Man, there are more and more art prizes in Canada. I wanted to find out (as much as a brief journalistic treatment might allow) just why that is.
So I spoke to a bunch of people—all of whom had really interesting things to say, though I wasn't able to fit them all into the story—and wrote up a brief item on this in today's Toronto Star.
Here's an excerpt:
At the Sobey Art Award’s 10th-anniversary bash at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art last week, organizers faced a problem: a stage so small that artists, donors and administrators had to take to it in shifts, shoulder to shoulder.
That scene mirrors the way an abundance of art prizes have come to jostle for attention on Canada’s national stage over the past decade.
In the 1990s, we had few national art prizes. Then B.C. artist Takao Tanabe campaigned for the Governor General’s Awards to be extended into the visual arts and the first such awards were distributed in 2000.
Since then, corporations and private foundations have tripled the number of national art prizes, boosting the pot to more than $700,000 in some years (see sidebar.) Several regional awards — like B.C.’s Audain Prize, the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Award and the Prix de Montreal — also emerged during that time.
Many Toronto-connected artists have benefited from this recent prize proliferation.
In May, 86-year-old artist Arnaud Maggs (who died Nov. 17) won the $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award, begun in 2011. In October, Meryl McMaster, a 24-year-old graduate of OCAD University, won our newest national accolade, the $5,000 Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Canadian Artists.
Next week, the winner of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition will be announced at the Power Plant. Many involved already feel like winners: Queen West dealer Erin Stump says she’s received emails from new contacts nationwide about local finalist Vanessa Maltese, whom she represents.
But others express caution about the increasing popularity of art prizes.
Read on for the rest at the Toronto Star. I also want to note the following corrections have been submitted:
There is an error the Star introduced into an image caption of the Sobey ceremony; it stated that the ceremony was in Ottawa. I have requested a correction and have been told it will run.
I have also requested a correction to the sidebar header "New National Arts Prizes" - terminology introduced there ("arts") implies prizes for theatre and dance as well as visual art, genres that the story does not address.
To end this post, here are a few thoughts that I wish I had been able to integrate into the story:
When I spoke with Sophie Hackett, assistant curator of photography at the AGO, she expressed the thought that the growth of awards in Toronto in particular may be related to the fact that since the major cultural building and renovation projects have been completed, donors are looking for other ways to support the art scene. Prizes are another important component of the art ecosystem needed for the scene to have "lift-off."
Hackett also noted, “Governments have dialed back cultural funding... I think that has encouraged individuals and corporations to fill the gap in some ways… they’ve seen an opportunity to make a difference in the cultural life of the country or the city that they’re located in.”
When I spoke with dealer Susan Hobbs, she noted that art prizes are still lagging behind music and literature when it comes to public awareness. She pointed to the Giller Prize's TV broadcast, where a variety of nonspecialists in the literary field/Canadian celebrity types, like Rick Mercer, were involved in talking about the award finalists and making introductions for them. She noted that this doesn't happen in the visual arts in Canada.
I also wasn't able to quote from James F. English's landmark tome The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value, but I wish I had been able to note his observation that any criticism of a prize simply tends to augment its profile. As he puts it, “critique … is itself a fundamental and even in many circumstances, an obligatory part of the game, a recognisable mode of complicitous participation.”
English has also theorized that prizes proliferate because they provide the general public—and journalists like me—with a means of coming to know the arts without having to truly understand them. As he writes, "It is almost as though winning a prize is the only truly newsworthy thing a cultural worker can do, the one thing that really counts in a lifetime of more or less nonassessable, indescribable, or at least unreportable cultural accomplishments. In this context it is the prize, above all else, that defines the artist . . ."
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Man, there are more and more art prizes in Canada. I wanted to find out (as much as a brief journalistic treatment might allow) just why that is.
So I spoke to a bunch of people—all of whom had really interesting things to say, though I wasn't able to fit them all into the story—and wrote up a brief item on this in today's Toronto Star.
Here's an excerpt:
Here is another long and rangy Q&A.
