Monday, August 31, 2009

Tonight! Dandyhorse Launch

The fine folks at Dandyhorse magazine are having their third issue launch tonight at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. This new edition focuses on connections between music and bicycles, and includes my interview with Evalyn Parry, a singer-songwriter and most recently the developer of a musical play about women, marketing and bikes.

Appropriately, both music and bikes will be in great evidence at the launch via a Bike Art Dance Party. Also showing will be original bike art by Elicser, Marlena Zuber, Janet Attard, and Chimo Chan and Darren O'Donnell.

Admission is $10 for general public, $5 for subscribers.There will also be a vintage kid's bike for raffle and smokin' cycling wear for sale from the Deadly Nightshades. Wish I was in town to catch it all, but I'm much looking forward to seeing the party pics.

Stencil art by Janet Attard from Stencil Archive

Read More......

Friday, August 28, 2009

Out Now: Harbourfront Gallery Hop

My gallery hop for this weekend's National Post took me to Harbourfront Centre, where amidst debate in Toronto about the need/quality of aboriginal art shows, the galleries offer a great selection of First Nations exhibitions--ones largely overlooked amidst all the hubbub. Here's an excerpt:

Alternation, Main Gallery
York Quay Centre, 235 Queens Quay W.
Organized by prolific Mohawk curator Ryan Rice, Alternation gathers work by six artists who address First Nations experience in unexpected, and often open-ended, ways. Inuit and Canadian artist Mark Igloliorte, for example, constructed a sculpture that is part snowboard-park half-pipe and part cultural-heritage mural. Then, he videotaped himself snowboarding on the structure, trying to master its metal rail again and again. The main idea—that cultural identity is more a process than a proclamation—is playfully delivered here. Also adept is Calgary artist Terrance Houle’s contemporary redo of Many Snake Woman, a painting by turn-of-the-century German artist Winhold Reiss. In his video, Houle directs his mother, grandmother, sister and daughter in holding the same pose and gaze as the woman in Reiss’s painting, eerily suggesting the ways that individual identities can get transformed by art into blank, one-dimensional icons. Elsewhere, Tom Jones offers a different investigation of cultural-heritage question marks in compelling photographs of non-native weekend warriors dressed up to “play Indian.” To Sept. 20.

At Alternation, I also quite enjoyed minimalist prints by Jewel Shaw and prints by George Littlechild, one of which is seen above.

Also, if you're heading down to Harbourfront for these, be advised that Universal Code at the Power Plant closes on Sunday.

Read More......

Duly Noted: Canada's Art Biases

Sometimes it's hard to put one's finger on regional/national art trends when one's living in the thick of same. So I've been wanting to post the following, rather astute, observations from Windsor Biennial curator Lee Rodney for some time now. For me, they really helped peg the standard-bearing idiom in the Canadian scene right now... post-conceptualism.

Here, an interview with Bryne McLaughlin from, Rodney elaborates:

Detroit is an exceptionally difficult place to read as an outsider and it has taken me the better part of five years to piece together and comprehend the city’s aesthetic tendencies. Conceptualism had no lasting impact and a lot of work is made up from the material history of the region—thus assemblage has become a dominant trend. When you start to understand the history of the region, it makes sense that artists working in the last four decades probably had no time for the abstractions of conceptualism. I can think of no parallel in Canada and I think both external jurors (David Diviney and Mathieu Beauséjour) were a bit perplexed by many of the submissions which seemed like a bad hangover from Abstract Expressionism: Joseph Cornell meets Jackson Pollock.

On the other hand, post-conceptualism is the dominant idiom in contemporary Canadian art and Iain Baxter& has had a major impact on pretty much everyone living and working in Windsor. The two cities are pretty disjointed in this respect and it’s impossible to suggest that there is a common regional approach of any kind. One of the aims of the Windsor Biennial is to get more dialogue going between the two cities. In the future it might be interesting to broaden the scope in terms of the region the Windsor Biennial could represent. Windsor has much in common with cities in the Rust Belt and the economic and cultural issues facing places like Cleveland or Buffalo are very similar. Hamilton is also interesting in this framework even though it is very close to the Greater Toronto Area.

Image of the "bias circle" from the University of Otago

Read More......

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Art of Politics, Non-Shepard Fairey Style

Often in my interviews with curators of politically themed shows, I end up asking "Do you really think art can affect politics? How?"

My line of thinking is that even if I have my own varying opinions on the matter (politics being both a personal and an institutionalized affair) I'm always interested in how others rationalize or envision this connection between, say, sculptures and statecraft.

Here in Newfoundland, where I'm spending my P/T vacay, a particular case of art meeting politics is generating a lot of mainstream discussion. A well-known local artist/photographer, Sheilagh O'Leary, has decided to run for St. John's city council.

In other words, an election is happening and what O'Leary has decided is not to make a poster about it. Not make a piece of conceptual art about it. Not to create a spectacle at a rally. But actually run for it--again, to be clear, not as an art project or lost cause, as has happened in various Canadian cities in the past with other artists, but for reals.

Such a level of italicization/word emphasis might seem excessive to some, but O'Leary's quite real and untheorized bridging of the art/politics boundary gives me pause.

In part, it prompts me to reflect that in smaller communities, identities and roles tend to be less segmented than in larger communities, where role stratification occurs--in larger cities you have your artists and your politicians, your no-frills supermarkets and your luxury grocery stores. But in smaller communities, single entities take on more roles; artists, in this case, attempt political office, and a single grocery chain manages to serve the needs of most consumers.

On a less warm and fuzzy note, I can imagine some people from the big city simply saying "well, if someone doesn't have the mad skills to cut it as a full-time artist, they might well find a different career, politics included." So that's another way of interpreting the situation.

I recognize this as an elliptical, very vacay-ey stream of thought, but I am interested in any related thoughts people might have, particularly about the way geography affects artists and their roles.

And I wish O'Leary well in her campaign too. As she put it in an interview last year,

It’s a leap of faith. Why would somebody like myself, who’s been working in the arts realm take that leap? Well, who else is going to? Who’s going to take the chance and try to effect some changes at city hall? We’ve seen the same faces for the past several years, and it’s time for somebody younger, a woman—let’s get some gender equality going at the city—and let’s get somebody with some fresh ideas in there. I have no big political agenda. I’m not interested in working my way up to mayor or being the premier of the province. I just want to get on council so I can represent people who want some change.

