Thursday, December 24, 2009

Posting Notice: Holiday Spirits

The holiday cat picture has arrived, which means a laptop-free posting break for me, until January 2 at least. Yay! I hope anyone reading this gets some laptop-free holiday time in too. Till next year, thanks for all the clicks, comments and complaints of '09, and all best for ringing in 2010.
Image from Ning

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Top 10 of 2009 up at NOW

The year's top 10 art events, which I contributed to along with Fran Schechter and David Jager, went up at NOW today. Here's how it shakes down:

1 Leona Drive Project, October 22 to 31
2 Candice Breitz @ Power Plant, September 19 to November 29
3 Cedric Bomford @ Red Bull 381 Projects, September 10 to October 10
4 Funkaesthetics @ Justina M. Barnicke, February 12 to March 23
5 Liz Magor @ Doris McCarthy Gallery, September 15 to October 25
6 Design For The Other 90% @ OCAD Professional Gallery, October 4, 2008, to January 25
7 Noise Ghost @ Justina M. Barnicke, May 28 to August 23
8 Maura Doyle @ Paul Petro Contemporary Art, April 24 to May 23
9 Its Time @ Drake Hotel, April 20 to June 1
10 Geoffrey Farmer @ Nuit Blanche

For reasoning, or to take issue via comments, check out the article.

Image of the Leona Drive Project from NOW

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out Today: Interview with Kalle Kataila in National Post

As I noted last week, I loved seeing art/activist duo the Yes Men take on global climate inaction in Copenhagen. Interestingly, Finnish artist Kalle Kataila wants viewers to consider similar issues, albeit in a much more subtle and personal way. This didn't come across to me at first glance—just the images themselves were breathtaking—but it is elaborated in my interview with him in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q Your project is called Land­scapes and Contemplations. While landscape is easy to photograph, contemplation is less so. How did you approach that?

A Before this project, I was doing photographs of people in meditation. And then I thought that this story could be told through landscape, through an open kind of space. In the landscape, there's often a lot of different stories going on as well. In my work from Dubai, there's a lot of wondering about what has happened with cities, not just thoughts about the grandeur of nature. But overall there is some kind of harmony in the images. And I hope that prompts people to think about our lives, as well as the relationship of our lives to the land.

Some of Kataila's photographs are on view at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre to January 3. And there's more pics below as well as on Kataila's website.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Enjoyed: Alexander Irving at QueenSpecific & Art Advent Calendar

Around this time of year, so close to the holidays, I must admit I start to look for works that really sum the past 12 months up. Alexander Irving's Janus – For Anne Carson seems to hit the spot. Seen above, it reads, "every exit is an entrance," a message particularly suited to New Year's stuff and nonsense. It's on at the small windowspace QueenSpecific to January 19.

Also, I think Murray Whyte already mentioned this, but I'll reiterate: the Dundas West windowspace Fine & Dandy has a nice little art advent calendar that's been revealing itself all month, with one artist work hung per day. Looks like it wraps up on the 25th, so go take a peek soon if you can.

Image from QueenSpecific

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Love: Kid-Oriented Exhibition Labels @ Harbourfront Centre

One thing I really love seeing are the kid-oriented exhibition labels at Harbourfront Centre. Honestly, I consider them grownup-oriented as well. Which would you rather read, this:

or this:

I'd say the former, at least as an entry point. The kid labels are also placed a little lower (so grownups have to stoop to read them, dang it!). Incidentally, if you want to find out more about Mike Bayne's work, which is also worth a shout-out, go here.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shows for the Holidays: Blockbuster ifs and buts

My biweekly gallery column for the National Post focuses today on a few shows to see over the holidays--mainly last-chance-to-view blockbusters at some of our major museums. I enjoyed these shows, a few worthy "if, buts" notwithstanding. Here's an excerpt:

Vanity Fair Portraits at the Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park
Many museums were created to house ancient artifacts. So given the multiple title closures and mass layoffs at magazine megacorp Conde Nast this year, one wonders if this museum show focused on Vanity Fair -- one of its centrepiece titles -- merely seals the company's status as analog-media dinosaur. Indeed, brand booster-ism throughout the show, both in text and image, produces warranted skepticism of the exhibition's artistic merit. Nevertheless, there's a lot of lovely photographs here, ones that are all the more appealing for the famed-yet-familiar faces they detail. Films of glamour-photogs Edward Steichen and Annie Leibovitz at work are also worthwhile, showing it takes a village to raise a Young Hollywood issue. Ultimately, what resounds is the way that different photographers make celebrities their own. Nan Goldin's commissioned photograph of a young Rob Lowe, for instance, is almost indistinguishable from Goldin's famed art pics of lithe, party-friendly pals, while Helmut Newton's severe black-and-whites hone in on fetishes of sex and power no matter who his sitter is. To Jan. 3. (Closed Dec. 25.)