It was mostly a learning conversation for me about an art-related business I was curious about: Heffel Fine Art Auction House. Heffel is a home-grown Canadian operation, and often seems to be a the top of the Canadian art auction market, even with the presence of internationally hefty competitors like Sotheby's.
I was interested in finding out more about how Heffel might have succeeded in this unusual and difficult field. This curiosity was what drove the interview, timed to coincide with Canada's fall auction season—which was kicked off by the Heffel event and its 10th anniversary of opening a Toronto gallery. (The company is based in Vancouver.)
Here's an excerpt:
LS: How did Heffel begin?
DH: Well, my dad was in the steel business. He was a co-founder of Great West Steel, and was also a collector starting in the late 60s and 70s. So Robert and I were very fortunate to grow up with some fantastic paintings—paintings by Emily Carr and Lawren Harris and other members of the Group of Seven. My dad retired quite early out of Great West Steel while still in his 40s. He dabbled in ranching, but then turned his hobby, which was collecting paintings, into his vocation. In 1978, he founded the art gallery in Vancouver. He died young, at 52, in 1987. And that’s when Robert and I took over the gallery business. We didn’t branch into the auction business until 1995.
LS: So how old were you when you took over the gallery?
LS: And your brother?
DH: 22. LS: That’s quite young. There must have been some big learning curves, to say the least.
DH: There were tremendous learning curves. But there was also sort of a fearless, youthful enthusiasm that allowed us to be, I think, quite creative in what we tried to do—without worrying too much about not succeeding. And I think it has been very beneficial for us in the long run.
Read on for the rest at Canadian Art.
Catching up now with some posts on recent articles and such.
I have to say that with some Q&As I have done, I have put a lot of work into editing and condensing. When I have less time to edit and condense, the interviews end up long and rangy, which works for some readers and not for others.
In any case, here is a Q&A from a little while ago, connected to a lecture that my employer, the Canadian Art Foundation, arranged in Toronto. It is more of the long and rangy type, even though it is, of course, edited.
It is with Palais de Tokyo president Jean de Loisy. An excerpt:
Leah Sandals: You have worked in art institutions of various kinds since 1983. What is the most important job of an art museum or art institution, do you think?
Jean de Loisy: The most important job is to escape from the normal paths and to try to understand that the history of art is just one of the ways possible to look at art; outside of that, there are a lot of other things to discover. It’s to always try to be unconventional, to refuse the borders, to try to overpass all the limits of what art “should” be.
Most of the time, we have the idea that the evolution of art is going in one linear direction. In fact, what we have to take care of is all the art that goes in another direction—art that is far more interesting.
After all, most of the art that we are most interested in now was originally considered as being outside of art. When you look at Robert Filliou, first you ask, Is it art or not? When you look at Marcel Duchamp, you ask the same thing: Is it art or not? And so on to today’s most important artists. Art happens outside of the limits of what art is.
So that is the first big job for art institutions.
The second big job is that we have to preserve the direct relation between the public and the art. By this I mean that to try to transmit knowledge of an artwork to the public before they actually encounter it is a limit—it’s not an aperture.
We have to organize the information about an artwork or artist so that when the public visits your museum they can still be surprised and astonished, and so there can still be that kind of “wow” effect. Whether that effect comes from understanding the complexities of the world anew or whether it comes from a physical sensation of the work, that effect is still needed.
I note this because there is a kind of increasing mediation in art museums—this is very good, but only if it doesn’t prevent people from having their own words or experiences about the art.
I think it’s very important to have the possibility of accompaniment and information that goes with the art, but it should never come before the visitor’s actual relation to the art—it should always come after. This balance between mediation of artworks and experience of artworks is probably one of the most complex things to develop and to organize in exhibitions.
You can read on for the rest at Canadian Art.
Friday, November 2, 2012
I am really glad that this biennial initiative of the National Gallery's exists, and I'm glad it was introduced in 2010 following an, oh, 20-year absence of such activity from the NGC and basically elsewhere. Like the gallery, I believe it is a valuable thing to try and provide the public with a picture of where contemporary Canadian art is at every two years.
