Monday, November 30, 2009

UPDATED TO Sign Industry Strikes Back Against "Billboard Tax for Art" Initiative

Tomorrow, Toronto city councillors vote on a billboard tax that could raise $11 million for arts and culture in our city. (That's a bolstering of 50%!) But as indicated by the photo above, snapped in my neighbourhood over the weekend, this worthy initiative, which I posted about a couple of weeks ago, is coming under heavy backlash from the signage industry.

This backlash from the signage industry isn't just happening in the streets—it's also happening, as reports, at City Hall, where the billboard industry reportedly submitted false revenue data. Last week, Jonathan Goldsbie at Spacing Wire also suggested that Councillor Karen Stintz had been bending rules to meet with pro-billboard lobbyists.

Fortunately for arts and culture in Toronto, reputable poll results released Friday and posted on Praxis Theatre's blog indicate that Torontonians support the billboard tax by a 5-1 margin. Michael Wheeler at Praxis also notes that a NOW Toronto story on our "sign wars" is on its way to being its most commented story ever--the comments are most certainly worth a read if you want to see how vociferous this debate is becoming in some parts.

Hopefully, when the councillors vote tomorrow, they will note the vast majority of Torontonians do seem to be pro-billboard-tax. If you want to make sure they know your view, please email your councillor now, either through the site or using this list of contacts.

UPDATE 1 - has confirmed the vote is happening December 1 at 9:30am. They urge supporters who can to come out to City Hall and/or to an after-event happening at 9pm at 52 McCaul. (Thanks again to Michael Wheeler @ Praxis Theatre who posted this info on their blog.)

UPDATE 2 - As noted by Michael Wheeler in the recent comments, The Guardian has published an unabashed endorsement of the initiative calling it:
"a brilliantly simple, logical idea which, if implemented over here, could surely help plug the growing hole in the arts council coffers." AND The vote has bee rescheduled again. 10am Friday is showtime.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Auction Action - First-Timer Perspectives

So earlier this week I attended the fall Heffel Canadian postwar and contemporary art auction, one of several fall art auctions in Canada. (Sotheby's is coming up next week, and Waddington's had theirs earlier on in the month.)

Now, people come to art in different ways. My path to art and understanding art was as a student, and now as a writer. Other people work in galleries, grow up in artsy families, have enough money to collect, or simply make stuff from a young age.

Given my path to art, this was actually the first "real" (ie. non-fundraiser) auction I had ever gone to.

I have to say that overall the auction experience was instructive, if only to hammer home a lot of angles that you don't get exposed to in art school (sometimes for good reason, sometimes not). I'm talking about stuff like, of course, the market, and the special market conditions that occur around an auction. To be painfully honest, reader, it had never really occurred to me before (despite studying helpful accounts in The $12-million Dollar Stuffed Shark and Seven Days in the Art World) just how much the competitive auction atmosphere can drive up the price of a work.

In other words, it's an apparently dumb fact that when you have people together in a room who have been primed to want the same object--be it art or antique autos or what have you--their face-to-face competitiveness (if you can nurture it) is bound to drive up the price. But seeing that actually happen in person is a pretty powerful lesson--one that was educational for me, and I'd expect for other people. (Class visit or field trip, anyone?)

Of course, in the days since the Heffel's auctions, there's been a lot of news buzz about their highest-selling work gavelled in the later-evening "fine Canadian art" auction--Lawren Harris's Old Stump, which went for $3.51 million, a million over estimate. (The Globe reported Toronto collector/art advisor Ash Prakash as the bidder, possibly acting on behalf of collector David Thomson.)

Still, on a smaller scale, and firsthand, there were some interesting underreported bidding results in the contemporary section as well--Charles Gagnon's Intersection 1963 was originally estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, and ended up tripling that to $90,000, a new record for Gagnon. Also popular was John Geoffrey Caruthers Little's Une journée d'éte, avenue Coloniale, vers Duluth, Montreal 1978, which was estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 and sold for $47,500, also a new artist record. Finally, Mashel Alexander Teitelbaum (that's AGO head Matthew Teitelbaum's late dad) also had a surprising result, with an untitled canvas from 1955 quadrupling its $5,000 top estimate to a $20,000 sale, also a new record.

Of course, there's a lot that's depressing that can be taken away from these events—that your art might get more valuable (or be recognized) only after you die; that the Canadian art market still values the Group of Seven in a fetishized, unrelenting manner; that the recession still affecting millions of Canadians appears a moot point to the ultrarich; that the yearly salary of most Canucks (or the annual budget of an artist run centre!) is a but a trifling purchase pittance to our upper echelons. There's also more banal questions--who was trying to unload a ton of Dallaires here, and why? Still, I'm glad I went, and I look forward to learning more about this influential auction facet of the art world in the years to come.

