Friday, July 31, 2009

Recommended: Steve Power, Barbara Hobot, Sarah Millman

Did a bunch of gallery hopping this afternoon. Besides the newly emptied sidewalk garbage bins (yay end of city strike) I enjoyed a few other highlights:

1) Steve Powers at Show & Tell Gallery - Basically, the piece above, "My Other Ride is Vegan" totally made me crack up. "Negotiation is My Religion" in the gallery window is also great. Then I realized looking at his bio that it was Powers who did the Coney Island Waterboarding Thrill Ride last year in NYC. Nice diversity and directness. Also enjoyed co-exhibitor Greg LaMarche's collages of zeros an o's. They reminded me of Kristiina Lahde's zero collages, which, if LaMarche's stuff grabs you, you should totally check out.

2) Barbara Hobot at Peak Gallery - Hobot's leather-and-gold-chain disco ball, called Dyskoteka, caught my eye at Peak's summer group show. Her trio of mystic hoodies was not as strong, but still interesting. Would be great to see more of her work in Toronto.

3) Sarah Gregg Millman @ Mercer Union - Millman's videos, seem to be, in some ways, of women on the verge of a nervous hipster breakdown. And I mean that in a good way. There's a kind of dealing in this work with classic-but-still-contemporary stuff around differences between how one is perceived as a woman--maybe as a waitress, as single, as lower-class, as nothing but an "energetic, outgoing, team player" with nice fingernails--and how one wants to be perceived--perhaps, as one of Millman's titles suggests, someone as revolutionary and brash in attitude as Kanye West. Or someone bearing the magic and preciousness and potential privilege of pregnancy. Or someone who thrashes in the dark seas fearlessly at night before returning to serve french toast to an unsuspecting husband and kids. It's some very human stuff.

Mercer U. co-exhibitor Johanna Billing's video, This is How We Walk on the Moon, is more gentle and understated. But if you can give it some time to wash over you, it is also effective, dealing with how we learn and relearn the things we need to know--in this case, showcasing a group of Scottish musicians, who often sing about the sea but have rarely been on it, as they learn to sail. Both interesting shows on change, whether longed for or unexpected.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Out Today: Q&A on Coming of Age: American Art 1850s to 1950s

As the American president gets ready to sit down with controversy and a coupla beers, I'd hoped to take a look at past self-images of America via "Coming of Age: American Art 1850s to 1950s." This travelling show is having its sole Canadian stop at the Musee national des beaux arts du Quebec right now. Unfortunately, I couldn't get curator Daniel Drouin to bite on any of my Obama/Shepard Fairey convo attempts. (He pleaded "historical curator.") But, as the Q&A published in the National Post shows today, Drouin did riddle me this on some of the show's bad British reviews:

Q When this show was in England, the London Evening Standard's critic called it "too much of a muddled rag-bag to serve anyone's purpose." What's your response?

A This show was presented in a variety of venues: Venice, London, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale. I saw the show in London, and there were no text explanations on the walls of the galleries. But here it's totally different; I created text supports everywhere and we also offer our visitors an audio guide with a deep explanation about all these paintings. It's not the same exhibition that I've seen before.

Image of John Sloan's Sunday, Women Drying their Hair 1912 from the MNABQ

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Birth, Motherhood and Kids

My sister gave birth a couple of days ago. So that's probably why this piece, Ron Mueck's Mother and Child, struck me with particular force when I was editing some photographs at one of my jobs today. It got me thinking about other pieces on birth and motherhood—a pretty inexhaustible genre, rilly. Art Fag City did a great job of surveying baby-related art earlier this year, and I'm sure Regina Hackett has made it the topic of one of her many themed posts at some point. So I'm not going to reinvent the wheel--just mention a few works that come to mind.
Louise Bourgeois's Maman, however sinister, pops into my head:

As does, in that difficult vein, Sally Mann...

and (yikes! and ha! on this pic) Tierney Gearon:

Nicholas Nixon's family pictures are difficult to pull into a blog. Here's a couple, small, but I recommend perusing the assortment available at Fraenkel Gallery's site.

Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document is another inescapable link-to:

Adam Fuss's baby photograms as well:

I know lots is missing here. Any other suggestions for works on this theme are welcome.