Granted, the NGC's biennial is a bit funny in that it is based in acquisitions made over the past two years rather than works actually made in the past two years. This tends to muddle/reduce its currency somewhat.
In a review written quickly for Canadian Art's website, I attempted to reflect on these and other issues that the 2012 biennial brought up for me.
You can read the review on Canadian Art's site.
I do look forward to reading other reviews of the exhibition and hearing other commentary as well... though there's still no Rotten Tomatoes for the art world, I feel I sure could use it around exhibitions like this!
(Image of Jim Breukelman's Hot Properties 01 1987/2008 Courtesy of the NGC)
Last week, I met with artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone at Gallery 44 to discuss their latest project, Living in 10 Easy Lessons.
I have been very intrigued by the unusual work that Duvall and Kingstone do in the art realm. In my view, they do attempt to push the boundaries of what art can be or what some folks call "social practice" can be.
I urge readers to check out their respective websites for information about their past works.
In terms of the present work, I found it interesting in the responses it raised for people including the Gallery 44 essayist for this show, cheyanne turions.
This prompted me to do a brief news item about the work for the Toronto Star. Here is an excerpt:
These are job and life skills you won’t find in LinkedIn CVs or professional-development workshops.
But they are the kind of skills highlighted in the new — and controversial — art project “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” by local artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone.
Recently opened at Gallery 44, “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” features videos of 10 street-involved women teaching the artists how to apply false eyebrows, get free drinks and fend off physical attacks, among other skills.
The project also includes posters with slogans that Duvall and Kingstone distilled from their lessons, like “Always put two on, girls” and “Do not be rude.” A free take-home booklet contains notes from all 10 videos.
Street-involved people “are always being taught how to write a resumé and other things that may not help in their particular world,” Kingstone explains in an interview at the gallery. “And they know all this interesting information that no one is asking them about and is not being taught to anybody. It would be nice if we could start recognizing those skills.”
As should already be apparent, this article provides a scratching-the-surface view of the show. You can read on for the rest at the Toronto Star.
I didn't include my own views of the show in the Star, and kept it more "newsy," sort of.
One thing I noticed in my own reactions to the show is I felt the personalities of the women, and the strength of the women, came across best in the videos. Some of the awkwardness or tenseness of the interaction (as well as warmth and friendliness) came across best in that forum too. The videos were the best part of the show for me.
The posters and the booklet I understood the artists wanting to have in a didactic way, but in these text documents I missed seeing the women represent themselves more so than having the artists represent them. In the posters and booklet, the artists have more power over the representation of the women involved, to an extent that I felt the work became weaker and I was also more uncomfortable with the power dynamic.
I do appreciate the gallery, the artists and some commentators (turions and Ken Moffatt) taking time to talk with me. If you are interested in discussing the work, I urge you to attend a panel from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on November 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Co-organized with the Ryerson University Faculty of Community Studies along with the Graduate Program in Social Work, it promises to look at some of the thorny issues that this project raises.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Mostly, we discussed museum strategy stuffs. I had also really wanted to ask him about all the recent announcements of private-collection museums in Canada (like David Mirvish's and Michael Audain's) and what that means for public museum collections. So I did that.
In retrospect, I wish I had asked him about the ongoing concern many in the Toronto art community have that the museum does not reflect the artists here all that well--or in the rest of Ontario, I might add. But I didn't. Sorry! Here's an excerpt of the interview:
Monday, October 22, 2012
The Art Gallery of Ontario launched a joint show of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on Saturday. On the same day, my review of the show was published in the Toronto Star. An excerpt:
Touting churro-spiced lattes in its espresso bar and an expanded Frank Restaurant margarita menu, the Art Gallery of Ontario launches the exhibition “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics & Painting” with great tie-in fanfare today.
Featuring more than 80 works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and more than 60 photographs of them by other artists, the exhibition’s stated aim is to show how their paintings reflect the dramatic story of their lives together and their artistic commitment to the politics of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Mexico.
Frida & Diego contains several not-to-be-missed masterpieces (see sidebar for a few). But I wasn’t convinced that the show succeeds in providing an accurate sense of Frida and Diego’s lives together — or of their politics, either.