Image of the Vanity Fair show at the ROM from Seems Artless

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Thank God it's Linkday

Reader, I think that my last couple of posts reveal the following truth: that my brain has become a bit fried from exposure to art and other things, and it's a good time to just do some linking and shout-outs to cool things found 'round the interwebs. So here we go—some good stuff to see and watch and listen to if you ain't already holiday-nogged out of your mind:

Art Fag City's Year-End Fundraiser
Blogger extraordinaire Paddy Johnson has commenced her second annual year-end fundraiser to support her web-crit outpost Art Fag City. She's looking to raise $8,000 by January 1 to keep the blog going. All donations get a tax receipt, and also get a Travis Hallenbeck ringtone. The top donor will get the Saul Chernick print pictured above. Genius, and a great way to support art/art crit in a time of shrinking column-inches for same.

"The irrelevance of museums as social institutions is a matter of record"
I came across this video via prolific museum-ops blogger Nina K Simon. In this five-minute video, Robert Janes, editor of Museum Management and Curatorship, calls out the problems he sees in the current museum world—namely, that museums are already irrelevant in the social sphere thanks to an emphasis on marketplace rather than quality exhibitions. I'm not 100% in agreement with his take, but it's a helpful reminder that we in Toronto are not alone in our displeasure/frustration with our museums. I hope we can find ways to change this situation for the better in the year to come.

Don’t Call Him a F*$@ing Starchitect!
This one comes via thoughtful writer Hrag Vartanian's blog. As Vartanian notes,
When London’s Independent newspaper used the “s” term in front of Frank Gehry, the Toronto-born architect went nuts: "I don’t know who invented that fucking word ’starchitect’. In fact a journalist invented it, I think. I am not a ’star-chitect’, I am an ar-chitect…" Yikes, chill dude you are a starchitect, you really are.
Well put. (Image via Curbed)

Canuck Art Best-of Lists Begin!
Yesterday, both Akimblog and Canadian Art released their year-end best-of lists. I work for the latter, but I honestly think it's still worth a read. Torontoites should also peruse David Balzer's year in review piece from this week's Eye and Torontoist's Heroes and Villains lists, in which the Power Plant gets a shout-out. And yes, I will plug Sally & LM's top ten fiesta yet again, which hasn't started publishing yet but is accepting submissions until December 27.

Lead photo taken by me at the Toronto Sculpture Garden

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Recommended: Will Kwan @ the Barnicke and more

In today's NOW, I was glad to see my colleague David Jager's review of the Will Kwan show at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.

I personally really liked this show—more than I think David did in the end, actually. What came across to David as alienating was more uncompromisingly hardassed in my own experience.

Does this mean I'm plenty alienated already? That I'm happy to revel in Kwan's (equally) bleak view of the world, aka the capitalist economy and its worldwide impacts? Perhaps.

In any case, the show closes this weekend, and I recommend catching it — sometimes it's just Kwan's lifting of capitalism's existing ephemera to the surface that's so effective. This is most apparent in an array of photographs of bank-branded money-gifting envelopes--a traditional Chinese ritual object mashed up with acronym-happy financiers. Methinks it rocks. The neon sign spelling "weapons of mass destruction" in military shorthand actually leaves me a bit colder, but yes, overall, good. If you can't make it, try Kwan's website -- of if you're in Dublin, check him out at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, where he's artist in residence this winter.