Images from top: Charles Gagnon Intersection 1963, Lawren Harris The Old Stump 1926, John Geoffrey Caruthers Little Une journée d'éte, avenue Coloniale, vers Duluth, Montreal 1978, Mashel Alexander Teitelbaum Untitled 1955 - All from, except the Harris, which is from the CBC

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Panel Power Part II: Of/By/For - A Dialogue on Representation

Earlier this week, I posted on an upcoming panel I'm involved with. Here's another—quite different in focus but just as interesting. It's focusing on First Nations representation, as elaborated in this excerpt from the press release:

Of/By/For: A Dialogue on Representation
Tuesday December 1, 6-9:30pm
Ontario College of Art & Design Graduate Gallery, 205 Richmond St W, Toronto

All are welcome to attend and participate in “Of/By/For: A Dialogue on Representation,” a panel discussion on Taras Polataiko’s recent video work, In the Land of the Head Hunters (2008). This work documents a screening Polataiko arranged, in collaboration with the Kwakiutl Band Council in Fort Rupert, of Edward Curtis’ 1914 film In The Land of the Head Hunters.

Polataiko’s video raises a number of ethical and interpretive issues, regarding the sensitivity of First Nations representation, the limits and potential of cross-cultural comparison, and the impact of different cultural and commercial contexts on meaning. How might viewers work through this complexity, so that new and critical discussions can take place? The goal of this forum is to involve critics, scholars, artists and students in an active ‘live’ dialogue.

The panel will include Bonnie Devine, curator, artist and interim director of the Aboriginal Visual Culture program at OCAD, Leah Sandals, independent art writer and editor, and Taras Polataiko. Moderated by Rose Bouthillier.

In the Land of the Head Hunters is part of Taras Polataiko’s forthcoming exhibition at Barbara Edwards Contemporary in Toronto, from November 27, 2009 to January 9, 2010.

I'm really looking forward to this event.

Still from Taras Polataiko's In the Land of the Head Hunters 2008 from Barbara Edwards Contemporary

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Arthur Renwick talks First Nations Faces in National Post

A couple of years ago, when I was introduced to the work of artist Arthur Renwick, it was in a small excerpt from one of his photo series that was hung alongside a large exhibition of Emily Carr's work at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In those photographs, Renwick was documenting First Nations churches in British Columbia--an interesting accompaniment to Carr, whose painting Indian Church is well known.

Recently, Renwick opened a show of rather different-looking photographs at Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto. For it, he asked First Nations artists and curators to stare down the camera, and, in a way, all the imagery it has generated of native people. (The show on now is the newest iteration of a similar 2006 series.) Today, my Q&A with Renwick appeared in the National Post along with a range of his pictures. Here's an excerpt:

Q You asked your subjects to think about times when their native identity posed a problem. What experiences have you had with that?

A There's been many, especially with my brother. My father is white, and I have a pale complexion. He has a native father, so he looks really Indian. We're only a year apart, and hung out all the time growing up. But I'd be allowed places he wasn't. He'd call one of our friends, and the friend's mother would say "He's out right now." Then I'd call five minutes later and it'd be, "Hold on a second, I'll get him." It was obvious racism right from the get go.

I'm kind of an invisible minority. When people find out I'm native, their attitudes do change. And I've definitely heard a lot of remarks. One stands out: A guy I used to work with was a bit of a bigot. Finally, I got fed up and told him I was First Nations. He looked at me with shock and blurted, "Well, that explains everything!" Ha! It was quite funny. I laugh about it now, but then, I realized there was no way we could communicate.

Speaking of communication gaps, one thing that can't come across in the paper is the size of these portraits -- the faces are blown up to 30 inches by 30 inches. Worth seeing in person before the images head to the Richmond Art Gallery as part of the "cultural olympiad" stuff.

Image of Renwick's Rebecca 1 2009 from Leo Kamen Gallery

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chris Millar's Got a Brand New Bag Sculpture

Got a last minute opening announcement here for a work that looks promising—Chris Millar, he of the overflowing comic-influenced canvases, is presenting his first "real sculpture" starting tomorrow at Trépanier Baer in Calgary.

Of course, the paintings that Millar is known for are pretty sculptural already, with little tentacles reaching off the edges of most of his stretcher bars. But as the invite notes, artist Ron Moppett encouraged Millar to go further, to “...make those extraordinary sculpted footnotes that hang off the edges of your paintings into singular wall-mounted sculptures...”

The result of this--well, we're unsure of yet whether it's well-heeded--advice is titled Bejeweled Double Festooned Plus Skull for Girls. The invite also says the work will travel across the country, though it'll be on view in Calgary till December 14. Yeehaw! I look forward to reading the reviews on this one.

