minor. This decision will have severe consequences for prospective and current Art History students who will most likely to seek an undergraduate degree in Art History from another University which demonstrates a greater commitment to the arts.

It also notes the cash considerations behind the shift (ie. studio arts is a moneymaker, art-hist not so much):
The decision to phase out the Honours and Joint Honours degree in Art History comes as a shock to us and it is very clear that it is not driven by academic integrity but by financial viability. It is no surprise that the official memo issued by the University fails to deliver any solid reasoning behind the termination of this program. This will be a serious loss for the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) and the Hamilton Art Gallery (AGH), where an upper-year internship course was being test-run in 2008 to provide Art History students, who are interested in seriously pursuing gallery and museum work, with much needed practical experience.

Full text of the student-group letter is after the jump.

The university has also issued its own news release, playing up the new opportunities in studio arts. Here's an excerpt:
The new programs would see the stand-alone art history program phased out, although art history will be a central component of the bachelor of fine arts. Students will also continue to have the option to take a minor in art history and art history faculty will continue to offer courses. All students currently enrolled in art history will be offered all the necessary courses to complete their degrees over the next three years.

The new direction will permit the studio art program to expand in exciting directions, including the hiring of new faculty and additional opportunities to bring together studio artists, art historians and curators from the McMaster Museum of Art.

Overall, I guess I find a few things interesting about this situation.

One is that it's a clear indicator of universities now seeing fine arts studio programs as moneymakers, which many of them didn't in the past. (What I've noted too before this is the desire of art colleges to seek out university accreditation--this seems to spin almost in the opposite direction, with universities and art colleges converging in their offerings.)

Another is, as I alluded to at the top of the post, that I'm actually kind of impressed/startled to see art history students speak out about their passion for the discipline. They also note that "this program has a track record of producing graduates who have attended prestigious international universities and programs including Harvard, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Christie’s to name a few." And that makes me wonder if McMaster is being a bit short-sighted (or not cynical enough, perhaps) about the advantages of offering both art history and studio art. If art history grads go on to be curators and critics, isn't it to the advantage of studio art grads who got to know them "way back when"? Just a thought.

So to sum up--not an issue I'm totally passionate about, but I'm interested in the passion with which these students are representing themselves. Again, if you're interested in finding out more, there's a petition here and the student group's public letter after the jump.

Image of Tom Slaughter's Art History from

Official Memo: New Opportunities or Empty Promises?

An official memo was issued by the Faculty of Humanities on February 3rd 2010 on McMaster’s Daily News. A phasing out of the "stand-alone" Art History Program at McMaster University was proposed. As of today, February 5th 2010, this proposal is still pending approval.

As current students and alumni of the program, we have been “strengthening our commitment” to fully decipher the vague details of the official memo. However, most of us still remain unsuccessful.

The Faculty of Humanities wants to demonstrate their commitment to Fine Arts at the undergraduate and graduate level by proposing a reformatted BFA program and potentially creating a new MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program. As strong supporters of the arts, we encourage and fully support McMaster’s new plans to create new opportunities in BFA and MFA programs but, we insist you keep the Art History Program at McMaster intact and continue to provide additional support.

A minor in Art History is not a sufficient compromise! A minor in the discipline does not meet the admission requirements of the majority of graduate and professional programs in Art, Art History and Design disciplines, and the decision to propose it as an alternative is highly uninformed. Based on statistics from a recent Art History Program Review in 2008-2009, 62% of alumni who participated in the survey had pursued post-graduate studies after McMaster (Art History Review* 2009, p. 80). If the decision to phase the Art History program is finalized, students will no longer be eligible for acceptance into a Master’s of Art History program (among MANY others—never mind a PhD!) since they will lack the basic requirements of an Honours undergraduate degree in Art History. On a side note: this program has a track record of producing graduates who have attended prestigious international universities and programs including Harvard, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Christie’s to name a few.

During the extensive Art History Program Review in 2009, the External Review Committee (four members from diverse concentrations) stated in p. 1 of their report that:

Major strengths of the Art History programme include the quality of the faculty and students and their commitment to creating and sustaining the best possible environment for learning. In this, they meet McMaster University’s mission and vision to “inspire and support a passion for learning” alongside “a commitment to excellence, and to integrity and teamwork.