Also worth catching if you can is the more exploratory and enigmatic pairing currently on at Loop. I'm not quite sure about it but it sort of delighted me and stuck in the mind a bit. The show matches scrappy sculptures from Audrea DiJulio with large round paintings by Suzanne Nacha. I think it's the sculptures that kind of delight with their resourcefulness, and the paintings that add a touch of weirdness--they conjure eyeballs and mine shafts. I guess I also like that both artists come from a scientific as well as an artistic place—Nacha is involved in geology, while DiJulio has some experience in civil engineering. Both artists are going to chat with Pete Smith on Sunday the 20th at 2pm, the last day of the show.

Just up the street from Loop is a show that's been pretty roundly praised and that I've enjoyed a lot. It's Ben Reeves at Jessica Bradley and it closes December 20. I'm not a huge painting gal, but part of what I love about Reeves' project here is the way he plays painting of photography. He makes his really nice lumpy, blobby paintings as usual, then he decides on one part of that painting to "zoom in" on and "enlarge". This enlargement--usually just one massive blob that originally represented, like a head in a crowd or something--is even rendered on a "larger grain" canvas. It's kind of absurd, like a totally unhelpful CSI-episode technique or something, but it's also really fun. As I may have indicated here before, I find some of the maxi-painting/painting as sculpture practitioners kind of of aggressive or grotesque in mood; Reeves takes it to a much more fun and accessible zone.

Finally, I feel duty bound to note one show that I do not really recommend--though its heart is often in the right place, "Fashion Forward" at the OCAD Professional Gallery is disappointing. The best/most promising parts address different ways that Toronto designers try to use their skills to the benefit of special needs or populations. In fact a show solely on this theme likely would have succeeded better. Where it falls apart a bit is the mishmash of general-fashion stuff it includes. On that general fashion end it's unclear, for example, why Comrags, however awesome, is present and new stars like Jeremy Laing or Greta Constantine are not. Maybe I just missed something in the curatorial premise, but it seems like there's two good small shows potentially here (one on special-function fashion and one on mainstream Toronto fashion design's history and present) or one huge one (on both, or more angles). But none of these really reach fruition.

Image of Will Kwan's art from Now Toronto

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes on the Ideal Reader

Further to John Bentley Mays' recent notes on role of the "ideal reader" in art criticism, I wanted to go public with the "ideal readers" I keep in mind when writing different kinds of pieces.

When I'm doing a Q&A for the National Post, I tend to keep my sister in mind. She's an intelligent and accomplished person, and does not work anywhere remotely near the sphere of the arts. The arts also don't particularly lie in her usual area of interest. Keeping her in mind helps me (I hope!) in trying to make links between art and the "real world" or art and more newsy events.

When I'm doing a review for NOW or the National Post, I tend to keep a close friend or two in mind, one who likely knows something about art. The reason to think of a good friend is it helps keep me honest—I have to think, well, what would I really tell this person about the show? Would I honestly recommend they go see it? Would I tell them not to waste their time? Or would I take the "meh, whatever, either way" route?

I do know when I'm writing for the National Post in reviews, I tend to let the language get a little more convoluted and flowery than for NOW--I'd actually like to pull it a bit more back to basics (which is to say, to a more conversational tone) but that's gonna take some work!

When I'm writing in-house stuff for Canadian Art, previews and the like, I tend to think of people I see around in the art world, folks who aren't close emotionally but who have some background or interest in art and who might also have more of an interest in background or history issues in terms of institutions or galleries.

Finally, when I'm writing for this here blog, well, to be honest (geez, this will sound just great!) I guess the ideal reader is myself—though I'm verrrrrrrrry happy to have a few Unedit my Heart readers who aren't me, I think it also likely comes across that this is a working-it-out-in-the-brain or writing-it-down-in-case-the-brain-forgets-it type of space. Admittedly, I do also sometimes think of colleagues with similar interests, and what they might be wanting to know about, but that's much rarer, likely (yipes!) 1 to 5% of the time.

Anyone else (if anyone's still reading...) find that thinking of an ideal reader helps them in the writing process? Anyone going to use that strategy when writing their top 10s for Sally & LM? (Anyone can submit, due December 27, details here! Do it!)

Image from the Blogger Institute

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's the Biggest Can/Art Story of the Day, so Why Fight It? Yes Men Perform Canuckness at Copenhagen

This is pretty much the biggest Canadian-related art story of the day as I see it, so let's just affirm it now, shall we? From the National Post:

Prankster group Yes Men take credit for Canada climate hoax

COPENHAGEN -- The federal government was stung on Monday by a sophisticated hoax that made it appear the Canadian delegation had publicly committed to bold emission reduction targets and tens of billions in new aid to help African nations.