Image of Chris Millar's Bejeweled Double Festooned Plus Skull for Girls from the Trépanier Baer invite

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Panel Power: Toronto Alliance of Art Critics says BRING IT

This post is just a friendly plug for a panel I'm involved with next week: "Toronto Alliance of Art Critics says BRING IT" aka "MAKE FACE MOFOS!"

The panel is the brainchild of talented and social art gal Nadja Sayej—yes, she of snap-and-snark-filled Artstars* hosting fame. It also features esteemed colleagues Murray Whyte, David Balzer, Rosemary Heather, Charlene Lau and Otino Corsano. My understanding is that we'll each very very briefly say something prepared, then open to a long Q&A. The event is co-organized by Xenia Benivolski of White House fame. Here's the key details:

Toronto Alliance of Art Critics says BRING IT aka "MAKE FACE MOFOS!"
Wednesday, December 2 @ 8pm (doors 7:30ish?)
Double Double Land - 209 Augusta
PWYC, suggested donation $5
Enticements: There will be confrontation! Someone will win a free art review! "Refreshments" will be available!

Oh, and in case you're wondering what the Toronto Alliance of Art Critics is, it would seem to be very much a work in progress. I'm in it for the fun and fellowship, like an atheistic and gender-neutral Catholic Women's League. My take is it is very open to expansion and invention. (I've longed for such a thing, though the closest I could find was the UNESCO (?) sponsored International Association of Art Critics.)

Bring it on!

Image of actors in overlooked art-critical treasure trove Bring It On! from the LA Times' Culture Monster

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Excited About: Guerilla Girls at Galerie de l'UQAM

This morning on ye olde CBC radio, I got to hear a sports pundit make an annoyingly false statement -- namely that sexism simply doesn't exist for the "young folks". In his mind, sure, his generation (I'm guessing middle aged) was capable of being sexist, but certainly not those post-racial, post-difference, Obama-votin' youngsters!


Anyway, though dude was discussing soccer, not sculpture, I gotta just yet again restate the obvious: sexism (and other kinds of discrimination based on outward identity) most certainly do exist across all generations. Though things have gotten a lot better in recent years for the ladies (a fact for which I ironically thank Goddess) I hope my sports-loving colleague simply somehow failed to read the fairly recent news of profoundly ingrained sex harrassment in Ontario high schools? Or missed the release of the WHO report that shows women of all ages around the world continue to die because of ongoing sexism?

In any case, I'm very happy the Guerilla Girls are still working hard to put the lie to the idea that sexism is all over and done with. Next week, the GGs are releasing a new poster commissioned by the Galerie de l'UQAM. The commission, and a related exhibition, are timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings, which, as most of us know, specifically targeted women.

The show is only slated to be up for a short time (December 4 to 19) but hopefully the related poster--as with so many GG gems--will live on in wide distribution.

Image of the Guerilla Girls' UQAM poster from their website

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Janet Bellotto, Kathleen Hearn, Jin-Me Yoon Reviewed today in National Post

There's a number of strong shows on at 401 Richmond right now, and today's National Post contains my reviews of three: Janet Bellotto @ Red Head, Kathleen Hearn @ YYZ and Jin-Me Yoon @ Trinity Square Video. Here's an excerpt:

Dubai-based artist and Toronto native Janet Bellotto won attention last year when she exhibited a whale-skeleton sculpture at Red Head -- a show long on concept but a bit short on craft. Thankfully, Bellotto's new exhibition Wave is more satisfying. In it, she offers a topsy-turvy installation, with mountain-village landscapes and ersatz power poles hanging upside-down from the ceiling. The surfaces of many objects morph in relation to one's position, making streetscapes shift into hard, weathered wood and other surprises. A related film of an underwater scene grooves along to a jazzy headphone soundtrack. Overall, the feel is cute and enjoyable -- almost too cute, in fact, to conjure the more serious themes of looming piracy and environmental change that Bellotto is ostensibly aiming at. While one does successfully get the sense of being frozen for a moment under the prismatic shifts of a rogue wave, the show ends up more Little Mermaid than Moby Dick -- not horrible, but not quite what the artist may have intended.

If you're headed over, note Irish Venice Biennale-er Willie Doherty has a small show closing at Prefix this weekend, while A Space is hosting a smart group show on Days of the Dead themes. Open Studio also has a nice installation from Hazel Eckert and promising student work by Kelsey Schuett.

Image of Janet Bellotto's Wave installation from Red Head Gallery

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Beautiful City builds Billboard-tax-for-Art Momentum

Over the past few years, there's been a growing anti-billboard movement in Toronto. And one of the more interesting subgroups to come out of this is an initiative to use a new tax on billboards to fund public art and art education. The initiative comes up for City Hall approval very soon, November 30 and December 1, and the site is asking folks to sign a related petition, as well as call their councillors before the vote.