And that's as good an answer as I've heard, for now.

Image of St. John's City Hall from CareerBeacon

Read More......

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recommended: Sally McKay on Aboriginal Art Shows Panel

The aboriginal art panel that I flagged last week happened on Sunday, and I was worried initially that without some kind of blog notation it might disappear into the ether. (Also, then I wouldn't be able to find out what happened from my perch out here in St. John's, goddammit!) Luckily, Sally McKay has written an extensive post summarizing the panel discussion and her astute views on it. Recommended reading for sure, with a bunch of comments to boot.

Read More......

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are Suburbs the New Downtown? Spacing Launch Weighs In Tonight!

There's a bunch of great art stuff happening in the Toronto suburbs these days--from Alex Metcalf's tree-listening installations at Oakville Galleries to the Leona Drive Project, which takes over 5 empty suburban houses as art installation spaces. Appropriately, the next issue of Spacing, launching tonight at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, takes a look at the suburbs--both their promise and their problems. Also along for the ride are the regular Spacing features and profiles, including my review of the new book Public Art in Canada. Here's more info about the issue and launch:

DATE: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
LOCATION: Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West
COST: $10, includes a magazine. $5 for subscribers
TIME: 7:30pm to 1am
RSVP: Please visit Spacing's Facebook listing to rsvp

The issue’s cover section focuses on Toronto’s suburbs. The city faces its greatest challenges and opportunities in these areas. Spacing senior editor Dylan Reid presents compelling examples of how the suburbs can evolve instead of trying to be reinvented. Spacing’s other senior editor, Shawn Micallef, examines the walkable community of Dorset Park in Scarborough. Our writers explore such things as plans for a downtown Mississauga, environmentalists in Markham, urban farming in subdivisions, the makeover of downtown North York, Burlington’s successful waterfront, and how youth are being engaged to shape the future of their suburban communities

Read More......

Out today: Q&A on Expanding Horizons

I'm still out on the east coast of the east coast today, and I must say that I'm really enjoying some spectacular land-and-sea views--almost, as they like to say, pretty as a picture. Out today in the National Post is a different type of take on beautiful views: my Q&A with Hilliard Goldfarb, curator of "Expanding Horizons", the first-ever survey of both US and Canadian landscape painting. The show has been on this summer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and continues there to September 27. Then, on October 17, the show opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Here's an excerpt from our chat:

Q In most of these paintings, Canadian or American, nature is pretty idealized -- there's little seen of blackflies or bear encounters. How do you resolve that?

A I did include some storm images. And I also tried to emphasize that the rigors these painters had to go through were at times horrific -- as well as, in some ways, humorous. In one letter home, John Singer Sargent complained bitterly about porcupines eating his boots, flies, the constant misery of the rain, canned food fried in a pan and waterfalls "pounding and thundering all night." So that experience is documented, even if it's not in his paintings.

Image of John Singer Sargent's Yoho Falls from the MMFA

Read More......

Monday, August 24, 2009

EnRoute: Toronto Performance Art Overview in Switch

One of the anticipated highlights of this upcoming fall season for Toronto art lovers promises to be Candice Breitz at the Power Plant. In keeping with Breitz's incisiveness with performance forms (both those of celebrities and her own) the Power Plant is focusing its latest edition of Switch Magazine on performance art of various kinds. For it, I contributed a brief (admittedly laundry-list-like) overview of some of the main artists doing performance-related work in Toronto right now. Names range from Swintak and Diane Borsato to Life of a Craphead and Will Kwan. Admittedly, many names were left out for brevity. In any case, the mag should soon be available at the Power Plant--let me know who you think should have also made the list!

Image of Double Double Land Land, a performance by Life of a Craphead, from its website

Read More......

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recommended: Craig Francis Power's 25 Best NL Artworks

So I'm in Newfoundland now, and, mainlander that I am, I'm happy to be here but am a bit weak on the local knowledge. Thanks goes, then, to the most recent issue of St John's alt-paper the Scope and its feature article, "The 25 Greatest Works of Art Ever Made in Newfoundland and Labrador." Written by artist Craig Francis Power, there's a strong, interesting selection here--it ain't just the Pratts, dontcha know... wonderful though they are. Darn well worth a read, b'y.

Image of a detail from Marlene Creates' Water Flowing To the Sea via The Scope

Read More......

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Out today: Q&A on Speed Limits

In a visit to Montreal earlier this year, I really enjoyed the exhibition Speed Limits at the Canadian Centre for Architecture—this place has a knack for addressing megatrends in succinct, entertaining ways. Today the National Post published a brief version of a Q&A I did with exhibition curator Jeffrey Schnapp of the Stanford Humanities Lab.

I'm posting a longer version of the Schnapp interview text here, which continues after the jump. FYI for American readers (or Canadian snowbirds) the show is co-presented by the Wolfsonian in Miami Beach, and will show there in fall 2010.

This past spring, a couple of American scientists said they’d figured out how to travel at warp speed. Now the Montreal exhibition “Speed Limits” suggests that our everyday life is approaching same—at least from the point of view of our ancestors. Curator Jeffrey Schnapp gives Leah Sandals a quick overview.

Q Your exhibition on speed in modern life was inspired in part by ancient literature. How so?

A One of the points the show tries to make, even though it’s focused on the industrial era, is that speed is not a creation of that era. It has a much deeper history, one rooted in the history of religions, in imagining the powers possessed by supernatural beings. The word “angel” comes from “angelos,” the Greek word for messenger—you might say that the most complete instant messaging system before the modern era was dreamed up in Christianity, which imagined angelic messengers connecting all beings to one another instantly. I’m very interested in the way that modern communications systems continue to be animated by fantasies about the ability to be everywhere at once.

Q Reports of people dying from stress-related heart attacks or from illegal speed racing accidents are common. Why are we humans willing to risk so much—even our very lives—for speed?