An American social advocacy group told media organizations they were responsible for the fake news releases that set Canadians at the Copenhagen climate conference abuzz late on Monday.

Activists calling themselves the Yes Men said they sent out an initial phoney news release, which laid out the supposed new Canadian targets and action plan.

That email was followed by others, one of which appeared to be a government indictment of the first hoax -- which stated Canada's standing with the international business community had been damaged, and the Canadian government would "seek the full measure of legal recourse against these criminals under Danish and international law."

Another hoax news release had the Ugandan delegation at the international climate change talks reacting with elation to Canada's news.

The news releases were posted on a fake Environment Canada website, and the first appeared on real-looking, but bogus, Wall Street Journal and United Nations Conference of the Party sites.

And from the Yes Men website:

Copenhagen Spoof Shames Canada; Climate Debt No Joke
African, Danish and Canadian youth join the Yes Men to demand climate justice and skewer Canadian climate policy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - "Canada is 'red-faced'!" (Globe and Mail) "Copenhagen spoof shames Canada!" (Guardian) "Hoax slices through Canadian spin on warming!" (The Toronto Star) "A childish prank!" (Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada)

What at first looked like the flip-flop of the century has been revealed as a sophisticated ruse by a coalition of African, North American, and European activists. The purpose: to highlight the most powerful nations' obstruction of meaningful progress in Copenhagen, to push for just climate debt reparations, and to call out Canada in particular for its terrible climate policy.

The elaborate intercontinental operation was spearheaded by a group of concerned Canadian citizens, the "Climate Debt Agents" from ActionAid, and The Yes Men. It involved the creation of a best-case scenario in which Canadian government representatives unleashed a bold new initiative to curb emissions and spearhead a "Climate Debt Mechanism" for the developing world.

The ruse started at 2:00 PM Monday, when journalists around the world were surprised to receive a press release from "Environment Canada" (, a copy of that claimed Canada was reversing its position on climate change.

In the release, Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, waxed lyrical. "Canada is taking the long view on the world economy," said Prentice. "Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense."

Thirty minutes later, the same "Environment Canada" sent out another press release, congratulating itself on Uganda's excited response to the earlier fake announcement. A video featuring an impassioned response by "Margaret Matembe," supposedly a COP15 delegate from Uganda, was embedded in a fake COP15 website. "Canada, until now you have blocked climate negotiations and refused to reduce emissions," said "Matembe." "Of course, you do sit on the world's second-largest oil reserve. But for us it isn't a mere economic issue - it's about drought, famine, and disease."

Makes me sad to be a Canadian, but proud to occasionally believe in art. In other words: I don't think this stunt/performance/work accomplished a ton, but it did direct attention to the way image is used and misused in the climate talks--a worthwhile point whether one's Canadian or not. (Frankly for all those who just want to diss Alberta, I say where would Bay Street be without the oilsands... but that's a whole other discussion.)

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview: Vitaly Medvedovsky on Painting the Unreal

Vitaly Medvedovsky is a young, currently Montreal-based artist who won this year's $25,000 Joseph Plaskett Award, a travel-funds prize for promising painters. Last week, I got to chat with him on the phone about his latest body of work, which melds memories of the USSR, where Medvedovsky grew up, with more fantastical representations around national myths. Today the National Post published the interview. Here's an excerpt:

Q You seem to really enjoy making surreal landscapes. Where do these come from?

A They originate in personal memory but also expand on that. I was born in the U.S.S.R., and I often think of myself as a person who comes from a country that doesn't exist. In my paintings, I seek to superimpose something on that blank spot in my biography by combining real and mythological elements.

Q How else did growing up in the U.S.S.R. influence your art?

A It's not necessarily real events that attract me, but more the visual things. When I originally started these paintings, I was inspired by socialist propaganda posters. My first paintings were parodies of those -- I would use family and friends as substitutes for political figures in poster-type compositions.

But it was really an eye-opener for me when I realized that I'm not trying to recreate a specific memory. Instead, I'm trying to reconstruct a fantastical world that's supposedly based on things I remember, but that's also completely made up. The mythological and surreal elements help make that more obvious.