While I'm actually a fan of good, creative advertising and the work it gives creative people (what was the Sistine Chapel, after all, but one massive ad for the church?) the fact is that a lot of billboard ads are crappy, and that we need more money for art, especially art education and underserved communities. (Beautiful City also says that it could generate a 50%/$11 million increase in funding for city artists and arts institutions.) So I urge you to give the petition a look, as well as the related video below. Town Hall - 1st Cut from on Vimeo.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wonder Women: Q&A with Janet Werner in today's National Post

Montreal's Janet Werner makes paintings of women that I find really interesting. Often, for me, they contain tension around ideas of female experience, conflicts between idealized appearance and lived reality. Today's National Post ran my brief Q&A with Werner on where she feels the work comes from. Here's an excerpt:

Q I wanted to talk about the strong sense of tension in your paintings. Where does that come from?

A In some of my paintings, a little bunny or bear or Dalton figurine can be isolated against a kind of cosmic, empty space. And I sometimes situate the women in these really artificial paint-by-number landscapes. So I was giving a talk about this show, trying to address the sense of dislocation that's produced, and someone said, "Oh, so it's about innocence and loss." And I was like, "Yeah." I sort of circle around that without naming it, quite often.

Q What kinds of innocence and loss are you talking about?

A Well, I guess it would be fairy-tale fantasy ideals. These are, after all, idealized figures in idealized landscapes. All of us get our ideals set up differently, but in the case of girls, it's often princess-y dreams that are developed. The reality is that those dreams don't materialize. Still, the imaginings that are so alive when we're younger remain in play as adults. And I think that's what a lot of advertising and fashion images are addressing -- often in pretty complex ways, actually.

Werner's paintings are on view at the Art Gallery of Windsor in a solo show through to January 31, with new work debuting at Parisian Laundry in March.

(Image of Werner's Bambi 2005-6 from Parisian Laundry)

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Out Today: Review of Google Earth in NOW

It's been said (and debated) that 400 million people have used Google Earth. This week in NOW, I review two of those users--John van der Woude and Eryn Foster--who have made art using the application for Gallery 44. Here's an excerpt:

John van der Woude’s prints make up the more successful body of work here. Using satellite images gleaned from Google Earth, van der Woude stitches together some incredible aerial views of the world’s busiest airports.

These slick, glossy, detailed images, while fun to look at for a long time, also provide many conceptual points of departure: How does the lightness of global, go-anywhere mobility get played out and bound up at ground level? Who can really fathom the dense intersections of individual stories and trajectories that happen in these places, let alone design for them?

Image of one of John van der Woude's works from NOW

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Takes (and some Muzaks) on the Economics of Art

So... almost as scary as this "Money" scene from Cabaret is the long-fraught relationship between money and the arts. Of late in Canada, most of this frightfulness has had to do with a lack of money, particularly in BC but also in other realms. I just wanted to point out two recent responses of note:

1) Tinygrants
Tinygrants is "an experiment in microfunding in the arts" led by Toronto curator and blogger Marissa Neave. What Neave wants to do is provide grants of $300 max to fund "creative interventions," which she seems open to defining flexibly. If you're looking to get some tinycash, the deadline is this Sunday, November 22. And if you're looking to give some tinycash to this project--something a few generous folks have committed--Neave wrote she was still seeking $250 at last tally. While I confess some skepticism about the long-term feasibility of the project, I admire Neave's gumption and optimism. Worth a look.

2) Mary Jo Hughes @ the Mark
Mary Jo Hughes is chief curator for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and in a recent op-ed for the Mark, Hughes provides some firsthand perspective on the impacts of falling arts funding. Though the consequences of government cuts and falling endowment revenues has been covered in many newspapers in the past few months, it's rare to see a curator go public in this way. As she notes, endowment revenues at the AGGV, once considered guaranteed income, have dropped to zero. The results are a 20% staff cutback, and, as she puts it, "Things fall through the cracks, deadlines are missed, exhibitions stay up longer, perks for members are reduced, and fewer programs are on offer." Again, this is nothing new to those who have been watching closely, but unusual for a head staffer to broadcast. Also worth a read for its recap on the BC arts cuts, which turned $48 million to $3 million in just one year! Wild. In a bad way.