The panel commended the McMaster Art History Program by stating that:

Indicators of quality for the faculty include their excellent teaching evaluations, high quality research programmes and productivity and dedication to service. Indicators of quality for the students include their successful and timely completion of their degrees, number of awards garnered, success in applying to graduate programmes and success in their chosen employment fields. In all these categories, the students are very successful. The programme should be lauded for the fact that overall enrolments in Art History have significantly increased over the past three years. This, in itself, is evidence of its high quality.
(Art History External Reviewers Report*, 2009, p1)

*Please contact if you would like access to this .pdf report and other recent reports which contain statistics and testimonials about Mac Art History.

Given this reputation, enrolment statistics and positive comments, the decision to phase out the Honours and Joint Honours degree in Art History comes as a shock to us and it is very clear that it is not driven by academic integrity but by financial viability. It is no surprise that the official memo issued by the University fails to deliver any solid reasoning behind the termination of this program. This will be a serious loss for the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) and the Hamilton Art Gallery (AGH), where an upper-year internship course was being test-run in 2008 to provide Art History students, who are interested in seriously pursuing gallery and museum work, with much needed practical experience.

If phasing out Art History is approved by the Senate, McMaster will be the first University in Ontario, with an established and Fine Art and Art History Department, to reduce the Art History discipline to a minor. This decision will have severe consequences for prospective and current Art History students who will most likely to seek an undergraduate degree in Art History from another University which demonstrates a greater commitment to the arts.

We demand to know how this “transformation of programs” will benefit McMaster’s Art History students and how this decision is providing “new opportunities in the arts” for future Art History students. Any quantifiable data that has influenced the administration to put forth this outrageous proposal to phase out the Art History Program, SHOULD and MUST be publicly shared with all students and faculty.

On a personal note: we, as Art History students have devoted a lot of time, money and energy to finance our undergraduate education and we would like more concrete answers as to why our degree in Art History from McMaster University will no longer be considered reputable. We can assure you that SOTA and the Faculty of Humanities are slowly, but surely losing our support.

Yours truly,
Adam Belovari (HBA Art History 2010)
Michael V. Collins (HBA Art History 2013 - Continuing Education)
Laura DiMarco (HBA Art History + Classics minor 2009)
Ashley Gallant (HBA Art History 2009)
Elaine Marion (HBA Art History 2010)
Desirée Valadares (Joint H B.Arts Sc. ArtSci + Art History 2009)

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Readworthy: Art Fag City on Art Gallery of Alberta's Degas "Debates"

Worth a read now or over the weekend--NYCer Paddy Johnson takes on the debate a Floridian has raised about Degas bronzes at Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta. NAFTA, you have worked for art criticism at last!

Image from Art Fag City

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Picture Imperfect: Q&A with Karen Asher out in today's Post

After being introduced to the pics of Winnipeg's Karen Asher by a colleague last month, I thought she'd make a great interview for the National Post's Avenue page. Today, our phone chat was published in condensed form. Here's an excerpt:

Q All your photos are set in Winnipeg, where you live. Though they focus on individuals, do you think your images reflect the city in some way?

A Well, I don't have the money to go off and make a "destination" project. And there's something strange about Winnipeg being so isolated, about having to drive for two days to get to the next big Canadian city. Then the winters are just ridiculously freezing, like -40. So there's a sense of claustrophobia, of seeing the same characters day after day after day.

At the same time, I'm intrigued by the city. Those distinct seasons can make Winnipeg an amazing place to photograph-- the city goes from frozen to balmy in a blink. And I like its strange contradictions --funny and sad, cold but cozy. There's a dark, tough, strange undercurrent that gives the city its character.

Image from Karen Asher's website

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Art versus Words => Art hearts Words. Huh.

So... I'm taking a writing class right now. It's on how to write certain kinds of feature stories, but the textbook had a nice opening quotation that I think applies to art crit as well:

Words are but the images of matter;
and except they have life of reason and invention,
to fall in love with them is all one as to fall in love with a picture.
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book I, IV.3

Increasingly, I think of words as something existing in opposition to the wordless art object, or the art object that is meant to go "beyond words". (Conceptual/post-conceptualist art being the exception that sometimes proves the rule.) But this quotation ties them back together again. Huh. Thanks The Bigger Picture: Elements of Feature Writing! And thanks Francis-Bacon-not-the-painter!

Image from Keith Becker

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Vis-Stim Guilt Trips & Apologia?

"Damn straight, Cookbook Store! Reneging on your unspoken civic/commercial/retail visual-stimulation obligations will not go unnoted!!!"
I like imagining how signs like this get made. Vis-stim guilt--whoda thunk it?