You can read the rest--including Medvedovsky's allusions to the space race--on page B14 of today's Post.

Image of Medvedovsky's I Went Deeper Into the Forest from Galerie Push

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Duly Noted: Young Art Folks say "Frak the Internet"

I'm a bit of an oldster in tech terms--turning 35 next month and still (!) use a hotmail account on occasion--so it's been interesting for me to see some younger early-20s artists and curators start to make work that is critical of the interwebs with which the have been suckled.

A recent example of this was "On You On Me" at the new artist-run/living-room space Butcher Gallery. Curated by young artist Kaitlin Till-Landry, the show was intended to deal with "themes inspired by the Internet’s influences on identity, narcissism and voyeurism." (In the interest of full disclosure, I met Till-Landry a couple of years ago when I was hired to curate a show of student work for the U of T vis arts department.)

For one "On You On Me" performance, Till-Landry took a knife to a webcam-streaming digital LCD screen, and seemed to find it harder to destroy than initially thought. Video of the performance is below:

Performance at Butcher Gallery from Kaitlin Till-Landry on Vimeo.

The work didn't end up functioning as intended during my visit, but the overall premise--including the handwritten, nondigital curatorial statement--was interesting. Most of the rest of the work in the show was analog. (I think the show has now closed, but a word to the wise if you're planning on visiting the gallery--because it's over a butcher shop, it does smell a lot like fairly odorous cheese and meat in there--er, unless that was some extra-analog piece that I somehow didn't identify.)

It's also worth noting that earlier this year, another young curator, Jennifer Chan, made related critiques of the web in her essay for a show at Interaccess. (As an aside, it looks like after many months of staffing-and-financial chaos, Interaccess is finally showing art again this month. Here's hoping they pull through.)

Finally, there's one more example I've come across of this internet-critical sentiment, albeit in the clubbing realm: Tony Cushman's regular FUCKtheINTERNET dance party. Says Cushman in an interview with BlogTO:

The crowd that we are attracting - artsy types in their 20s - are part of the last generation that can still remember a time before the Internet. The tracks [that we play] - New Wave, Old School Hip-Hop, 90s Dance - are a celebration of the pre-internet era, but the name also speaks to the ambivalent relationship we each have with the Internet.

I don't think any of this means Google will have to batten down the hatches for mutiny anytime soon; far from it. All these kids use the internet a lot--but it's interesting to me how some of them are also more critical about it than I would have expected.

Image from Hacking for Christ

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Follow-up: Galleries closed since '08, and some that have opened

As a follow-up to the NOW 2000s art trends article I posted about yesterday--particularly the point on the effect of market ups and downs on our local scene--I just wanted to list the Toronto galleries I know of that have closed since 2008, or that are soon to close their spaces.

I should also note that number of these have promised a "transformation" into more of a consultancy or showing-from-home-office scenario, but the spaces themselves have closed, or are about to.

Artcore Fabrice Marcolini
Sandra Ainsley Gallery
Greener Pastures
Beckett Fine Art
Keep Six Contemporary
Paul Bright Gallery
Craig Scott Gallery
List Gallery
Switch Contemporary

I'm listing these just as information--no judgment, people. I have zero skill or experience in the commercial gallery realm, so I'm pretty much always impressed with people who (a) are willing to give it a go and (b) are willing to risk their livelihoods/pay the rent for it.

(I'll also just note, out of Toronto, that Vancouver's Lawrence Eng Gallery has officially closed. They showed some artists I enjoy and who I hope get picked up elsewhere.)

Interestingly, one of the main Toronto gallery launches this season was Circuit Gallery -- a gallery that has ixnayed gallery-rental fees from its budget completely and gone all online/consultancy to begin with. I'm guessing this will be an increasing model for the future. Even though the auctions this season have clearly shown that some folks are still willing to pay big money for art, it's a challenge, I'd bet, to develop and maintain relationships with those kinds of buyers, especially for new gallerists featuring relatively unknown artists.

Image from Chicago Now

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 10 Art Developments of the Decade out in NOW

December 2009 is the mini-era of the decade list genre in all media right now, it seems. Rolling Stone just released their double-naught cover, seen above, and, for the less sincerely excited, my National Post colleagues have been doing a smileworthy sarcastic version in recent print editions of the Saturday arts section.