Good thing the best things in life are still free... like more bad Youtube:

Also worth viewing on this theme: Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny's Child and Gimme some money by Spinal Tap, which has the very awesome lyric "Your face is okay/But your purse is too tight/I'm looking for pound notes, loose change, bad cheques, anything/Give me some money." Maybe a museums development person could steal that one sometime?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Must-See: An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube

I just spent 55 minutes of my life watching this video, and if you haven't done it already, I strongly recommend you do that too. It shows a presentation called "An anthropological introduction to Youtube" by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. Wesch made the presentation to the US Library of Congress in June 2008, which might make it seem dated in internet terms. But really, there are some amazing insights (and incredible video montages) here. (The Numa Numa history is alone worth the (free) price of admission.)

I think this video also holds some jumping off points of particular interest to the art world, for example:

1) Is is possible that Youtube, with its self-reflexive, intimate-yet-distant nature, brings some of the dynamics of artmaking to the general internet-accessing public? After all, as Jerry Saltz famously has said, artists are like cats, always putting objects between themselves and their humans. I wondered watching this if Youtube provides the same freedom/set of conditions to a wider population.

2) There has been a lot of interest in the art world of late in re-enactment, and a lot of tiresome conference sessions that have revolved around the question of "Why are so many young artists interested in re-enactment?" There are many possible reasons in my estimation, but I think the contextualization of YouTube re-enactment that Wesch builds provides great insight into one possible answer -- that people re-enact in order to express that which is important or entertaining to them, and to become part of a wider community. If such re-enactments are instinctive in the mediasphere, why not in the artsphere?

Overall, a very worthwhile viewing experience -- fleshes out in words and reason what Margaux Williamson's Dance Dance Revolutions video circled around in a more oblique way.

FYI this video was called to my attention by Twitter user @Prof_K linking to the blog for We Are Social

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Confessions of a Blantantly Belated Review Reader

Reader, I have a confession. Though I often write reviews and wish people to read them in advance of heading out to the galleries, truth is that I often find reviews most interesting after I've experienced the show/movie/book/album myself.

That is, I often don't read a review, or at least seek one out, or at least really really read them thoroughly until I've experienced the thing being reviewed. I love reading reviews as a form of mental conversation, of getting all the angles, of comparing and contrasting to one's own point of view, or honing same.

Case in point: This weekend I went to see the film A Serious Man. Now I had read some reviews in advance (these were hard to avoid, in fact, given the film's premiere at TIFF earlier this fall). But only after seeing the movie, being perplexed by it, and chatting about it with my partner did I go home and load up Rotten Tomatoes, where, as I'm sure you know, reviews from media across North America, from writers both big and small, are compiled for most major-release films. (Wouldn't it be great if the art world had something like this? At least for Venice and other shows seen and reviewed as widely as a single major-release movie?)

Via the roster Rotten Tomatoes had compiled for A Serious Man, I think I read about seven to ten reviews of the film--some positive, some negative. It was great to read some of these pointed opinions and know exactly what aspects they were referring to in the film as they asserted them. Whether I agreed with the reviewer or not, their review invariably made a lot more sense to me--and provided more that was at stake for me--because I had seen the film myself.

I guess what this post has ended up being, really, is a little rumination on the function of reviews, which tend to break down like this:

1) Service to the reader A -- primary -- "Why, IMHO, this book/show/movie/album is worth your time and money, or not."

2) Service to the reader B -- primary -- "If you can't get to this thing yourself, here's the broad strokes of what it's all about, IMHO."

3) Service to the reader C -- typically regarded as tertiary, but for me (and likely others) often primary -- "Hey, if you actually did experience this thing yourself, here's a foil/back-pat for your thoughts on the matter."

Of course, there is at least one other important function of reviews in most media contexts, which would be 4) Service to the publisher -- "Some editorial to accompany related advertising." But that's another post/total fact of writing for any media outlet.

Okay, one more "of course"--some critics are just damn fun to read no matter what they're writing about. So sometimes reviews are there just to give a good writer something to dance around, or, in terms of service to the reader, to give good writing.

Overall, I am very happy to live in the age of the interwebs when so many reviews can be accessed online from different critics, at least for some arts genres. It makes being a blatantly belated review reader a hella lot more fun.

Image from A Serious Man from the fansite Coenesque

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Liking what you Like when you Like it: Or, why Art needs a dose of Literature sometimes

The longer I write journalistic art criticism, the more apparent it becomes to me that our response to art is often be highly temporal and situational—that is, we like what we like when we like it. Responses to, engagement with and affection for a given artwork are highly subject to change over time.