The exhibition opens with a large photograph of the couple embracing in San Francisco in 1931, as well as some small portraits and self-portraits.
Next comes Rivera’s early European works — including some Cubist paintings in the style of his Paris-days friend Picasso. Then, there’s a display about the overtly politicized murals and paintings Rivera’s best known for, including one where Kahlo hands out arms to the Mexican people.
From there, Kahlo’s early years and some of her paintings — such as 1932’s A Few Small Nips, her fingerprints visible on the frame — are shown before viewers enter a room where works by both artists hang together.
In many ways, this room’s a must-see, as it’s rare to see Riveras and Kahlos displayed side by side.
However, it’s hard to know what conclusions to draw from this display, as some earlier, less skilled Kahlos are paired with more mature, assured Riveras. Perhaps this is meant to balance the fact that a smaller proportion of Rivera’s career is represented in the show — or the fact that Kahlo’s work tends to surpass Rivera’s in integrating ambiguity and darkness, offering a haunting complexity that’s made her beloved of so many more contemporary viewers. (When they were alive, he was the star, not her.)
For the full review, read on at the Star.
One thing I wish I had underlined in the review in retrospect was the way that the show's dependence on photographs of the artists—which is enriching in many ways—is also part of the difficulty I had with it.
In the end, I felt that the exhibition glossed over the complexity that must have been a huge part of Frida & Diego's relationship. While that complexity is well reflected in Frida's paintings, it is difficult to surmise from photographs of the artists—because betrayal, pain and separation in somebody else's relationship is a near-impossible thing to portray in photographs, unless you happen to be doing it embedded-photojournalism style. And even if you are embedded, say, how do you picture long periods of separation or strife between couples? It's much easier to capture at least a surface level of togetherness in straight photography; much more difficult to capture apartness.
In any case, many interesting works in this show... just wish the storytelling had aimed for more completeness or complexity—not that I think anyone's full sense of relationship or politics can be captured by an outsider decades later, but it would have been nice to aim higher.
(Image: A man takes a photo of a large portrait of 20th century Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the AGO, via the Toronto Star.)
Monday, October 15, 2012
In recently reading Helen Humphreys' 2004 novel Wild Dogs, I came across a passage that I thought expressed, in a really interesting way, the effects of an artwork on one individual.
Here, one character (a non-artist) is commenting on the work of his roommate, Malcolm Dodd.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Earlier this week, I was lucky to speak to Evan Penny about this work on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition "Re Figured."
Today, a related article was published in the Toronto Star. Here's an excerpt:
Double-takes abound at Evan Penny: Re Figured, just opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Penny, a Toronto-based artist, has been making wondrous, hyper-real sculptures of the human form for more than 30 years. Along the way, he’s gained international acclaim for his skill in recreating, with exacting detail, the textures, forms and gestures of the human body. Certainly, it can take a few looks to be sure there aren’t actual people lurking in his silicone-and-human-hair creations.
Also worthy of a double-take, however, given Penny’s aesthetic, technical and critical success, is the fact that Re Figured is only the first AGO solo show for this masterful local.
Re Figured was actually developed by German curator Daniel J. Schreiber, who premiered it at the Kunsthalle Tubingen in June 2011, then toured it to Austria’s Museum der Moderne Salzburg and Italy’s Museo delle Arti Cantanzaro before its final stop here.
Yet Penny, who turns 60 next year, is gracious about his hometown gallery having taken a while to honour his achievements.
“Probably all artists would say it [the recognition] always comes too late, right?” he says, smiling. “But I think, in fact, this is kind of perfect timing.”
For the full story, read on at thestar.com.
(Image of Evan Penny with his work Old Self: Portrait of the Artist as He Will (Not) Be #1, Variation of 4, 2010 © Evan Penny 2012)
Friday, September 14, 2012
Hey! Just wanted to say that I will be emerging from under my vast electronic rock to give a brief talk on Saturday, September 22, as part of the Canadian Art Gallery Hop.