Image of Ron Mueck's Mother and Child from the BBC; Image of Sally Mann's Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia from Art21; Gearon image from Mothers of Invention; Image of Nicholas Nixon's Clementine, Cambridge, 1986 and Cambridge, 1985, from Collection Frac Lorraine; Mary Kelly Post Partum Document detail from Xtra; Adam Fuss's Untitled 1994 from Tufts

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where LC and the OC meet PS1 and MOMA?

Having just returned from a conversation with some friends about the can't-look-away-horrors of the TV show Dating in the Dark, I feel no shame whatsoever in saying an exhibition of LC and OC portraits looks like a real must-see. Entitled "With Friends Like These..." the latest show of Karin Bubas's work seems to consist of watercolour-style portraits of reality-show stars from The Hills. (Past series from Bubas have included a look at the drama queens from Dynasty.) The image above is called, appropriately, Lauren Crying, 2009. The show opens TONIGHT at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver and can only (we hope!) soon be coming to other MTV-series-besotted lands. (Thanks to Lorissa Sengara for the tip!)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Enjoying the Old and the New in Ottawa

So I went to Ottawa briefly last week and enjoyed some surprises—some new, many old.

At the National Gallery, I took in the Thomas Nozkowski, Scott McFarland and Nomads exhibitions, as well as the more art historical From Raphael to Caracci show.

It was good for me to see the Nozkowskis in person, but I must note that the gallery only included a very few works from the 1980s, making it difficult to buy this as a survey of the artist's 30-year-plus career.

The best part for me was actually the fact that one exit for the exhibition led to the 20th century Canadian collection galleries, where I wandered about afterwards and took in great works by Gathie Falk, Greg Curnoe, Claude Tousignant and (going a little further back in the chronology) Prudence Heward and FH Varley. It's really the permanent collection that left an impression on me this time around—ok, perhaps thanks in part to Nozkowski quotes around the long-term purpose and magic of art and seeing. In any case the collection looked very good and the galleries seemed well cared for despite renovations of a nearby courtyard. (Also... could we get a Heward survey circulating again sometime? Her work was just rad, very strong, and there's many under-40s like me who would find it an education.)

Scott McFarland was also good in person; I just love the images of people working in gardens and with animals, however altered they might be. Lush and crowded and strange.

Nomads was smaller than I expected but I ended up loving the Gareth Moore despite my trepidation around his "next big thing" reputation. It was his video of spliced travelogue scenes, a contrast to his usual decrepit-seeming objects, that really won me over. In this video, everything is in motion: caterpillars, alligators, bears, trains, airplanes, lights, beer, socks, sinks, water. It's better than I'm making it sound, really, and I hope he shows it again elsewhere. Geoffrey Farmer also lived up to the hype with an unphotographable installation, The Surgeon and the Photographer, where paper and cloth figures really do seem infused with life.

Winning me over extra was a couple of large contemporary pieces on diplay, including the Zilvinas Kempinas "Double O" piece that stood out for me in Madrid (a loan) and a Tony Cragg sculpture, A Place in my Heart, that seemed like aortic pipes sheathed in dice (in the collection).

But the *best* in a strange, quirky way was to be found across the road at the small city-run Karsh-Masson Gallery. The space was showing some Karsh portraits as well as (here's that best part) an old 1950s NFB newsreel discussing "the increasing popularity of photography today." In addition to that campy midcentury announcer and old shots of Parliament Hill, you got to see Karsh in action photographing one of Canada's prime ministers. Hearing him describe his process as being contingent on conversation and sympathy was really illuminating.

When I got home, this show led me to take a closer look at Ottawa's Karsh Festival, an event designed to commemorate the centenary of Karsh's birth. The sad part of the fest from my perspective is that it highlights the total lack of a building (still! after multiple bids and government promises and then cancellations) for the Portrait Gallery of Canada. So rather than having a dedicated venue like that, the festival is spread throughout Ottawa. That's not such a bad thing in itself, and it makes you feel all plucky and resourceful. But the fact that the main exhibition is at the suburban Museum of Science and Technology is very inconvenient and awkward.

Still, I had fun tonight looking through one of the festival's online components—My Karsh, an enhanced Flickr group run by the festival that invites anyone to submit their own pictures taken by Karsh, as well as related stories. (Karsh started out in wedding and portrait photography, and continued to offer discounted rates to Ottawa residents even after he became famous.)