I mention this in part because I see this truth acknowledged a lot more often in literary circles than in more visually artistic ones. In particular, I found this passage from Michael Chabon helpful. It's excerpted from an essay where he describes being in his early 20s and how he started writing his novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh:

I went back out to my room and shambled irritably back and forth from the door that led to the hot tub to the door that went upstairs, mapping out the confines of my skull like the bear at the Pittsburgh Zoo. And my eye lighted on a relic of my stepfather's time at Boston University: The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby had been the favorite novel of one of those aforementioned friends whom I had decided that, for reasons of emotional grandeur and self-poignance, I was doomed never to meet up with again in this vale of tears. At his urging I had read it a couple of years earlier, without incident or effect. Now I had the sudden intuition that if I read it again, right now, this minute, something important might result: it might change my life. Or maybe there would be something in it that I could steal.

I lay on the bed, opened the book's cracked paper cover—it was an old Scribner trade paperback, the edition whose cover looked like it might have been one of old Ralph's wood shop projects—and this time The Great Gatsby read me. The mythographic cast of my mind in that era, the ideas of friendship and self-invention and problematic women, the sense, invoked so thrillingly in the book's closing paragraphs, that the small, at times tawdry love-sex-and-violence story of a few people could rehearse the entire history of the United States of America from its founding vision to the Black Sox scandal—The Great Gatsby did what every necessary piece of fiction does as you pass through that fruitful phase of your writing life: it made me want to do something just like it.

In a less wordy, less poetic vein on the topic of changing assessments of books, art and other things, op-ed columnist Rex Murphy is quoted in today's Globe as saying "[I have] long since parted with the delusion that my opinions, because they are mine, are less hostage to fallibility or walk nearer with truth than those of many others."

I don't know if these types of expressions on the changeability of judgment and artistic experience are more common in the writing world because one can always--or at least often--revisit books and text in a way we cannot revisit individual pieces of art.

In any case, this truth is something I'm glad to see acknowledged, and one I'm going to try and remember--even as I hammer out my own critical opinions, positive and negative, as well as I can at a given time.

Image from Bookdaddy

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Commemoration & Scholarship to Honour Gerald Ferguson

As a follow-up to the sad news of Gerald Ferguson's death last month, NSCAD has announced that friends, colleagues and family are establishing a scholarship in his name to honour his long artistic and teaching career. Donations can be sent to NSCAD University via the Ferguson Scholarship page that the college has set up.

On a related note, I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Globe's Sarah Milroy for her obit of Ferguson, which was published after my obit roundup. Milroy does a good job of capturing what Ferguson meant to many people--and also is one of the few media to confirm that Ferguson took his own life.

It is really, really sad to consider Ferguson's final act, but I'm glad it's been noted--though I'm not sure what Ferguson's particular situation was, I do know that depression and anxiety take too many lives, both in the arts and elsewhere. Gerry would cringe (and probably curse, loudly!) at the thought of becoming a poster boy for any particular "cause" or "issue"--I don't want that to happen either. But cause of death here still resounds very powerfully and sadly, at least for me.

Image of Gerald Ferguson's 600 Metres of Hose from

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Out today: Yves Tessier Q & A

Yves Tessier makes curious, colourful little paintings, often of everyday scenes, that tend to remind me of storybook pictures for grownups. Last week, I got to chat with him on the phone on the occasion of a show of new work at Projex Mtl. Today, the National Post published a condensed version of our exchange. Here's an excerpt:

Q You make your own paints from scratch, which must make the process longer. How and why do you do this?

A When I was younger, I did art restoration as a day job in Montreal, and I helped restore the Notre-Dame Basilica. So I learned ancient techniques like egg tempera. Now, I have a great pigment supplier in New York, where I live, and I work with casein, which is a milk paint. Some of my pigments are ground from semi-precious stones, like malachite. Some were used in the Greco-Roman period, like caput mortuum, which means "dead heads" -- it's an earthy violet that was used a lot in Pompeii. So I do spend time mixing pigment, often in shells. But even if I was working in oils or acrylics, I'd have to spend time mixing colours anyway. I don't have shadows in my paintings -- another tendency from ancient art -- so I need certain colours to show where the light is.

Interestingly, Tessier also told me that one reason he likes to keep his paintings small (max 11 x 17, unless it's a special "enlarging" commission) is so that he can scan them as soon as they are done and send them off to his friends and colleagues. So that's a little more of this era...

Image of Tessier's Cocktail Hour 2009 from Projex Mtl.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Late to the Party: Miranda July's Venice Biennale Sculptures

Over dinner this evening, I got to chat with a friend who had gone to the Venice Biennale this summer. It was great to hear the views of a creative person not ensconced in the art critical realm... I'm always interested in the ways each of us form our judgments of worthwhile art, and the ways those can become homogenized in different critical echelons. In any case, my friend really liked Miranda July's contribution to the Biennale, which, for whatever reason (potentially simply my niche) I hadn't heard about. These "interactive" sculptures do seem to have been a popular hit--which perhaps explains their lack of coverage in the critical press? They do seem a bit cutesy for all them serious thinkers out there. In any case, there's more pics here if you're interested. And it is nice to see people smile with art, you know, for a change.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review of Fall In/Fall Out @ the Blackwood Gallery

This weekend, the Globe and Mail published my review of Fall In/Fall Out, which is taking place at the Blackwood Gallery to December 13. One thing I didn't get to mention in the article are the extensive resources available on the Blackwood's exhibition website, including responses from a variety of artists and curators to two questions:

"What is the quintessential work about falling?"
"What is the quintessential work about jumping?"