NOW's decade-list issue is out today, complete with a "Top 10 Art Developments of the Decade" section. I contributed to this list along with my colleagues Fran Schechter and David Jager. Here's the rundown:

1. Photography in flux
2. Queen West art boom
3. Post-conceptualism
4. Art festivals go big
6. Forever young
7. Art market bubble and crash
8. Galleries seize their space
9. Exhibition Transport Services cut
10. Rising museum admission fees

To read the reasoning and details, do hop on over to the article.

(On the art front, of course, we've already had some debate on this blog about the Star's decade-best art picks, which we should actually continue with the better-but-still-shockingly-white'n'male (TM) and art best-of lists. But I'll leave that for another post.)

Image of Chip Kidd's Rolling Stone cover from their website

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out Now: Spacing Wildlife Issue with Jumblies Theatre Shout-Out

Over in east Scarborough, good community arts things are happening. I get to give these a wee shout-out in the latest edition of Spacing magazine, which themed on urban wilderness (yay white squirrels and bald raccoons!) is having its launch tonight at the Toronto Reference Library (run now and you might just make it!)

My article, "Art of being a neighbour," lightly touches upon the beginning of a three-year project that Jumblies Theatre is doing in partnership with the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre--a neighbourhood arts centre that was getting lots of use from upper middle class folks from the area and beyond, but not much involvement from the lower-income people in the directly surrounding area.

Jumblies spent a lot of time in particular working with youth who were being temporarily housed in the Kingston Road motel strip--an overflow site for city housing, at least until the condo developers get a hold of it.

Looking over what some of these kids made when I visited in the summer was pretty heartrending. In one project, kids were asked to make figurines of people at different emotional and physical distances--people who were close physically but faraway emotionally, like a stranger in the neighbourhood, and people who were close emotionally but far away physically, like a relative or pet in a faraway homeland.

During this project, youth from the motel strip also built a massive nest out of branches from the Cedar Ridge site, which is actually an old mansion with garden--really deluxe. The nest was then decorated with more motel-like elements like a side table, a TV and bar soap.

Then what Jumblies did once they finished this geographical project with the youth was they had a public exhibit where regular visitors to the centre could go through the same exercise with the figurines. Really, the results seemed quite wonderful. (You can peruse some lovely pics here.)

Community arts--arts as healing--is a far cry from the critically-oriented professional-art debates that have been addressed on this blog of late, but it's still a key facet of art and artmaking. I really look forward to seeing what Jumblies, Cedar Ridge and their participants do with this in the future.

I will end, however, on a slightly less heartening fact--Cedar Ridge has a staffer who helps make city arts programs more economically and socially accessible. Great idea, right? Well, guess how many of these positions/people there are in the whole city's community centre staff. Three--including the one at Cedar Ridge. This in a city of nearly 3 million. So that access support is something to improve upon, even if the programs being delivered are qualitatively pretty great.

Image of Jumblies project "Nesting" figurines from Jumblies Theatre

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Duelling Press Releases: Artists vs. the National Gallery of Canada

When duelling press releases are issued, you know there is a conflict going on in the art world. The latest instance of this has been a breakdown in exhibition and reproduction fee negotiations between CARFAC/RAAV—the associations representing all of Canada's artists—and the National Gallery of Canada.

According to a CARFAC press release issued December 2:

Visual artists have revived a complaint against the National Gallery of Canada for bargaining in bad faith after mediation talks in November failed to resolve a bargaining impasse that has been outstanding for two years. The complaint will be handled by the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal (CAPPRT) who can call a hearing to decide the issue.

Negotiations, which first began in 2002, broke down in 2007 when the gallery suddenly refused to discuss exhibition and reproduction fees. This despite the fact that talks had largely revolved around these fees for five years. At that time, the artists’ negotiation committee first filed a complaint with CAPPRT. The complaint was suspended after Marc Mayer was appointed director of the gallery and then agreed to mediation.

“After seven years of negotiation we had hoped to resolve this issue,” said Karl Beveridge, co-chair of the artists’ negotiation committee. “The lack of commitment on the part of the National Gallery to the negotiation process is disappointing and disrespectful to all Canadian artists.”