There's a lot of sentiment to be plumbed in this online assortment of 80-some pics and tales: a lot of wartime wedding stories, remembrances of times past, of parents and grandparents who sat for a Karsh picture, of factory work at the time. There's even a tale of a young couple brought together by Karsh's photo studio—all that old romantic stuff. Definitely worth a click-through—just ignore the "Karsh Nut" posting "Are you interested in selling this picture?" at the end of various posts! And remember that Flickr does not a national portrait gallery make!

Prudence Heward image from Movie Time Capsule (?); Scott McFarland image from Monte Clark Gallery; Image of Tony Cragg's A Place in My Heart from Cybermuse; One of the images from the My Karsh Flickr Group;

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut: Light of Hack Hope

For all those of us who write a bit for money—not love nor glory—a hopeful thought or two from Kurt Vonnegut:

Interviewer: You have been a public relations man and an advertising man—

Vonnegut: Oh, I imagine.

Interviewer: Was this painful? I mean—did you feel your talent was being wasted, being crippled?

Vonnegut: No. That's romance—that work of that sort damages a writer's soul. At Iowa, Dick Yates and I used to give a lecture each year on the writer and the free-enterprise system. The students hated it. We would talk about all the hack jobs writers could take in case they found themselves starving to death, or in case they wanted to accumulate enough capital to finance the writing of a book. Since publishers aren't putting money into first novels anymore, and since the magazines have died, and since television isn't buying from young freelancers anymore, and since the foundations only give grants to old poops like me, young writers are going to have to support themselves as shameless hacks. Otherwise, we are soon going to find ourselves without a contemporary literature. There is only one genuinely ghastly thing hack jobs do to writers, and that is to waste their precious time.

From The Paris Review Interviews, Vol 1.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Out today: Q&A with Scott Conarroe

According to news reports, VIA rail is about to strike today, putting thousands of train passengers across the country in limbo (including yours truly). The lineups won't be a pretty picture.

Still, photographer Scott Conarroe's images of railways are decidedly more enjoyable. Today the National Post published my Q&A with Conarroe on his just-opened Toronto show at Stephen Bulger Gallery, the product of many months of criss-crossing North America. Here's an excerpt:

Q You're on the younger side, while railways are a pretty old form of transport. Why did you do a project on them?

A Railways aren't old, they're classic. [Laughs.] I started this project because a lot of my pictures had train tracks in them anyway. So I figured it must be something that I'm interested in exploring.

Then I took a cross-country trip and saw some trestles that had been wrecked in forest fires very close to where the forest fires are right now in Kelowna, B. C. I saw handcart enthusiasts who came from all over the States to Saskatchewan because it has miles of unused railway. They'd put their handcarts on the track and pump along to the next stop while their friends would follow in the RV. I saw the new High Line park in New York City, this starchitect-redesigned railway turned into a park. So it looked like there was all this fascinating stuff going on on top of old railways, and that it could be due for an inventory.

In his writing for the show, Conarroe mentions his dad telling stories of taking tires off his car and riding the rails to barn dances, and his grandad making him a bracelet out of squished copper pennies. That personal connection is discussed a bit further along in the article.

Image of Scott Conarroe's Trailer Park, Wendover, UT 2008 from his website

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Out today: Review of Angelika Hoerle @ the AGO

When I saw the Art Gallery of Ontario's exhibition info earlier this fall and saw a show on an unheard-of "comet of Cologne dada," I was intrigued. Who was this gal? I signed up to review it for NOW. But sadly, as my review published today reports, the result was disappointment. An excerpt:

The show, tantalizingly pitched as a look at “the comet of Cologne Dada,” starts straightforwardly enough. It shows us Angelika Hoerle as a girl, promises to reveal her connections to art and politics in between-the-wars Germany and establish her standing as an early feminist artist.

Unfortunately, the show fails to deliver on these promises.

The first issue is overstatement. Hoerle, sadly, died at 23, far too young to have made an outstanding body of work. A lot of the art displayed is by her Dada colleagues, husband Heinrich included. Also, her pieces feel more like sketches than finished works.

As I try to suggest in my review, I think this show could have worked better if the AGO had included or explained more elements of Hoerle's story in the show -- like the starting off with the fact that Angelika is "our local connection to Cologne dada", because Hoerle's grandneice ended up living in Ontario and donating her archive to the AGO.

It also would have helped to note in the show trajectory the reason Angelika died so young (tuberculosis) and also the fact that her husband left her in part because he was threatened by her growing art practice (this would have gone a long way to supporting the argument, made in the opening wall panels, that Angelika fought against the odds as a woman artist).