Interestingly, House of Pain gets two shout-outs in a row!

What is the quintessential work about falling?

What is the quintessential work about jumping?
JOHN PAUL RICCO: House of Pain’s Jump Around (1992).

What is the quintessential work about falling?
KATIE BETHUNE-LEAMEN: Yves Klein, The Leap into the Void, 1960.

What is the quintessential work about jumping?
KATIE BETHUNE-LEAMEN: That's harder, and I don't like my response:

Take that, Van Halen! Actually, in a strange turn of events, Van Halen is getting their own artistic homage this month at YYZ, where Kathleen Hearn gets local musicians to cover their 1984 chart-topper.

In any case, those responses on the Blackwood site are worth a read if you're looking to poke around on the Interwebs.If you like inter-persons more, Shannon Hoff will give a related talk on November 18 at 7pm.

Image from Simone Jones' film Perfect Vehicle from the Blackwood

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Museums and Sustainability: Douglas Worts Talks Tonight @ OISE

Just got a last-minute announcement for what looks like an interesting talk tonight at the University of Toronto Museum Studies Speaker Series:

Douglas Worts: Museums, Cultural Heritage and the Culture of Sustainability

Monday, November 9
5-7 pm

Douglas Worts is a consultant working on sustainability and culture issues and former long-term staff at the Art Gallery of Ontario where he introduced many innovations in public work and visitor research for the museum.

How can humanity create a ‘culture of sustainability’ within our increasingly pluralist, urban communities? Currently, cultural heritage organizations, like museums and art galleries, historic and natural heritage sites, do little to reflect or engage the living cultures of our societies and the environments they inhabit. They have the ability to do so – although it will require a complete reassessment of what these organizations assume are the cultural needs of our communities. New professional competencies and novel approaches to public engagement strategies will have to replace old institutionalized structures and traditional programs if these organizations hope to engage the cultural pulse of our cities.

I'm particularly interested in Worts' studies because I'm the bizarre holder of both a BSc in physical geography/environmental studies and a BFA in fine arts. Most of the time, I think this means I just can't make up my mind about what I'm interested in... other times I do write articles about art and sustainability themes... and other times I just enjoy not being alone in my interest. So there! If you're interested in finding out more, I suggest one of Worts' reports/blogs Museums in the Winds of Change.

Image of the Montreal Biodome from Hotel Europa

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reviews: Stephen Appleby-Barr, Ydessa Hendeles & Andrea Nunes

Stephen Appleby-Barr has been getting a lot of buzz lately in the Canadian mediasphere. Today's National Post offers my take on his work, which is appealing but which I also feel cautious about. Reviews of the new Ydessa Hendeles show and a small look at Andrea Nunes are also included. Here's an excerpt:

Stephen Appleby-Barr at Narwhal
Appleby-Barr is a young, much-buzzed Torontonian who gained fame as part of the cheeky art-and-illustration collective Team Macho. In his second solo show, The Invisible College, he pays tribute to the artists -- members of Macho among them -- who've influenced his creativity. Granted, there's considerable sleight-of-hand involved: Appleby-Barr's portraits are influenced by heavily hued classical paintings and turn-of-the-century sepiaphotographs. This approach is particularly successful in a portrait of recent Iskowitz Prize winner Shary Boyle, who is rendered as an officious Governor General, and in a restrained painting of Owen Pallett, revealing a dapper duke of all that is young, eccentric and creative in Toronto. Overall, the warmth of this coming-of-age project is palpable, but a caveat: The artist's self-conscious, Anglo-fetishizing style can come off a bit gimmicky. To Nov. 29.

I also liked Appleby-Barr's painting of a young Francis Bacon done in similar style. So many artist list their influences, rather than pay tribute to them... so it's nice to see. (The idea of the artist's cat being one of his "artistic colleagues" also comes off very humorously.) Because the original review had to be trimmed for space, I'm also posting more observations on the Hendeles show after the jump.