The talk will be at Gallery 44, 401 Richmond Street West, at 1:30 p.m. It will address the work of Else Marie Hagen, whose exhibition at Gallery 44 opens today.
The talk (which is free, like all Gallery Hop day activities) is actually part of an art tour of the Richmond and Spadina area. Here are the details from the Gallery Hop site:
TOUR: 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.; meet at Onsite [at] OCAD University, 230 Richmond St. W.
TALK : 1:30 p.m. at Gallery 44, 120–401 Richmond St. W.
Assistant Curator at Onsite [at] OCAD University Lisa Deanne Smith conducts this tour of Richmond St. W. and Spadina Ave. galleries. At Gallery 44, writer, editor and Canadian Art Managing Online Editor Leah Sandals speaks about Else Marie Hagen’s engagement with the materiality of the image in her exhibition “Det Synlige” (“The Visible”) at Gallery 44.
1. “Letter Rip! Art, Words and Toronto” (Onsite [at] OCAD University, 230 Richmond St. W.)
2a. Else Marie Hagen (Gallery 44, 120–401 Richmond St. W.)
2b. Brian Groombridge (YYZ Artists’ Outlet, 140–401 Richmond St. W.)
2c. Andrée-Anne Dupuis-Bourret (Open Studio, 104–401 Richmond St. W.)
3a. Annie Sakkab (Toronto Image Works, 207–80 Spadina Ave.)
3b. Luther Price (CONTACT Gallery, 310–80 Spadina Ave.)
In the Neighbourhood:
3c. Janet Jones (Katzman Kamen Gallery, 406–80 Spadina Ave.)
3d. Selected gallery artists (Trias Gallery, 403–80 Spadina Ave.)
3e. “New Biology 2” (Moore Gallery, 404–80 Spadina Ave.)
There are 7 other tours and talks programs happening on the 22nd, as well as a free panel at 11 a.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and a free magazine launch at Diaz Contemporary from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (You have to RSVP for the launch by September 17, though, to email@example.com)
Also, *tonight* there is a free conversation between the artist and C Magazine editor Amish Morrell, who wrote the exhibition essay. It's also recommended.
For more information visit the Gallery 44 website and the Gallery Hop Talks & Tours page.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Friday, August 10, 2012
Artist/critic/curator Mark Clintberg is a multitalented guy; he's published research on artist restaurants, installed signage at the Banff Centre, and is working on his PhD at Concordia University.
So I felt lucky to connect with this busy man a few weeks back on the occasion of his installation Behind this lies my true desire for you at at the Art Gallery of Alberta.
Building on past works where Clintberg had used signage and text to address ideas of love and relationship, Behind this lies my true desire for you seems to speak of a kind of longing that museums themselves may have.
A condensed Q&A related to our phone conversation was posted at Canadianart.ca. Here's an excerpt:
LS: Thinking along the lines of passion and desire and your past work, as well as this new project, it came to mind for me that one purpose of an art institution is to encourage admiration or desire or passion for art among viewers. What do you think of that?
MC: Well, I think that’s absolutely true for me. The AGA, which used to be Edmonton Art Gallery, was the first place I learned to love art. I grew up in Stony Plain, about a 45-minute drive from the gallery, and my family used to take me there to see shows from an early age.
I remember seeing a lot of shows there that really fostered a strong love for art. There was a Stan Douglas show that was really meaningful for me as a teenager. I definitely remember an early Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller work there, which, as someone growing up in a small town, really exploded my idea of what art could be on a material level. There was an Attila Richard Lukacs show; it was the first time I had ever heard of an art exhibition with a mature content rating, so that you needed to be a certain age or have a parent’s permission to go. I made sure to see it as soon as I could!
Since I’m also pursuing a PhD in art history, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of considering art from an analytic, thoughtful perspective that is built around proving something or demonstrating an argument that’s purely about reason. I really believe that art institutions are places for reason and for thinking, but they are also places for feeling, too—for passionate feeling.
I think if art institutions are serious about being places that are about inviting publics to engage, then they need to be willing to allow publics to engage on an emotional level, not just on the level of thought or rationality.