I never enjoy giving bad reviews, but the fact is the AGO could have done a lot better in presenting this Angelika archive -- contextualizing both why it's on view in the museum (a homegrown accompaniment to a German touring show on dada) and describing how Angelika's life progressed.

Image of one of Hoerle's drawings from NOW Toronto

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Noticed: The Art of Self-Promotion

When I was out at the Ossington Ave galleries a few weeks back I saw that someone had been heavily involved in self-promotion of late, stencilling their website name over various construction hoardings.

This was the second instance I'd seen of late of a potential artist doing some form of self-promotional "check out my website" postering. (As it turns out, Mr. MatthewStylianouDotCom seems to be more of a commercial photographer than a hipster-gallery seeker, and seems as such to be targeting the nightlife crowd along the strip.)

Still, it got me wondering—is this happening a lot elsewhere? Is this a growing or a fading trend? Not a trend at all? Is it understandable to feel, at the same time, depressed at the extent self can be product, and relieved that this is actually an individual's concern, not a corporate campaign avatar?

Also: much graffiti is already a form of self-promotion, no? Even if it's a cloaked or cryptic form thereof. Could straightforward ad-style stencilling like this be considered graffiti art? What do you think?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Condo Craze fills TO Galleries this Week

Sometimes it seems like various galleries get bit by a conceptual bug at the same time. Such is the case with two Toronto shows right now: Sylvie Bélanger's Des Fleurs Pour Decorer at Birch Libralato and duo Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman's Marmco International at YYZ Artists Outlet. There's even a real-life art-condo project this week to add to the art-life momentum.

In her show, Bélanger actually compiles the work of various artists into a model-suite-like arrangement. Her own videos hang on flatscreens in a pseudo living room. The best part of this show, I think, are the metal-plate signatures that Bélanger creates for each artist, as if each was branding a particular kind of condo layout. The show will be wrapped up with an auction this Thursday, July 23 -- though it's unclear what will be auctioned off. The ersatz business cards? The blank books covered with coffee-table-tome covers?

Borins and Marman, for their part, aim for that partly constructed, heavily signaged feel that condo construction and display-suite sites have. [CLARIFICATION: They intended a mall like effect, but since I live across from a condo construction site, I associated it immediately to condos. Apologies for any misunderstandings.] There's half built walls, open toolkits, hanging celebratory opening banners, the full commerce-in-process effect. They also hang an ersatz realty co. sign in the gallery window, a nice touch.

In an interesting twist, perhaps, local arts nonprofit Artscape has just started to blitz local papers with ads for their new real-life foray into real estate development. Set in the "Boheman Embassy"-ed area of Queen West, the Artscape Triangle Lofts offer "substantially lower monthly carrying costs compared to other new-build loft condominiums in Toronto" to artists. They even offer an "Artscape Mortgage".

Artscape's collision of artist culture and condo craze in Toronto is far from ironic. It's true that artists, like other folks around, need affordable housing. But given artist skepticism to commercialized "culture districts", as exemplified by Bélanger, Borins and Marman, I wonder who will turn up to Artscape's first qualifying info session on Thursday, July 23. No judgment here, just saying the timing is very ripe for real-life meets art-life comparisons.

All images from Sylvie Bélanger's Des Fleurs Pour Décorer from her website

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Stop in the Name of... Neon

I've been slowed down blog-wise and twitter-wise by a computer crash this weekend. How I wish the signals of this sudden stop had been a bit neon-prettier, like these makeshift "No Entry" signs I spied in Toronto's Kensington Market:

When you look up close the sign reads "Oooh sinning driver."

In retrospect I wish this had said "Oooh sinning ye who does not back-up-the-hard-driver." OK. Enough bad puns and self pity. I think there's a more important lesson here:

Of course! Signs work. (I always get the sense semiotics profs elbow each other and guffaw when they pass such a garbage receptacle.) In any case... signs. Yes. That's why I have to make new good behaviour ones for my desk when my computer, blank of all data, returns from the shop. Triple-pointed, triangle-shaped highlighter pen, don't fail me now! (Oh, and, in other words, I hope to be back consistently soon.)

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Out Today: Finding Spirituality in.... Yorkville? Yep.

Earlier this week on Twitter, Toronto critic Marissa Neave alerted me to UK writer Robert Fisk's a dead-on critical review of the Royal Ontario Museum's much-vaunted Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition.