A We have a fascination with speed, but also ambivalence. Speed is often associated with ideas about power, like the power to accomplish things, or to awe ourselves and others. I think the tendency to be in constant communication with large numbers of people, or to multitask and do more, is experienced as an expansion of our power as individuals. There’s something very seductive about that. But there’s consequences when you change the pace at which your mind and body functions. Balancing those is the tightrope all of us walk in our daily lives.

Q You’ve suggested elsewhere that critics of speed might be antidemocratic. How is that?

A This is a very complex issue going back to the 19th century. More recently it’s been given new momentum by the way that speed has threatened quality of life and the environment. Nonetheless, our systems of speed democratize luxury to broader sectors of the population. So the slow food movement focuses on buying local. But how many of us would be ready give up the rapid international transport that brings us tomatoes all year round? All kinds of fruit? Rich spices? As much as I’m sympathetic to the idea of slowing life down and focusing on quality, I wonder whether we would be prepared to renounce the ability to have constant access to people who are dear to us, to eat tomatoes year round, to give up these forms of freedom. I wouldn’t say all the critiques of speed are against democratization of consumption. But I think they have a challenge in creating a democratized and slowed-down world.

Q Usually when we think speed, we think cars and planes. Why do you instead, in one exhibition section, focus on kitchens?

A I wanted an example we tend not to think about. Over its history, the kitchen has morphed from a social space, with a flame that burned almost in a sacramental function, to a place that is like a factory. Today all the high-end home kitchen designs are completely shaped by the model of industrial kitchens—Subzero freezers, restaurant-style ranges, stainless-steel surfaces. It’s been transformed into a scientific factory for food production.

Q You also display old typewriters instead of, say, Blackberries. Why?

A Typewriters sped up the transcription of documents—and it sped up many times over its history, changing our own perceptions of speed. I remember trying out an electric typewriter for the first time in the 60s and thinking it was almost too fast, that my thoughts couldn’t keep up with it. Now, that’s actually pretty slow.

Q In the show, there’s a video of Usain Bolt breaking the 100-metre record. How fast do you think humans can go?

A In the early history of sports, records were broken by very significant amounts—people would lop entire minutes off marathons, or entire seconds off sprints. Now, as we reach the performance limits of the human body, these records are broken in milliseconds. We require ever more complex timing devices to even record these increases in achievement, and we need technologies like high-definition video replay to see it. I think the issues of limits to human performance are being felt deeply—even if everything out there attempts to postpone the day of reckoning.

“Speed Limits” continues to November 8 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal (

Installation view of the exhibition Speed Limits at the CCA in Montreal 2009 (c) CCA

Read More......

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Posting Notice: Newfound Lands, Old Emails, Etc.

I'm heading off for a vacation to Newfoundland tomorrow, so posts may be sparse until September 1. (This being a freelancer version of vacation, I do hope to visit, and perhaps report on, Eastern Edge's 24-hour art marathon -- always seem to just miss it at the end of August, but this year for the gallery's 25th they seem to be running it over a whole week-plus.)

Besides that, I've been alerted that some press and information releases from artists and galleries aren't getting through to me at my regular email address, leah [at] leahsandals [dot] com. This is a frustrating situation, as I still do receive a lot of emails without any problem, and I do like to hear what's going on out there! If you think you've had any problems of this kind with sending me emails, please elaborate in the comments below or email/cc me at leahsandals [at] hotmail [dot] com. Sorry for the trouble--I'm trying to figure the problem out and get it resolved ASAP.

Lastly, I'll just highlight an event I'll be sorry to miss while I'm away: the panel "Are we past the age of an aboriginal art show?" at the Art Gallery of Ontario on August 23. Taking its title from the text of a critical review by the Globe's Sarah Milroy (and promising her participation as well), the panel aims to address the following questions: "Are we past the age of an aboriginal art show, or any exhibition organized around identity? Are the issues and problematics that gave rise to a host of identity-based exhibition in the 1990s now completely resolved? Can an exhibition that considers hydridized identity formation be something other than an essentialist trap?"

Other panellists include Arizona's Joe Baker (who's dealt with some other identity-related controversies along the way), Cornell U's Salah Hassan and the AGO's own Gerald McMaster. If you read this blog frequently, you likely know what my views are. But if you go, I look forward to hearing/reading your views on what takes place—whatever they might be.

Image of Mark Nakamura's Back in Five 2009 from

Read More......

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Overheard: Akau exhibition space to close

A Toronto gallery-goer emailed me recently to let me know that Akau, a Queen West framing shop and gallery, is closing its exhibition space--apparently the Yvonne Singer show, which I recommended recently, was its last. Sad to hear. Though I didn't always love the shows, there were some, like Singer's, that really struck a chord with me, and the space seemed to be a locale of experimentation for a lot of artists. According to those at the shop, there's just not enough time to continue organizing a curated program of shows; fingers crossed, though, that the owner will keep showing works from her fine personal collection.

This closure would seem to further accentuate the exodus of galleries from Queen West, discussed recently here and elsewhere.

Image from

Read More......

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Out Today: Karin Bubas Q&A and East End Gallery Hop

A couple of stories out from me in today's National Post.

First off is an email Q&A with Karin Bubas, whose pastel portraits of The Hills starlets got attention on the New York Times' blogs following mentions here and elsewhere. An excerpt:

Q Some people might say that art should focus on serious things, not superficial reality-TV characters. What would your response be?

A I'm surprised by the amount of discussion about the merits of my Hills pastels as subject matter for art. I didn't think that people would have such strong opinions or objections. Using celebrity as a study for art is nothing new. Whether it's Andy Warhol's silkscreens of Grace Kelly, or Jeff Koons' sculpture of Michael Jackson, or Elizabeth Peyton's painting of Jarvis Cocker, celebrity is a world that even artists are obsessed with.

I don't find popular culture to be superficial. I've often taken the position of voyeur, making an anthropological study into human behaviour and ways of life. Reality television is another form of this study. At the same time, I'm a big fan of reality TV. Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, bring it on! I also like critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men and Lost.