Read the full Q&A at Canadianart.ca, and find out more about Mark on his website.
(View of Mark's installation at an artist talk at the Art Gallery of Alberta; photo by the AGA)
Monday, July 30, 2012
today in the Toronto Star I learned that Rita Davies stepped down from her post as executive director of culture at the City of Toronto, and that her last day was July 20.
I don't know Davies, but I did interview her a couple of times and she struck me as an individual who was defnitely passionate about making the city a better place through the arts, and about making the city a better place for artists and creators. She held the position, reports state, for 13 years.
As the Toronto Arts Council ED Claire Hopkinson noted in a related release, Davies helped make possible the founding of Artscape, and by extension Artscape's studio and living spaces for artists. Hopkinson also notes that Davies made great strides on the equity front in terms of arts funding.
Most recently, Davies might be known for providing great support and leadership to the Creative Capital Gains project, a 2011 consultation and reporting endeavour aimed at safeguarding arts funding in a cuts-seeking environment at Toronto City Hall.
The Star reports that it's unclear whether Davies will be replaced.
(Image of Toronto City Hall via the City of Toronto)
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Drew Anderson at FFWD also recently posted a reflection on the bridge as being a consequence of what I'll call "world-class city" anxieties, resulting in a generic, rather than particular, feel to new art and design projects. (These anxieties aren't just for Toronto, ya'll!)
If anyone has other examples of the ways poor planning can hamper promising public art, feel free to post in the comments.
(Image: Nighttime view of Peace Bridge by Skeezix1000 at Wikimedia)
Friday, July 13, 2012
I feel like I'm probably the last person in the world with an interest in museums to have read the Nicholas Serota profile in the July 2 New Yorker. I finally read it today (or in the terminology I like to use here more of late, I fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally read it today) and recommend it.
If you have trouble tracking a copy down, you can find a link to a PDF here at Real Clear Arts.
One thing the story definitely comes back to again and again (as does the Real Clear Arts post) is the spectrum of opinion that exists in the art world about whether museums should be lively, casual, community friendly spaces or not. One of the big arguments against that comes up is that this type of space is not adequately reverential towards the art itself, or doesn't encourage a reverence or deep engagement--that it ultimately distracts from the art.
Personally, I think even in a quiet, reverential environment, many people spend only a few moments looking at most of the art. A reverential environment does not in itself guarantee reverence in the viewer, in my opinion.
Of course, I can be reasonable about this and say that there are limits--that a lot of noise and distraction is not conducive to a very deep art experience either. But if distraction and noise and crowds themselves are verboten to these types of museum critics, why do very respected museums manage to maintain that respect while hosting huge parties, galas and openings? Why do so few critics object to art being a backdrop at those types of experience? Or why is that not such a big deal to them?
I'm going down the rabbit hole of imagined argument a bit here.
To step back and summarize, I have to say I find Serota and Tate's commitment to public access and friendliness inspiring. And I was very impressed to learn in this article that their free collection admission is still maintained with just 40% of its funding coming from the government. By comparison, the National Gallery of Canada has been receiving roughly 80% of its funding from the government, and the permanent collection costs money to see most hours of the week.
I also appreciate that the article/Serota also pointed out that it's not just free admission, but strong exhibitions, that also make a museum popular. And that artists are to be integrated into the process of developing the museum too, or shaping it.
(Image of Tate Modern by Michael Reeve from Wikimedia)
Earlier this month, my interest was piqued when I saw a release from Saskatoon's AKA Gallery stating that artist Kara Uzelman was residing in a small town in Saskatchewan.
I had thought of Uzelman more as a Vancouver- and Berlin-based artist, having seen her work at the Power Plant, Red Bull Projects and Mercer Union here in Toronto and read about a project where she excavated her Vancouver backyard.
Why, I thought, would someone younger and so evidently growing audiences in these art centres be drawn to a town of 450?
Well, this week, Uzelman kindly indulged my curiosity about her move in a phone conversation from her new home in Nokomis, Saskatchewan, where she lives with her partner Jeffrey Allport. We also discussed she and Allport's first collaborative exhibition, which is currently taking place at AKA Gallery.