Fisk does well to pull apart the layers of marketing and politics around the show, as well as point out the timid Canadian sensibility that made it all possible. The article is most definitely worth a read. Having seen the show myself, I agree with him, especially on the lack of delivery on "how these artifacts bind together three religions." This theme, as he indicates, is confined to the final room.

In any case, the scrolls show—as well as an unexpected "Save Yorkville" poster campaign for architectural heritage activism—got me thinking about the things we hold sacred, whether it's a book, a building, or being Canuckly accomodating. So for this weekend's gallery column in the National Post, I sought out other shows in the Mink Mile area that might speak to spiritual concerns. Here's an excerpt:

“God is in the details” would seem to be the theme at Kinsman Robinson, with displays of hyper-realist painters Tom Forrestall and Michael French gracing gallery walls. Forrestall, based in Nova Scotia, has a 50-year track record for rendering exquisitely detailed still lifes and landscapes, often in the tricky medium of egg tempera. While earlier works, like 1971’s Burning Field, impress with a rural-Gothic feel, Forrestall’s more recent paintings use webs of twisting threads and isolated placements of striped, shooting arrows to more strongly suggest a process of spiritual searching and connection. For his part, Michael French, a renowned B.C.-born realist now based in Mexico, is represented largely by scenes of water. His oil-on-canvas depictions range from Alberta’s Bow Falls to San Miguel’s cobblestoned vistas. Through it all, French handles elements of light and nature with extreme delicacy. This art isn’t going to revolutionize the world, but it will remind one of the world’s finer aspects. Through summer.

Image of Tom Forrestall's The Entangled Obstacle 2008 from Kinsman Robinson

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Conservative Crush: William Kurelek

Fridays, especially in the summer, are theoretically supposed to be for easy, fun tasks. So today I'm going to give a shout-out to a Canadian artist who I love in an easy, fun way—despite his conservative leanings. That would be good ol' William Kurelek, born in 1927, died 1977, but still loved by many today.

Part of the appeal for Kurelek for me is a mix of nostalgia and brainwashing—when I was a kid we had the book "A Prairie Boy's Winter," which reproduces a variety of Kurelek's paintings on farm life in 1930sish Manitoba, and I pored over that thing hundreds of times.

I also grew up on the prairies, albeit in the cities of Winnipeg and Calgary, so I knew some of those things Kurelek depicted—snowdrifts as tall as a twelve-year-old, skin stuck to metal in -30 weather, sundogs and the like.

So when I look at his paintings today in person—the Art Gallery of Ontario has a really nice room of them—I definitely get that lower-brain-stem pang. (I should head to the Niagara Falls Art Gallery sometime—for some reason they have his archive.)

Another thing I really like about Kurelek's work is his unpretentious portrayal of artistic activity. His work "The Painter" (no image, sorry), shows a massive slice of cloud-dotted prairie sky, a farmer's dirt-strewn field, and then, in the lowest part of the painting, a guy sitting in a modest red car, painting on a small board in the back seat. Sweet!

Also nice is his wide-scope view. In a painting of Toronto's Don Valley as seen from an overpass—it seems like a simple look at highways and apartment buildings, but the verdant strips of green that pop up here and there provide realistic relief. (His 1974 painting of strollers on Toronto's Beaches Boardwalk might also be of interest to urban history enthusiasts.) In some ways, these many-figure paintings are reminiscent of Breughel, one of Kurelek's acknowledged influences.

Some of his works also have a Canadian Norman Rockwell feel, but to me it's never overly saccharine, just a slice of life. One image shows a quarter-side view of someone on an outhouse seat, looking through an aged Eaton catalogue whose pages have been ripped out for use as toilet paper. It's just a picture of country life at a time—or hey, maybe an anticonsumerist screed, take your pick!

What makes Kurelek conservative is partly his painting style and partly his religious views, which were quite Catholic. He has some paintings of the crucifixion and fire-and-brimstone moments which are pretty old-school ideologically. Still, I'm charmed by the fact that he updated the audience at the crucifixion in one painting with prairie-pothole folk in toques and parkas. What can I say? You can take the girl out of Winnipeg, but you can't take the Winnipeg out of the girl.