Also out in the Post's Toronto section is a survey of three enjoyable shows just east of downtown. An slice of that:

Goodwater Gallery
234 Queen St. E.
Some artists shy away from making bold statements, preferring subtle surprises. For his show at Goodwater, artist Andrew Reyes is decidedly bold. Reyes invades the central gallery space with two massive, criss-crossing diagonal columns. Then, in the rear of the gallery (you have to duck under Reyes’ mega tic-tac-toe to get there) one finds a single horizontal beam of drywall spanning the gallery from left to right at eye level. Appropriately titled Cryptique, Reyes’s artwork here gives no clues to its meaning beyond its own existence — no text, no explanation and no apologies. Those diagonal interventions conjure everything from the escalators of contemporary shopping malls to the signatures of pioneer-era illiterates, while the rear-gallery barrier could be a subtraction sign writ large or a high-jump beam gone obese. Though an enigmatic, noncommittal approach can sometimes kill works, Reyes’s piece survives it — because in the end, the sheer joy of seeing him change the space so dramatically and elegantly, like a 10-year-old with a prodigious gift for minimalist drywall, is almost guaranteed to produce the upturned arc of a smile. To Aug. 22.

Image of three of Bubas's The Hills portraits from the Charles H Scott Gallery

Read More......

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cultural Activism to Le Max: Impératif Français

Sometimes it can feel as though nobody cares about what goes on in our nation's museums, as long as ticket sales are up. And then sometimes it can feel like people are almost obsessively engaged with specific museum issues.

The organization Impératif Français would seem to fall into the latter category--in ways that range from impressive to peculiar, depending on the viewer.

The group came to my attention via a CBC story, published yesterday, about Impératif Français objecting to "the display of an 18th-century French coat of arms at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa." The group is requesting that the coat of arms be returned to Quebec City, where the only other coat of arms of its kind is kept at Quebec City's Museum of Civilization. Both coats of arms were "sculpted by Noël Levasseur in 1725."

This level of artifact-directed protest is unusual in Canada--we saw it or still see it around issues of First Nations artifacts, with the Glenbow Museum doing the right thing and returning sacred objects to the Blackfoot in 2000, and with the government of Alberta repatriating objects and sacred bundles to First Nations people just this summer. But seeing it around Franco-Canadian history is less prevalent.

The artifact passion exemplified by Impératif Français prompted me to visit their website, where I realized their interest is not simply in museums--two years ago they prompted the National Capital Commission to alter the text in a public exhibition panel in Ottawa, which is interesting.

But there's also some wackier aspects to this group's cultural activism. When Michael Jackson died, for instance, they issued a statement to the effect that Jackson's popularity was just another example of the crushing effect that the anglo-saxon hegemony was having on global youth. (trans. mine) The also express irritation with the expansion of mattress chain Sleep Country Canada into Quebec, since it expresses little respect for Quebec culture by keeping its Anglo name.

I guess this is one of those contexts where the value of a cultural watchdog group has to be taken on a case by case basis!

Image of the coat of arms in situ at the War Museum from

Read More......

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Art You Can Bank On; Or, Creativity meets Commerce At Last!

Just wanted to post a few quick pics of a new public art piece in Toronto. Entitled "Bank on Art," it consists of working bank machines specially outfitted to stream artwork images. Currently, the machines feature images from about 40 Toronto artists, and are programmed to feature six per day for the month of August. (A full schedule of the artist rotation can be found here.) These are pictures of the first bank machine in the project installed at 952 Queen St W. Others are slated to come in different areas of the city. More info as it becomes available... but for now, the pics.

No one in this grouping seems to have wanted to reference the bank-machineness of the context, but I look forward to seeing if Thursday exhibitor RM Vaughan takes up the dollar-sign challenge.

Read More......

Ceramic-Piece Love: Karen Dahl at the OCC Gallery

You know when one work in a group show stands out and hits you hard, so that even if the show is only so-so overall you're so glad it brought you to this one, inspiring, very cool thing?

Well, that's how I felt encountering Karen Dahl's artwork The Midas Touch in the group show "Seduced by Clay" at the Ontario Crafts Council Gallery.

The Midas Touch is a 1994 work but it most certainly is still wonderfully striking 15 years on. The above image is pretty crappy but serves as a starting point—essentially Dahl has crafted clay here in high realist style, depicting a hardware-store paintbrush dripping gold lacquer down the face of a green cabbage, which in turn is balanced on a pink granite rock.

For one, I love Dahl's incredible facility with her medium. As a 2001 essay from the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba notes, "While still at art school, she developed her own recipe for clay and has been using it since, a mixture with the viscosity of thick cream which can be poured to make the moulds which are integral to her work." The granite, the paintbrush and the cabbage all have incredible similarity to the real deal.

But what I really got into here was the symbolism and potential readings of Dahl's arrangement. The idea of an unseen hand gussying up cheap, humble, earthy objects like the cabbage and the rock with a coat of mass-produced gloss/glamour seemed such a critically pointed metaphor for art- and object-making—yet at the same time, Dahl obviously holds the techniques of artmaking in incredibly high regard. I think it's this tension—which is accentuated by the fact that Dahl's material is the ultimate in earthiness, namely earth, and that contrasts so much with that shiny gold paint—that really made me love the piece a lot.

"Seduced by Clay" is up until August 29. Dahl's piece can be viewed through the window, but I really recommend going in to take a closer look.

A couple of other ceramic art shows worth checking out right now:

Mary McKenzie's work is much rougher in form (intentionally) than Dahl's but its simplicity—many small bowls with tiny pools of molten glass at the bottom—seems remarkably friendly in her current show at Brayham Contemporary. Also interesting is that McKenzie chose to install dozens of these small works outside for the course of the show—something I'd never thought possible with a "be careful, don't break it" medium like ceramics. Shows what I know!

Wayne Cardinalli is a master ceramicist who presents really dark, bumpy, etched-out jars and trays for his show at David Kaye. This is like, some really butch ceramics work we've got going on here—another type of combination that's conceptually difficult but in real life, and in a master's hands, works incredibly well.

Read More......

Recommended: Nina K Simon's Tips for Museums and Community

Nina K Simon's recent Museum 2.0 blog post on ways museums can build community outside of—gasp!—web tools and technologies has been getting a good number of props on Twitter. But her points are so good and relevant to the places I usually deal with that I wanted to highlight a few of them here as well.