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Monday, February 1, 2010

UPDATED Holy Snafu, Mayer-man! Roxy Paine Public Art Announcement Ignites Canuck-style Controversy in Ottawa

Reader! Have I been under a rock for the past two weeks? I think I must have been because until today I had completely missed (a) the National Gallery's announcement that it will acquire and install a piece of Roxy Paine's art in Ottawa and (b) a couple of snafus relating to same.

Now let me say right off the bat--who does not love the work of Roxy Paine? Well, a lot of Ottawans, apparently. But I can say with honesty that I've enjoyed the Paine works I've seen--primarily earlier sculptures in mushy, squishy, amorphous red in person, and images of big and coolio metal trees in reproduction.

However, it's clear the National Gallery effed up a bit in the process of this one.

First--this may be purely one for the media people, but it is truly bizarre--the National Gallery apparently handed out images of the Paine piece to media and then, after the Ottawa Citizen published the image on its front page and angry web commenting commenced, said the image couldn't be used for publicity anymore. As Citizen reporter David Reevely pointedly put it on his blog,

Update: There used to be an image of the thing at this point in the post. Unbelievably, the massive twerps who run the National Gallery are saying that despite their having given out images of the sculpture they're spending a lot of our money to buy, they didn't actually have the right to, and so they're enforcing a copyright claim that says we can't publicize the image anymore, even though it's been on the front page of the newspaper. Which, you know, makes them look like they're proud of what they're doing and are confident people will like it.
The done thing at this point, if you didn't see one of the 130-some-,000 images we printed and distributed the other day, is to picture the worst thing you can imagine that fits the following description and imagine they're buying that and putting it up downtown. It's actually not that bad, but they're just that dumb.
Hey, National Gallery, or Roxy Paine for that matter: send me an image and I'll replace this text with it. In the meantime, here's a copy of our front page.

Here's that copy of the front page, from Reevely's blog:

Secondly--and this is the part that seems to appeal to a wider audience--the announcement set off hundreds of angry commenters who criticized, variously: the piece; how much it cost; the fact that it is going to be in a historically important location to Canada, but is not created by a Canadian; the fact that art in general sucks, etc. Though this type of response is in some ways to be expected whenever a public gallery forks over big money for a piece of contemporary art, I do think it possible that the way the Gallery approached this installation played a factor. For one, if the piece had been one of Paine's more straightforward tree sculptures, I can bet you dollars to donuts it would have gone over better than a massive "needle" such as is proposed. (Even I feel a bit weird about the needle, Paine-drooler though I be.) Also, though gallery director Marc Mayer did say in an interview that "We've commissioned works by two major Canadian sculptors, one for the front of the museum...this time next year we'll probably have five sculptures, three will be Canadian," it likely would have been wiser to play up those Canuck commissions a bit more.

Anyway, I find all this very interesting, particularly in light of the timing for a recent article by Greg Buium in the Walrus, which posited: "The National Gallery’s acquisition of Voice of Fire created a massive controversy. Could it happen today?" Hm.... I, er, wonder.

More links to info about this issue:
Original front-page news report in Ottawa Citizen
Sidebar on National Gallery sell
Full interview notes with Marc Mayer from Citizen reporter Maria Cook
Anti-sculpture column by Ken Gray
David Reevely's pro-sculpture, anti-publicity-image-pulling post

Oh, and seeing as how that rock may still, in fact, be on top of me, feel free to correct or update links in the comments.

UPDATE (Feb 2)
The National Gallery spokesfolks got in touch with me today to clarify a few points from their side of the story:

  • The image pulled from the Citizen is one that was used in a presentation to the National Capital Commission, who has to approve the Paine project before it goes ahead. Though the gallery refused to give the image out to media, the National Capital Commission did give it out, an "honest mistake" given the image was created by the National Gallery (not Paine) for presentation purposes only.
  • A Citizen photographer was at the gallery recently to take photos of Paine's presentation maquettes, photos which could soon appear on the Citizen's website (these images have the gallery's reproduction okay)
  • The other public art pieces Mayer mentioned in passing -- the ones by Canucks -- were not presented to the National Capital Commission (and not covered in related releases) because they are not planned for NCC land and do not require NCC approval. Still, the gallery is keeping mum on what this new "sculpture garden" effort might look like, as well as which artists, Canadian or otherwise, might be involved until a more extensive announcement in May-ish time.
Keep those cards and letters coming!

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