All works by William Kurelek: Crows leaving for the South, 1974 From Joyner Waddington's; Balsam Avenue After Heavy Snowfall 1972 from; painting of skaters from Great Crested Flycatcher; Children playing in a snowbank, 1971 from Joyner Waddington's; I Triumphed and I Saddened With All Weather, 1970. From Telling Stories

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Out Today: Q&A on Drawn, Canada's Newest Arts Fest

When I went to art school oh so many centuries ago, I wondered.... why does everyone in the school, no matter what program they're in, have to take drawing in their first year?

Then, once I actually took the courses—which can be hard for those who are not natural draw-ers—I did come to understand the old chestnut that drawing helps you see clearly. It also is useful for recording visual ideas. So... there's my conceptual breakthrough.

While I wait for my Nobel Prize on that one to arrive, I was pleased to hear about Drawn, a new Vancouver arts festival that celebrates drawing. It kicks off this weekend and runs to August 8. My Q&A with one of the festival organizers, Robert Kardosh, appears in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q But even if we all draw as children, many of us stop as we get older. Why?

A I guess after a certain age we divide into artists and non-artists. I think as children we're all artists, in a sense, because we all need to begin visualizing and making sense of the world. And the way we can do that immediately is through drawing.

As we grow older, I guess we learn other ways of making sense of the world. Still, there are studies on the importance of drawing and the development of intelligence at an early age--it's a central part of the learning process, as important as learning the alphabet.

Image of BC Binning's Charred Forest 1943 from the Drawn Festival

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Recommended: Alex Fischer & Alina Skyson at O'Born Contemporary

Recently, I went to see O'Born Contemporary's first-anniversary show. Located on one of those many motley stretches of Yonge Street, O'Born space seems, from the signage outside, to have formerly housed a biz more grotty than glamorous.

Since cleaning up the space into a respectable-looking gallery, O'Born is most recognized, at least in the media, for showing and representing the work of Rafael Goldchain. Goldchain's Shermanesque self-portrait series "I am My Family" was published by in book form by Princeton Architectural Press last fall.

This summer, O'Born's group show includes a couple of newish artists whose work I enjoyed.

Alex Fischer is a younger artist working in the space between abstract painting, digital work and abstract photography. The concept seemed a bit dated to me at first, but Fischer pulls it off in his images, which provide many layers and dimensions to look at. Working in one range of hue—namely, grey—is part of what seems to help it function. But it's to Fischer's credit that you can't dissect these images easily—they split apart and integrate quite elegantly at times.

Also showing is young artist Alina Skyson. Skyson's imprints of expired Polaroid film on expired inkjet paper start, like Fischer's prints, with a tenuous, art-history-assignment formulation. But the abstract "prints" that remain are actually kind of nice to look at. In this way, Skyson's work seems a slightly updated version of Alison Rossiter's experiments with expired fiberbase papers, which were shown at Stephen Bulger Gallery in May. I can't grab any of Skyson's images of O'Born's website, but you can find some to look at here.

A work byDavida Kidd and a series by Detroit newcomer Kyohei Abe (who has also worked on an interesting, not-displayed project about "Detroit's Sacred Spaces") round out the show—they're not bad, but Fischer and Skyson were, for now, the most interesting to me.

Both images in this post by Alex Fischer from his website

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Most important artworks of the decade 90% male. Really?

With Jerry Saltz taking on gender disparity at the Museum of Modern Art and (as VoCA reports) the largest-ever exhibition of all-female artists just opened at the Centre Pompidou, it would seem to be a hopeful and progressive time for women in the art world.

Yet this sense of progress is nowhere to be seen in the Toronto Star's "top 10" for artworks of the past decade, which appeared in its Saturday edition.

As I already noted on Twitter, the list that Star critics Murray Whyte, Peter Goddard and Christopher Hume provide is 90% male.

Is this the early 2000s we're living in, or the early 1900s? Even the artists they namedrop as "almost" making it onto their list are male—the usual suspects of Currin, Murakami and Koons. The only lady to make it onto the list was part of a duo: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.

So how would I change the list? Take off dubious picks like Marcel Dzama's Beck album cover, for one. I would also toss Rirkrit Tiravanija's walling-up of the OCAD gallery entrance two years ago—can't say that one really made a global impact. Even the inclusion of Damien Hirst's For the Love of God seems like an unwise pick, one more based in controversy than content. And I'll admit with some tentativeness that Peter Doig I'm a bit iffy on—call it my suspicion of all things Group of Seven-aura-related, or whatevs, but Doig, though incredibly talented, doesn't make my list for top 10 of the decade.