2. Be free, nearly free, often free, or free for locals. Community centers don't ask you to cough up a $20 every time you come to hang out. While free admission has not been shown to shift the overall demographics of museum visitors on its own, it sets an expectation that this is a place you can use whenever you like, for as long as you like. It's not a recreational destination you visit once a year. It's a place you can use.

3. Be open at times that your "community" is likely to come. I was at San Diego's Balboa Park two weeks ago for a workshop and spent a glorious evening wandering the gardens, outdoor concert halls, and sports fields. There were thousands of people in the park for plays, free music, and beautiful scenery. And none of the museums in the park was open. Extending museum hours makes it easier for people to integrate museum-going into their evening recreational time and diminishes the prepare-to-visit-destination behavior.

4. Open your doors really wide. Lots of museums look like fortresses against the streetscape. They are protected by expansive parking lots or metal gates. The more museums can be porous to the outdoor environment and continuous with other neighborhood venues and businesses, the more easily people can flow into them as part of their day.
Make time for staff to hang out with visitors. There are many museums that require all staff to spend an hour a week working the floor or the front desk of the museum. These programs are usually used to help staff have a better sense of front-line needs and challenges, but they're also an obvious way to help all staff literally "connect" with visitors. Recently, I've been talking with one art center about turning their "floor hour" into an "art hour" where staff can do whatever creative activity appeals to them and might help them relate to visitors. Not all staff want to actively lead tours or programs, but if "connecting with community" is a core part of your mission, then all staff should have some aspect of their performance evaluation tied to making nice.

To read the rest of the post, click here.

Image of the Cincinnati Art Museum from its site

Read More......

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Le Sigh: Pulp Fiction and the Phenomenon of Ambivalent Enjoyment

So I finally went to see Pulp Fiction at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art last weekend (it opened June 26, and closes August 23).

And I'm writing this post to talk a bit about why I held off on seeing it for so long, as well as the resulting ambivalent enjoyment I experienced.

Basically, this travelling show, which debuted at Museum London in southwestern Ontario in July 2008, was designed to examine a particular subgenre of youngish art, partly grown out of London, Ontario, that works with hand-made and comic-book aesthetics. Think a Gen-X/Y R Crumb mashed up with Royal Art Lodge and hanging out with Marc Bell, and that's a little taste of where the artists in the show are kind of coming from.

Part of the reason I put off seeing the show was a fear of being disappointed. I've actually had enjoyed a lot of works from artists in the show in the past, like Seth Scriver and Jason McLean. I was also excited to see works from people I had only heard about, like Amy Lockhart and Liz Garlicki. I just worried that seeing them all together would be too much--that the quirk of these genre practitioners would lose its appeal when presented as one solid block of zeitgeist.

The show, curated by Corinna Ghaznavi, actually succeeds this challenge, at least satisfactorily so. Scriver's video here, Asphalt Watches, which I'd never seen before, is a highlight—-a hilariously psychedelic take on a real-life hitchhiking trip across Canada. Seeing more of McLean's paintings on everyday objects was really worthwhile (liked the briefcase a lot). And Lockhart's film Walk for Walk didn't disappoint—-it was like the old Monty Python sketch "Silly Walks" but featuring a series of fantastical animated creatures of all descriptions (and ridiculous foley effects) in a video-game inspired landscape. Quite enjoyable, even if its impossible for each artist to really get their due.

The misanthropy lurking behind my enjoyment, however, I think had to do with the way we understand (or misunderstand) art geographies in Canada. I felt a little like "Well, now that this show is on in Toronto (rather than London, or Winnipeg, or Halifax), many members of the media will sit up and take notice of some of these artists. But if the show only stayed in London, or Winnipeg, or Halifax, the bulk of our national media wouldn't really care as much--even if the work was just as good."

What do you think? How do you deal with Toronto-centrism in the Canadian art scene and art media (of which I am, admittedly, a wonderfully misanthropic member)?

Still from Amy Lockhart's Walk for Walk from

Read More......

Monday, August 10, 2009

Queen West Galleries Keep on Movin': Dundas and Downtown LA Edition

Lots of art news and shows to report on, and unfortunately very little time to do it today. But there is time to note yet another Queen West gallery move—Loop Gallery, a collectively run space that has been on Queen West for a decade, is moving north to 1273 Dundas Street West.

When I dropped by the gallery recently, the move was explained as simply a response to neighbourhood change—and I observed yet again that the car wash that used to be across the street from Loop is now the Bohemian Embassy condo construction pit. I don't know if that's the change the Loop staffer was speaking of, but it's certainly part and parcel of the change package. Loop will have one more show on Queen West this month, a York University MFA/PhD show which runs August 19 to 30. Then it's northward ho!

With Loop's move, the critical mass for Dundas Street increases. The main draw for gallery-goers on the western edge of the Dundas strip for the past few years has been Jessica Bradley Art and Projects, which is run by a former National Gallery curator and reps many of Canada's prominent "younger" artists like Shary Boyle, Luanne Martineau, Hadley and Maxwell and others. Recently that was supplemented by Alison Smith Gallery and even more recently by the Department, a flexible space which seems to be developing more solid programming for the fall. (I liked the current show The Sun Has Turned to Glass, esp. the works by Lauren Hall.) With Loop near the Dovercourt intersection, it will be easier to see the easternward gallery points Le Gallery and more recently Show & Tell as part of a continuous art Dundas stroll up to Bradley's space. I'll be waiting and seeing.

On a different but related note, Toronto gallerist Katharine Mulherin just wrapped her kickoff show for her Los Angeles space, KMLA projects. According to her website, KMLA projects is located at 936 Chung King Road, and shares space with AUTOMAT, a project by businesswoman Naomi Hui. As Mulherin notes on her website,

"From the first moment that I set foot on California soil, I felt like I had found home. That was 2005, when my Toronto gallery, Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, first came to LA to participate in an art fair. After talking to everyone about opening a space in LA for 4 years, I finally decided to do something about it. Seeing the recession as a potentially positive opportunity to start a project with less money, I came to Los Angeles with my family in March to do some research and check out the neighborhoods.

In April, I made contact with Naomi Hui, a business woman in Chinatown who operates AUTOMAT. One day of frenzied emailing and a crazy one-day trip from NY to LA and LA to NY in early May enabled Naomi and I to meet and decide on a collaborative project in her AUTOMAT space at 936 Chung King Road.