And according to the National Gallery of Canada's press release issued December 7:

The breakdown in negotiations with the CARFAC/RAAV under the Status of the Artist Act results from CARFAC/RAAV’s interest in concluding agreement on copyright issues outside the boundaries of their certification. The NGC is fully prepared and very committed to resolving the important issues, including terms of professional engagement and services, which are covered by the Status of the Artist Act.

The NGC has long played a leadership role in encouraging and protecting living artistic culture in Canada but it cannot do so outside the Canadian laws and of the long-established regulation process regarding property and copyright.

Mediation was proposed by the NGC in an effort to finally conclude an agreement. On the first day of the mediation process, CARFAC/RAAV put an end to the discussions and announced that they were reviving a complaint they had filed at the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal (CAPPRT) in early 2008.

So far, CARFAC/RAAV has not responded to the NGC’s invitation to resume discussions on all outstanding issues.

Fun times! FYI on other conflict fronts, the Museum of Civilization workers' strike has now hit 12 weeks. Here's the museum workers' twitter feed; they're currently asking for binding arbitration. And here's the museum's press release feed; they call their offer "realistic and responsible."

Image from NoMoreComm

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Interview: Elizabeth Zvonar

Vancouver artist Elizabeth Zvonar once ran a free-luck cart at Helen Pitt Gallery. The good fortune (as well as, we can presume hard work) certainly seems to have worked for Zvonar—opportunities since then have included a window installation at Artspeak and now a solo at the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Today, the National Post ran my Q&A with Zvonar about her new show. Here's an excerpt:

Q So you're mixing images from different eras. Is that why your show is called On Time?

A The impetus for everything in this show started with my research into early-20th-century Paris. I was interested in what social influences were brought into the type of cubism that Picasso is known for -- then the beats era, then the hippie era. It's all very loose, but I am conflating time in different eras of magazines. There's also a sculpture in the show made of wood that's 3,000 300 years old. In that, you can see time as well. I was interested in the musical sense of "on time," like rhythm.

(Note the originally published 3,000 years is actually 300. Apologies.) Also really fun is Zvonar's takeoff of the Vancouver school in this image (not in the show) Talking Stick.

Image of Elizabeth Zvonar's Channelling from Mono Clothing

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reviewed: Kristine Moran, Sharon Switzer, Robyn McCallum

Today, the National Post published three of my brief reviews of shows currently on in the Distillery district: Kristine Moran @ Clark & Faria, Sharon Switzer @ Jane Corkin and Robyn McCallum @ Pikto. Here's an excerpt:

In her first Toronto solo show in four years, locally trained, New York-based painter Kristine Moran offers eight enjoyable paintings -- all so enjoyable, in fact, that the show has already sold out. Fortunately, they're still available for viewing. Moran's paintings are quietly dynamic -- though she has skill in balancing light and dark, line and form, curved and straight, flat and goopy, she doesn't shout it rudely in your face. Rather, she lets you discover it yourself through an intelligent visual conversation. Her wide-brush strokes, which would seem to span six inches or more in compressed sweeps, are particularly fun. Also interesting is the way that Moran's forms alternately evoke interior architecture, like lobby ceilings and kitchen floors, and exterior landscapes, such as rivers and fields glimpsed through the foggy window of a speeding train. This kind of shifting, prismatic effect adds conceptual heft to Moran's fashionable, sophisticated initial appearances -- important because, without this anchor, this kind of work could easily fall into vapid prettiness. To Jan. 10.

Image of Kristine Moran's Hidden in the Shore Maze from Clark & Faria

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Panel Notes: "Bring It"

Though a few other folks have already posted about it--like respected local critic John Bentley Mays and (on Facebook, sorry I've been alerted this link is hard to get to) well-known curator/critic Earl Miller--and I'm promised that wonderfully incriminating video footage will soon be available via Artstars*, I just wanted to post a few notes related to "Bring It: Toronto Alliance of Art Critics says Make Face Mofos!", an event that happened on Wednesday, December 2 in Toronto.