Much more cogent, I might posit, are Mona Hatoum's eerie sculptures or the racially pointed drawings of Laylah Ali. Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust Monument and Untitled Monument are key as well.

The list of possibilities, could, of course, go on. Pippilotti Rist's aggressively lush installations, Sam Taylor-Wood's photography, Elizabeth Peyton's emo-fashion paintings—all of these rival, to my mind, elements of the Star's top ten in terms of global influence. (I know others find Peyton too twee at times, but her influence and connection to the fashion world is undeniable.)

Also, on a broader scale, there are key works missing from non-Euro sources. What about El Anatsui's amazing found-object tapestries? Or Kehinde Wiley's awesome mashups of hip-hop and high-portraiture? Or, on a Canadian level, the reconstructive riffs of Rebecca Belmore and Kent Monkman?

The names I've listed are just a beginning, of course. Essentially, the list the Star presented seemed ill thought-through. But seeing as how it's going to be a lot of readers' main impressions of what's going on in the art world, that lack of thought quite perturbs me.

Am I off here? Who do you think should have been considered or included?

Lead image by Guerilla Girls from Factoria Lunar; next Mona Hatoum's Mobile Home; next Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust Monument; next a work by El Anatsui.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movin' Right Along: Toronto Galleries Shuttered or Shifted So Far [Updated] [& Corrected!]& Corre

This past year has been a big one for gallery closures and changes in Toronto. Blame the recession, poor management, boredom, or a combination of all three. But the fact is Toronto has lost a lot of venues for art in the past little while. Here's the rundown:

Keep Six Contemporary - word on the street is this gallery is closing end of the month following a show by owner Rafi Ghanaghounian and artist Isabelle Mignault. In recent months, Ghanaghounian had tried to keep the space open by partitioning it and renting out different spaces. Past highlights include "EXPLICIT FANTASTIC: sex(y) in contemporary culture" from fall '08, which featured international names like Richard Kern and Junko Mizuno alongside T-dot fabulousites like Allyson Mitchell and Shary Boyle. (Image Tori Nagimoto from Explicit Fantastic)

Katharine Mulherin Projects - Having just celebrated a decade-long run as one of the main dealers on Queen West, Mulherin is setting her sights to the *real* far west—Los Angeles. Staff say she has already opened a space there and will likely sell off one of the three spaces she is involved with in Toronto. Basically Mulherin's gallery has been a launching pad for innumerable Toronto (and emerging Canadian) artists, especially of a younger ilk. She notably picked up the Royal Art Lodge and its members very early on in their careers, and represented Canada at a number of commercial fairs. Other highlights include Eliza Griffiths Davida Nemiroff, and Balint Zsako, as well as artists who moved on to other galleries like Kim Dorland and Shary Boyle.( Image by Drue Langlois from Katharine Mulherin)

Artcore Fabrice Marcolini – Recently left its Distillery-area space with little warning. Their Twitter feed says they're planning to "pioneer" a new area, which I shall believe when I see. Past highlights include giving massive space to both Canadian and international artists, including Rina Bannerjee, Ryan Schneider, Nick & Sheila Pye, Jon Pylypchuk, Ryan McGuinness and many more. (Image by Ryan McGinness from Artcore)

Greener Pastures Gallery [WEBSITE DOWN] -- Gallerist Kineko Ivic scored the coup of the Toronto gallery season last fall when he brought in the first Canadian show of German bad-boy artist Jonathan Meese. But shortly after that show, the gallery closed up. Later, in an Artstars* video, Ivic said he's now dealing out of his home. Again, yet to be seen if this will pan out. (Image by Jonathan Meese from Canadian Art)

Sandra Ainsley Gallery -- Ainsley is *the* glass-art dealer in Toronto, and while that may earn groans from those who hate Chiluly and his ilk, the fact is that she provides a kind of support for both contemporary and crafty artists in this vein. Recent highlights included Matthew Eskuche, who caught my eye at Ainsley's TIAF booth last year and showed in her gallery after that. Ainsley left her Distillery space after eight years tenancy there this spring and showed her most recent exhibition in a loft at Davenport and Dupont. She is currently dealing out of her home -- again, remains to be seen what permanent space may or may not come out of all this. (Image Matthew Eskuche from Canadian Art)

Paul Bright Gallery -- After opening last fall and showing strong work for six months or so--stuff we don't normally see in Toronto, like Misaki Kawai and William Buzzell--Bright closed up shop in June. His site now says the gallery is moving to NYC, but seeing as how Bright himself was "Toronto/Brooklyn-based" to begin with to me this seems like a variation of "I'm dealing outta my house for the moment." Again, remains to be seen. (Image by William Buzzell from Space 1026)

List Gallery -- I was happy to see this small space open in the east end in the winter, partly because artist and owner Svava Juliusson was bringing in some NSCAD-related names like Kristina Lahde and Donna Akrey. But this one has also gone kaput. (Image by Kristiina Lahde from her website.)