The KMLA project will share the beautiful 25 x 40 foot space ( with 14' ceilings!) with AUTOMAT's 3 bright red vending machines. A mixed-use space seems like a smart idea in these less than certain times, and the beautiful light-filled space allows both projects to operate together comfortably.

The first show was to provide an introduction to a variety of gallery artists, including past Unedit My Heart faves Sojourner Truth Parsons and Seth Scriver, among others.

Image of embossed postcard by Sandy Plotnikoff from Katharine Mulherin Projects

Read More......

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Recommended: Animated GIFs & Mac "Endless Columns" in TO

With Twitter hacks and Facebook crashes frustrating web users worldwide by cutting them off from the 24/7 info drug (admittedly, I speak as one of those frustrated tech-addicts), it was interesting to me to see a few works and shows around Toronto this week that deal with related issues.

1) Andrew Reyes PlahPlahPlah at Diaz Contemporary (Part of the group show Air Conditioned Jungle)
For PlahPlahPlah, Reyes stacks partly open white iBooks and silver Macbooks one on top of the other, and wraps them roughly in ribbon. Many references are at the ready—house of cards, super-rapid design obsolesence, Brancusi's Endless Columns, Mac-as-"I'm better than ya'll" signifier—but however it might read to others I loved it.

2) Save for WEB at Xpace
Save for Web consists of three projections spooling what seems like an infinite amount of animated GIFs from international artists. To me, this is what the original dada artists would have been doing if they had been alive way back when. Mass media remixes + absurd nonsense + 2009 = Animated GIFs. It's impossible to see all of these in one viewing, but worth a drop by (ends today).

3) Trivial Pursuits: Mass Distraction at Interaccess
Trivial Pursuits: Mass Distraction is Interaccess' 9th annual emerging artists exhibit. Though any group show can be hit and miss, there is some interesting stuff here. Beatriz's Herrera's trivia monster is like Robot Wars meets Egyptian mythology meets Wikipedia, with a four-legged, human faced robot that spews random information at gallery visitors. Blake Williams' Hotel Video piece is more subtle, seemingly raising issues about the travel of information and memory across time and space—made me wonder "is the Internet a hotel of the mind"?—even though the artist would likely shudder to hear me say that. Erin Gee's interactive work, which plays opera arias when you brush a couple of eeriely real wigs, is also quite memorable in a slight horror-movie type of way. But it's curator Jennifer Chan's essay that I found most valuable—in it, she admits to being "Internet addicted" like many of her peers, and yet offers the researched studiousness to reflect on same.

Also closing today that I liked: Yvonne Singer's installation at Akau—a mashup of old art magazines, turned-over tables, dolls, bronze mirrors, really interesting, wish I'd seen it sooner.

Image from Xpace

Read More......

Friday, August 7, 2009

Update: Koffler Controversy Both Calms and Continues

Kudos to Murray Whyte for breaking the news last week on his blog that "Reena Katz and the Koffler Centre have come to some sort of agreement following the debacle that preceded the opening of Katz's project each hand as they are called."

As previously discussed here and elsewhere, this controversy began whenKoffler Centre, a Jewish cultural organization, pulled out of a project with Katz just weeks before it was to launch in the spring. Their rationale: that Katz, as a Jewish person who questions Israel's actions in Palestine, is unsupportable by virtue of the centre's mission, in which "Israel's wellbeing and existence as a Jewish state is a core value".

At first it seemed as if the events reported on by Whyte, which were followed up by an article in the Star, heralded a form of resolution between Katz and the Koffler—mainly evinced by an announcement that the project is going ahead this fall after all. That resolution seems to have dovetailed with some actions by the Toronto Arts Council, which took interest in the controversy given that they are a funder of the Koffler Centre, and that the Koffler's actions may have contravened the TAC's anti-discrimination policies around the right to freedom of political association.

However, in the days that have followed this positive news, more opportunities for fractiousness have arisen—it seems that each "side" on this conflict is jockeying for the "We won" position, and is upset that the other is doing so. As Adam McDowell at the National Post reported yesterday,

Katz and Simon’s statement [available here on Facebook] said the TAC had “determined that the Koffler was in violation of the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy regarding an individual’s right to freedom of political association.” However, council executive director Claire Hopkinson would not confirm or deny that it had censured the Koffler Centre, and Starr’s statement claimed victory, reading, “We are pleased that the TAC affirmed the Koffler’s right to choose with whom it partners.”

This prompted a statement of frustration by Kim Simon--in a Facebook status update, she wrote that she's currently "very confused why TAC will not confirm for the media the decision they shared with us openly. I think you should all contact Claire Hopkinson and ask, as TAC has invited individual inquiries -"

To add more weirdness to the events, the Star today ran a statement from Koffler Centre director Lori Starr stating that "The Koffler Centre of the Arts deeply values its partnership with the Toronto Arts Council. We continue to aspire to be a centre of artistic excellence and experimentation while at the same time remaining true to our core values as a Jewish cultural institution that welcomes and inspires all." (The statement is in a small item in print -- I couldn't find it online for linking.)

Granted, this more recent "post-resolution" conflict is much tamer than the one that came before it. But it still makes me wonder what exactly will come of all this—both for this individual project and for other cultural institutions.

As I've blogged previously, I think that cultural institutions do discriminate on the basis of political views quite a bit—it's just that this discrimination tends to happen quietly, at a very early stage in the curatorial process, before any contracts have been signed. And I'm not sure that any action by the TAC can realistically change that early-winnowing-period practice, except by mandating that institutions exhibit artists with range of political viewpoints—a mandate difficult if not impossible to enforce. It can definitely take action, as it has here, in instances when that process becomes more visible at a later stage in the process. But early on, it's difficult to gauge discrimination—and have it slip under the radar.

Further, the reason the Koffler instance has come under (much-deserved) scrutiny is that they were well aware of Katz's political views prior to signing the contracts with her. It was only at the last minute that they pulled out of the arrangement, after all the festival brochures had been printed and distributed, and the event promoted, and even given props, by the media—producing pretty much the definition of an unprofessional, unclassy, stupid, bridge-burning act. Also, as I've noted previously, many of the artists the Koffler has exhibited in the past are people with liberal viewpoints who are quite conceivably critical of lsraeli politics—just, perhaps, not as vocal about it as Katz. Is the Koffler here simply instituting the equivalent of a "don't ask, don't tell" curatorial policy? Curious, indeed.