Some of that conversation ended up in a kind of previewy item at Canadianart.ca, where I work part-time. Here's an excerpt:
“I feel like my work is really somehow based in Canada,” Uzelman says over the phone from her new home. “I didn’t really want to live in Germany permanently, and Vancouver was just getting too expensive to be able to both live and travel.” (By contrast, the house she and Allport purchased cost just $28,000 while remaining in easy driving distance to Regina, Saskatoon and their international airports.)
Uzelman is known for an archaeological approach to her practice—she once dug up the backyard of her Vancouver house—as well as her interest in found materials. She notes that both these tendencies, and her family background and high-school years in Saskatoon, are also part of what made the move a good fit.
“In a foreign country, I just didn’t feel totally comfortable [using found materials] because there’s a whole history and culture there that I’m not intimately aware of. Here, it’s somehow a little more comfortable working that way.”
You can read the rest over at Canadianart.ca--where I also note some of the other contemporary Canadian artists who have been drawn to the frugal pleasures of small-town SK living. Residing in Toronto as I do, I have to say I envy the amount of space they have, which is a factor that likely drives my interest in stories such as these.
Oh, also to add to my envy, they live near North America's oldest designated bird sanctuary, Last Mountain Lake. It's part of the inspiration for the title of their AKA Gallery exhibition, Warblers.
(Image of Uzelman & Allport's Warblers installation @ AKA Gallery by Devon McAdam via Canadianart.ca)
Monday, July 9, 2012
But who looks at the author photo on a given book? And gives it some consideration? Likely most readers.
The current July/August issue of Quill & Quire features an article by yours truly about the tricky, slippery matter of the author photo.
Some exhibitions of late—like Shelley Grimson's show of early Atwood and Ondaatje portraits in Toronto, and Barry Peterson and Blaise Pascal's ongoing travelling exhibition of West-Coast author photos in Vancouver—have demonstrated some of the public's interest in this form of imagery.
At the same time, few publishers are willing to pay anymore for professionally done author photos, even as they recognize their importance in engaging readers and media outlets.
To find out more—and see some unusual author pics—check out that current issue of Quill & Quire, on newsstands and in libraries now.
(It's a good reminder to me, actually to update the photo I use on Twitter and this blog—got some new glasses recently and am sporting a few more gray hairs to boot!)
(Image: Shelly Grimson's circa-1970 portrait of Michael Ondaatje via Torontoist)
Friday, July 6, 2012
So this week, I fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally read Marilynne Robinson's prizewinning 2004 novel Gilead.
Gilead has little, if anything, to do with visual art, but it has some terrific observations in it about reading and writing and their potential roles in people's lives. The book takes the form of a long letter than an elderly reverend is writing to his young son for him to read long after his death, so it's apropos that these kinds of thoughts come up.
Praise for Robinson's eloquent, gemlike writing style has been delivered by the ton already elsewhere, but I have to reiterate it; Robinson manages to condense a lot of wisdom and cogent observations of human life into a relatively slim volume.
I particularly enjoyed the parts where Robinson's narrator discusses reading and writing in relation to solitude and loneliness.
At a presentation for York University grad students a few years ago, I tried, by much slimmer means, to make a related observation about art writing, or arts criticism in general—that beyond providing a service to the readers (telling them whether or not it might be worth their time and energy to go see an exhibition or movie or play, or read a given book or listen to a given album), criticism can be about not being alone with one's observations about an exhibition, movie, play, book or album.
This can, if we extend Robinson's observations below, be true whether one is writing the criticism or reading it. It's obviously not the only impetus behind reading and writing, but it is one I'm glad she acknowledged.
Here are some passages on this topic from the book:
For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn’t writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering that you’re only a little fellow now and when you’re a man you might find these letters of no interest. Or they might never reach you, for any of a number of reasons. Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed. That is to say, I pray for you. And there’s an intimacy in it. That’s the truth.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
I already RT'd this on Twitter, but wanted to call attention on the blog as well. Over at Artsjournal, arts-engagement consultant Doug Borwick has written a brief post about the value of reexamining some basic arts-engagement assumptions: namely, the belief that art need the be-all and end-all of an art institution's focus.