Further, Engine Gallery closed its Queen West location, and is now exclusively in the Distillery.

[CORRECTION: Dear reader, I should have well resisted the temptation to "update" on this one. The good Gabby Moser points out that the Hendeles foundation is reopening this fall. Which is good for us all -- and a relief for I did fear it gone, it being closed every time I went by in the past year.... Thanks Gabby!]

[UPDATE: My goodness, I'm ashamed I forgot to mention one of the biggest-name closures of the last 12 months -- the space of the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation. Hendeles is one of the top collectors in North America and arguably the top one in Toronto. (Who else in Canada has had Agnes Varda make a film about them? No one.) In her space, she put on top-notch shows drawn from her collection-- a visit was invariably a "sure thing". There's whispers about that she'll be teaming up with the University of Toronto on a new endeavour in the fall. Still, no matter what she does next, her space will most certainly be missed. The following articles are older but give some indication of her stature: "On the neurological path through Ydessa's museum" by Robert Fulford and "Bears" by John Bentley Mays.]

In terms of other changes, maverick artist-run centre Mercer Union relocated, as did small commercial gallery Brayham Contemporary (that's in her house, but I believe it because she has public viewing hours and I've actually seen it!).

On the plus side, I should note that other galleries have opened recently, like Julie M, Tinku, Meta, Switch and Barbershop and others.

I suspect running a gallery is hard—I could certainly never do it. But it does worry me to see so many closures, mainly because it means less venues for art. Hopefully in the end they are just "downsizings"--but only time will tell.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Out today: Q&A with Thomas Nozkowski in National Post

A funny thing happened on the way to the National Gallery of Canada—for Marc Mayer, at least. When he was heading the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Mayer rhapsodized over the museum's upcoming survey exhibition of American painter Thomas Nozkowski.

Then, Mayer was named director of the National Gallery of Canada—and the Nozkowski show magically came with him.

In any case, after talking with Nozkowski over the phone about the national gallery show, which opened last month, I can see why Mayer wanted to keep this one for himself. The guy's really good at talking about and thinking through his practice, something a lot of artists are not so good at. Today our condensed conversation can be found in the National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q Have you taught throughout your career?

A I've only been teaching the past seven or eight years. I supported myself for many years by working in publishing. I probably designed every sleazy book you ever saw! When my wife and I got out of art school, we said we would only work at day jobs three days a week, even if it meant eating beans.

I think the real trick in art is to love the thing itself, not the things that come from it. That's what will sustain you. If the art world gives you a great gallery it can take that away, and money too.

Image from

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Toronto Outdoor Art Show Picks

The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition—one of Canada's largest open-air art fairs—opens tomorrow morning at 10:30am and runs all weekend. The offerings can be hit and miss, but increasingly there's a a surprisingly large number of emerging and established contemporary artists participating. Here's a few worth checking out:

Julie Moon - jaw-dropping pop ceramics, always worth taking a look

Eamon MacMahon – photographer with credits in W Magazine, the New Yorker, and New York Magazine; known for contemporary looks at landscape

James Olley - a well received younger painter of suburbia in the neon-inflected tradition of Kim Dorland

Wendy Walgate - prolific ceramics artist who turns mass production into manic sculpture/installation

Scott Everingham - darkly deconstructed contemporary paintings

Leanne Eisen - emerging photo-based artist with a smart body of work on sex-trade settings

Alex Kisilevich – witty/melancholy performance photography

Annie Tung – poignant objects and sculptures, like Braille-encrusted silver spoons

Brad Turner – award-winning glass art

Genevieve Jodouin – up and coming Toronto printmaker specializing in hipster romance

Min Hyung - well-reviewed just-graduated Toronto painter

Talia Shipman - gained attention recently for black-and-white portrayals of the ten plagues of exodus; here showing colour work

All images from artist websites except for Eamon MacMahon (via TBP Design) and Talia Shipman (via Sweet Station)

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