Read More......

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Out today: Review of "Arts of Togetherness" at Gendai Gallery

You know that general art-world trend towards collectives, community and participation? Well, it's been mirrored in Toronto of late—perhaps most flashily with a locals-heavy Reverse Pedagogy collective that crashed the Venice Biennale in canoes, but also in symposia like "If We Can't Get is Together" and "Encounters in the Socialverse." There's even a promising collectives themed show, Foreign Legionnaires, opening tonight at Ed Day Gallery.

This week for NOW, I review another show on these themes: "The Arts of Togetherness" at Gendai Gallery. Here's an excerpt:

Yoshinori Niwa is the standout. First – to be totally superficial – his wall drawing is one of the cutest I’ve seen. (Who can say no to a cat driving a van labelled “reason”? Not me.) Second, his participatory project Kite Flying With Local People has a genuinely sweet, nostalgic – and yes, inclusive – feel. Third, his display of collectively made kites is compelling. Everything from Holt Renfrew bags to Goodwill garments is transformed into elegant yet fun forms.

Sandee Moore’s works are a little more awkward. The overall framework – referencing communal Japanese rituals like bathhouses and karaoke – is promising, but tech glitches and a use of artist-developed jargon make it challenging to actually participate in her pieces.

As I later note in the review, Moore's works may have been intentionally awkward, but the tension between Niwa's ease and Moore's slight off-kilterness is definitely apparent. Also interesting is the fact that the gallery for this "togetherness" themed show is split right down the middle, almostly like there's an invisible wall. This may also have been intentional—indicating curatorially the ways in which separation is intrinsic to the concept togetherness—but it's left up to the viewer, it seems, to decide.

Image of one of Yoshinori Niwa's kite-flying events from NOW

Read More......

Out Today: O Zhang Q&A

The Vancouver Art Gallery has just kicked off a new public art space, and the first exhibitor is Chinese-born, New York-based artist O Zhang. Zhang has done some pretty interesting projects around Chinese identity in an increasingly globalized era—her pics of kids sporting Chinglish tees and her portraits of Chinese girls and their adoptive American fathers are very interesting. In Vancouver, she's showing a 2004 series of portraits of young rural girls, now blown up to billboard size. I got a chance to chat with her by phone this week, and the National Post ran our condensed convo today. Here's an excerpt.

Q Why did you photograph these children?

A First, they're from a small village in China near where I grew up, and they're all girls, so I can identify with them. Also, they're among the most powerless group in China, and my work has always been about paying attention to people who have no power. But I also wanted to bring out the power in them, to show them as larger than life. Many of these girls had never seen a camera before, and I was looking for this moment when innocent children come face-to-face with the outside world -- that first encounter is very powerful.

What I didn't manage to shoehorn into the interview was some info on Zhang's latest work, a project with the Queens Museum in New York. For it, she's focusing more on migration in general, collaborating with first-generation American teens to create a kind of mini World's Fair.

Image of O Zhang's Horizon (detail) from CRG Gallery

Read More......

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Art's a Strange Animal. That's What I Know.

At the risk of insulting the many human artists who work hard at their craft (and, via the title for this post, diehard Gowan fans) I have to say I am way excited about "Animal House: Works of Art Made by Animals" at SAW Gallery in Ottawa. And I am very disappointed that I happened to time my Ottawa visit last month to seemingly *just miss* this show. Luckily the Ottawa Citizen's Paul Gessell provided a little review this week and Ottawa Xpress also did a previews feature a while back. The Ottawa Sun also did a little writeup on it.

Usually I don't like to give props about a show unless I've actually seen it. So why am I so taken by the hypetacularity of this exhibition? I think partly why it interests me is it's at a pretty solid artist-run centre (not a cash-seeking commercial gallery) and organized by a generally reliable artist/curator, Stefan St-Laurent.

On the less critical side of things, this show is about animals, goddammit! And I seem to like animals more and more lately, or at least (I'll be honest) cute ones, as in keeping with the increasing amount of animal-media crack available at places like Cute Overload. I guess I've also been seeing a lot of animal-focused art lately, like David R Harper's stuff, or Maura Doyle's, and really enjoyed that.

So while I didn't make it to the show, I did recently make it to the Toronto Zoo for the first time ever. And when I peeked in at the orangutans, I read their "bios," a few of which said "this orangutan really enjoys painting." I found that interesting. Not "has some paintings available for sale" (to benefit the zoo's coffers, etc.) but "really enjoys painting."

That phrase may well have been a warm-fuzzy white lie on the part of the zoo's PR folk, but watching those orangs watch us viewers, it wasn't hard for me to believe the fact that apes and humans are 98% genetically identical, as is displayed prominently on a sign at the zoo. As such, it's also believable that apes could potentially enjoy painting or sculpting just 'cause.

So.... Could it be humans and some apes share an art gene? I'm not posing this as a super-serious question, but it's something that's fun to think about in a sci-fi sort of way. How much of this whole painting thing is projection on our part? How much is innate? And so on. (I should time our PVR at some point to try and catch a less reverent approach to this question with David Letterman's "Artist or Ape?" painting analysis segment.)

I definitely think the paintings made by other species, like the turtle above, are appealing in quite a different way—namely, in the absurdity of the notion that the turtle has any idea what they are doing. Still, it's interesting to see a human artist working with turtles or other animals in this way as an ostensible, tongue-in-cheek "collaboration." And (here's where critics of the spectacle society can wince yet again) it's cute!

Incidentally, there was an unexpected piece of human art on view at the zoo—a life jacket made in polar bear size by Erica Gajewski called Thin Ice. The piece isn't super-awesome, but I was interested in the zoo integrating some art media. Wonder if they would ever do that more and how.

There's a whole other tangent I could go off on related to thoughts I've been having about comparing and contrasting zoos and museums—zoos being museums with a living collection, and being in some ways so much more effective at delivering a message of conservation and environmentalism (being face to face with a polar bear can do that to ya) but in other ways can be so much worse at same (case in point being the huge amounts of people who drive to the zoo, the huge amount of litter generated by takeout food places there, and the trivialization of wilderness that can happen within its bounds—if we can just build habitats, why save em, kind of thing). But I think I'll save those reflections for another post.