As Borwick writes,
the deification of art removes (or at least distances) it from its role in human experience. And it is that role that is crucial. Isn’t it the power the arts have in our own lives that drew us to the field? In addition, and this is the important part with respect to engagement, focus on the art as opposed to its role in individuals’ lives makes it easier to (unconsciously) ignore the fact that many are not moved by what we do. The art-focused view has the subliminal effect of supporting the “If we build it . . .” mindset. This impedes the potential for community engagement.
(Bolding is the author's.)
Though I really love the way art objects manage to speak directly to various people through space and time, I appreciate the point he is trying to make—that my overvaluing the object in a material sense, we may be downplaying the human experiences around it which give it other kinds of community and individual value.
Read the whole post over at Engaging Matters.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Le Cultural Access Sad: Ontario Science Centre hikes adult admission, becoming most expensive museum to visit in Ontario
Much as I would *not* like to rag upon museums a little bit more on the access front, it behooves me to do so again today.
As of July 1, adult admission at the Ontario Science Centre has been raised from $20 to $22. (HST included.)
Granted, it was the Ontario Government, of which the OSC is an agency, which mandated this change, not the OSC itself. Sadly, however, it gives the OSC the dubious honour of being the most expensive museum to visit in Ontario (as far as I know, feel free to correct me)--a mantle once worn by the ROM, which was $24 for adults to visit until it dropped its prices last fall.
Also, there are no free hours at the OSC to provide community access, though it does participate to a limited extent in the Toronto Public Library's Museum Arts Pass program.
It is especially sad to me that an institution which trumpets "40 Years of Innovation" can't innovate to improve its community access.
(Image of the OSC from its website)
Friday, June 29, 2012
I was happy this week to hear that the National Gallery of Canada would be providing free admission to its permanent collection on Canada Day. I was also glad to hear the Art Gallery of Alberta would be providing free admission to both the collection and temporary exhibitions on July 1. I haven't done much further research on other museums that normally charge admission providing free access on the upcoming holiday, but I can only presume there are others.
Yet, at the same time as I'm glad about these patriotic public-access gestures, I feel some disappointment or disbelief--definitely, at least, some ambivalence. The collection at the NGC belongs to all Canadians every day of the year, so trotting out free access as a one-off holiday "extra" tends, in my view, to reinforce the idea that public access is really not a something the public should expect in the long term. Ditto for Albertans vis a vis the Art Gallery of Alberta's collection.
It is also disappointing to me that our major public art museums in English Canada do not, by and large, even honour the tradition of free museum admission on or around International Museums Day. Montreal has a strong program of this kind, which is no surprise, some might say, given the different ethos and funding situations there. The NGC has also stepped up, offering free admission this year on May 20. But the AGO, the AGA, and the VAG don't seem to take part in this outreach effort, let alone non-art museums like the ROM and the Glenbow. (I could be wrong, and would be happy to be corrected!)
Perhaps this lack of International Museums Day isn't a surprise given that the Canadian Museums Association itself, though giving a nod to the possibility of free admission, suggests that for International Museums Day museums should invite in a local MP rather than the wider public.
I write this post with some trepidation given that it is unpleasant for me personally to focus on such disappointments. To state the obvious, it is not always fun to be a negative voice.
This is especially true when there is a lot to be proud of in the Canadian art community--like the fact that many galleries and museums, public, private or otherwise, do offer the public free access to art every day of the year. I simply continue to feel regret when the institutions charged with growing and maintaining "publicly owned" collections fail to provide the public with adequate free access to them. I also feel disappointed that many of our institutions can't seem to get it together to do at least something along the lines of New York City's Art Museums Day (another Intl Museums Day related event).
I do wish everyone a terrific holiday! I'll be headed to the beach, hopefully.
(Photograph taken by Jared Grove (Phobophile) and posted at Wikimedia)