Image of Appleby-Barr's Punchy Graduation from Narwhal

Strait-Jacket at Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, 778 King St W
Many were saddened last year when the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, the best (and until recently, the only) private-collection exhibition space in Canada, suddenly shut down for looked like an indefinite, and possibly permanent, period. Accordingly, the relief was palpable when Hendeles reopened this fall with a new exhibition, Strait-Jacket. This show is smaller than past ones and some items on display, like Hendeles’ Punch and Judy puppets, have been previously shown. Nonetheless, this mix of top-notch works and artifacts successfully evokes complex knots of questions about sanity, culture and power. Pippilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All is a perfect example, with a video that shows a beautiful, carefully dressed woman violently shattering car windows—using a flower-shaped truncheon, no less. Joan Crawford’s lover-annotated charm bracelets, in this context, suggest both amulets of adoration and shackles of romantic obsession. Similarly, Barbara Kruger’s text works point to more immediate tensions, ones that question the sanity of seeking relationships with objects rather than with human beings. This latter point is a dilemma that any collector or art lover must grapple with, and it’s one of the many fascinating threads of ambivalence that rise to the surface in this worthwhile exhibition.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Micah Lexier's Provenance Project: Dealer Non-Drama?

One of the more unusual art projects I've seen this year is Micah Lexier's Provenance. For it, Lexier got a dozen commercial galleries to exhibit one of his arrow-sculptures in their back rooms. The reason this struck me as unusual was that usually an artist only shows with one commercial dealer at a time--sharing of artists does occasionally happen for group shows, but something on this scale is very rare to nonexistent.

Today the National Post published my brief Q&A with Lexier on his project. Here's an excerpt:

Q Usually an artist shows exclusively at one commercial gallery in a given city. How and why did Provenance, which is displayed at multiple dealers this fall, come together?

A I think this project is, in a way, unprecedented. It started because I recently moved back to Toronto after living in New York for nine years, and I just felt at home like I never had before. It was kind of a zeitgeist moment for me. After years of being a younger artist, playing. I got to a point where I felt like I knew all these people, and liked them. I also like variations on a theme, and I like to connect and collaborate. So, corny as it sounds, this project was partly about identifying a community.

Overall, I really like the project; I do think it achieves its goal of marking a community of interest--or at least an "I was here" of a sort. More pics:

Top image of Lexier's Provenance arrow at Angell Gallery; then Provenance at Stephen Bulger Gallery, Diaz Contemporary, MKG127, Le Gallery, Christopher Cutts and Olga Korper. Both photos by Toni Hafkensheid

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Get a David Hoffos for 30 Bucks - Just in time for the Holidays!

One of the promising art things that is happening this week is the opening of David Hoffos' Scenes from the House Dream at the National Gallery of Canada. Hoffos makes such amazing, must-be-experienced-in-person installations, so it's nice to see him get a serious exhibition there. But in browsing around for info on the show I found something almost as awesome—Hoffos' shilling of a $30 Scenes from the House Dream souvenir stereo-card set. In addition to being excellent holiday-gift-list fodder, it's worth checking out just to browse around Hoffos' site, which is humorously branded "The Official David Hoffos Action Website: Thrills, Chills, Exciting Illusions and Artwork". Funny/sad man.

Image of David Hoffos' Scenes from the House Dream Stereo Card Set from his Official Action Website

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Still No Such Thing as a Free Lunch; Bus Trips Another Story Altogether

Last week I trekked out to the Blackwood Gallery at the University of Toronto at Mississauga to check out its interesting, evolving show "Fall In/Fall Out." More on that hopefully later this week. But for the time being I wanted to spread the word that the U of T's shuttle bus rides from its downtown campus to the Blackwood's campus--previously $12 round trip for non-students--are now free if you pick up your tickets at the downtown campus' Barnicke Gallery.

This new ticket intiative doesn't make the bus ride--which as many know, happens on a pretty bare-bones school bus--any shorter; it's still 45 minutes to an hour when I've gone. But the initiative does make the Blackwood a little more accessible financially, which is nice. For info on the Barnicke's opening/ticket sign-out hours click here.

Video still from Paul Litherland's Force of Attraction, a highlight of "Fall In," from the Blackwood Gallery

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Enjoyed: Melinda Josie's Knitting Bear at Magic Pony

This weekend I stopped into Magic Pony, which will soon be wrapping up an exhibition related to the latest edition of Curvy, a catalogue of lady illustrators and artists from near and far.

It was actually a return trip for me as I wanted to take another look at a print I really liked: Melinda Josie's Like a Bear Knitting, pictured above. As I discovered on the Interwebs, Josie is a youngish Toronto artist and illustrator, who happened to make some of my other fave Magic Pony works, like the Kittenwillows and Fig Newton. I then discovered that this coming week Josie is opening a show related to a new children's book she's illustrated called Le Géranium -- I don't think there will be as many knitting bears involved, which might depress my own excitement about the show, but if you like the work too it could be worth a peek. Opens November 7 at--where else?--Magic Pony.

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