In the meantime.... back to the human artists! Hurrah!

Image of a turtle making a painting from the Ottawa Citizen

Read More......

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Noticed: A Summer of Gallery Love for Alex McLeod

I can't say I know it from any firsthand convo, but I'm guessing that emerging Toronto artist Alex McLeod is having a heckuva summer.

I first saw McLeod's work in a solo at Switch Contemporary earlier in June, and now it turns out the the guy has a two-person show opening at Queen West dealer Angell Gallery this Saturday, as well as a hand in an emerging-artist group show at Lonsdale Gallery opening next Wednesday.

So what is it, many young artists may be wondering, that makes McLeod's work "so different, so appealing"? (Or, in the very least, much exhibited.)

Well I have to say that, on the one hand, the guy must be a strong promoter, with work featured on Kanye West's blog, among others.

On the "art itself" end, there is something kind of peculiar about his images. They are digitally created, but depict surreal landscapes that somehow seem to resonate. I had considered posting on his work after that Switch show--in some ways it seemed related both in timing and in theme to the work of Alex Fischer, who I blogged about a couple of weeks back. Both Fischer and McLeod seem able to use digital in convincing ways, with Fischer concealing its more artificial qualities, and McLeod accentuating them.

As with any emerging artist, it will be interesting to see if McLeod can keep a sustained quantity and quality of production.

Image of Alex McLeod's C-Island Seaport from Angell Gallery

Read More......

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Royal Ontario Museum and Caribana: A Lost Opportunity?

Caribana was the toast of Toronto this week, and I was pleased to see Eye run an article on the Caribana art exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. Critical discussion of this exhibition is long overdue—even if Eye ultimately shies away from the toughest issues it presents.

Basically, I went to last year's Caribana exhibit at the ROM and found it a bit of a troubling experience.

What this exhibit felt like to me—despite my fervent desire to see more artists of colour in our cultural institutions—was a cheap-and-dirty way for the ROM to draw a bit of Caribana's considerable audience, as well as to argue something along the lines of "Look! We are actually reflecting the diversity of Ontario."

To my mind, if the ROM was serious about honoring and including the traditions of Caribana and its communities, they would do an exhibition on the most stunning, virtuosic and culturally entrenched of Caribana's art forms—costume design, dance and music. The museum wouldn't focus on an cultural form—drawing and painting—that, despite the related virtuosity many artists of colour possess, has merely a marginal presence in Caribana and its communities. (This is particularly arguable in light of the fact that the ROM is a general historical and cultural museum, not an art gallery.)

So here's where that cheapness comes in: To do an exhibition on these central cultural forms of Caribana (and, by extension, of Caribbean communities in Ontario) would take a lot of primary research (or research collaboration) to get right—in other words, lots of organizational and curatorial-spending dollars to consult with musicologists, textile historians, dance experts and community representatives. A show on costume, music and dance would also take a lot more installation-design investment in the form of vitrines, speakers, TVs, platforms, mannequins and so on.

The current Caribana exhibition formula, in contrast, calls on the ROM to pay just one curator—artist Joan Butterfield, whose intentions I suspect are actually quite fine ones—and install mainly paintings in a quick, low-cost, around-the-room-at-eye-level format.

What ends up being sad about this exhibition formula (both in principle and in practice) is that it does little to reflect the vibrancy and reality of Caribbean culture and community in Ontario—while purporting to do just that.

Lowering the bar further, as Eye notes, is confusion encouraged by this exhibit around the complexities of Caribbean culture. The exhibition is actually co-presented by, as Eye reports, "The Association of African-Canadian Artists, whose main goal is to “introduce [African-Canadian] art into the mainstream Canadian market.”" Whether this can thereby qualify as specifically Caribbean-related art is therefore quite debatable.

Where Eye falls down is identifying a problem that it is capable of responding to, but doesn't: "While the exhibit has received much positive press, there have yet to be any reviews." Though I sometimes quibble with Eye arts editor David Balzer's critical judgments, he is, overall, a pretty ace viz-art reviewer. The fact that he chose for Eye to cover this exhibition with a question-posing feature written by a general freelancer, Rea McNamara—rather than delve critically into it himself—is telling of the difficult morass of issues that the ROM and this exhibit disappoint on overall.

Of course, I feel no small degree of trepidation in broaching these issues (at Eye's prompting) myself. I hope I have been able to underline that while I'm very supportive of seeing more artists and communities of colour reflected our cultural institutions, the doublespeak, obfuscation and institutional laziness surrounding this exhibition is a really bad means by which to go about achieving that goal.

What do you think?

Image by Gadjo Sevilla from BlogTO

Read More......

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Out Today: Arch-Art Gallery Hop in Nat Post

The research for this weekend's National Post gallery hop column got me thinking a lot about architecture. Maybe it's just (as I've mentioned previously) living across from a condo-construction site. Or maybe it's the still-hot museum trend for new buildings and renos. In any case, I saw a lot of architectural content in some Toronto shows of late. The column published today links a few of them. Here's an excerpt:

Toronto Image Works 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 207
In his latest exhibition of ice-fishing-hut photographs, Richard Johnson highlights architecture as image. And we're not talking about the usual 2-D qualities of colour prints here. Johnson deliberately shoots each hut straight-on so that only one facade of the building is revealed. His results possess a kind of super-flat, snapshot, steamroller effect; many of these structures, transformed by Johnson's eye, could be cardboard stage props plopped in a field, or pieces of paper pasted onto snowy-white backdrops. Even those very human touches of hut-owner decor - like maple-leaf patterns, lace curtains and even, in a touch of good humour, a tropical palm tree - appear at an unreal remove. Through extreme detail, viewer attention is also drawn to the visual textures of hut surfaces, be they battered, silvery metal, reclaimed wood panelling or acid-hued plywood. Some might find these pics too conceptually chilly, while others will delight in their colour and crystal clarity. To Sept. 5.

Richard Johnson image courtesy of Toronto Image Works via the National Post

Read More......