"Bring It," co-organized by sassy social video queen Nadja Sayej and artist/curator Xenia Benivolski, took place at Double Double Land, a residence-cum-event space. The turnout was pretty great -- I'm guessing it fluctuated between 75 and 90, which was basically capacity-plus. While this unfortunately resulted in a bit of a swelter in the room, it definitely spoke to people's interest in the premise, which was to get up close and personal (hissing-cat sound effects included) with a six Toronto critics of various ilk: Toronto Star art reporter Murray Whyte, Eye Weekly arts editor and critic David Balzer, former C Magazine and Mix Magazine editor Rosemary Heather, Goldsmiths grad/curator/critic Charlene Lau, artist/artUS correspondent Otino Corsano, and myself. Nadja Sayej hosted in Sally Jessy Raphael style.

Overall, I really enjoyed the evening; key facts were explicated to the crowd by both the panellists and the audience (which contained several critics). Such gems, which many non-critics might not be aware of, include the fact that Modern Painters pays $50 per review, that "even Artforum" is afraid of losing advertisers due to negative reviews, that it can take 12 months-plus to get paid by C Magazine, and more. I think, as many of us on the panel did, that it's important to get this kind of economic information out there. Though no fee excuses lazy criticism, the fact is that the way criticism is paid for (or not) is one of the things that deeply influences the tenor of Canadian criticism--ie. if you're not being paid to well to write something, or if your critical real estate is limited to 500 words every four months, well, you'd tend to write about art you love rather than art you don't.

At several points during the evening, the issue of "should reviewers be more critical?" came up. While this was responded to in several directions, it was also pointed out that this particular phrasing is unhelpful, as "critical" is not a word many seem to be in agreement upon. Some take it as "negative", others take it as "descriptive and probing in an indepth way," others take in it yet other ways.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would posit the tensions thusly: That what Canadian criticism needs is to be more truthful.

And when I say truthful, I mean a few different things:

One is that reviewers and critics need to be honest about their reactions to works and exhibitions. This is a rule that should be (naturally!) widely in practice, but it can often fall by the wayside, particularly, I'm told, with inexperienced writers who feel the purpose of a review is to best convey what the artist wants to say. And while this may be the partial function of a profile or an interview (and to a lesser extent of a review), I feel the key role of the critic, at least in journalistic criticism, is to provide readers with their honest, thoughtful reaction to a given artwork or exhibition. That's it. I don't always achieve it myself, but it is always something to aim for.

Another thing I mean by Canadian criticism needing to be more truthful is this: our publications, when viewed widely, need to reflect the truth that some art is enjoyed, and some art is not. When we have publications that solely work on a laudatory basis, the sweeping landscape of Canadian artistic production is falsified--its dark or more difficult or more disappointing parts erased. When we don't provide readers with those experiences of disappointment--which are common to most art viewers--I would posit we forgo an opportunity to mirror that truth, and to articulate it in a way that is helpful--helpful to the reader, who, again, is the person I try to make my first consideration in published writing, and maybe even helpful to the art. (Again, I'll admit I don't always accomplish this, even where I have the most power to do so, my own blog. But again, it should be something to aim for, rather than to ignore.)

Of course, both of these realms of truth are influenced by pressures from institutions, artists, dealers, curators, and other critical voices--particularly if any of these happen to be advertisers.

So that's my two cents on what seems to be an ongoing conversation.

Overall, though it bit off more than it could chew, and there wasn't as much conflict as perhaps hoped for, I found the evening invigorating. Also, there is a TON of stuff that happened that I did not touch upon in this post. (I also heard people hung out for a couple hours afterwards chatting and such, something I completely missed.) I have a bit of a post-event-sorry-I-talked-so-much feeling, because there were a lot of voices to be heard, but I look forward to hearing more voices in future events. It's exciting to think this kind of conversation could be an ongoing one, and that this is just the beginning.

Again, if there are any additions (and there should be!) corrections, comments or questions, please feel free to add on in the comments.

Image of Bring It host Nadja Sayej by Barbara Gilbert

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Panel Notes: "Of/By/For: A Dialogue on Representation"

As promised, I'm posting some rough notes on the first panel I was involved with this week, "Of/By/For." FYI these are pretty subjective impressions! I heartily welcome any comments, corrections or observations from readers or other attendees. (Note I'll also try to do a separate post on "Bring It" in the next few days as well.)

This event involved small, engaged panel and audience on December 2 December 1 at the OCAD Graduate Gallery in Toronto. The main point of reflection was Ukrainian-Canadian artist Taras Polataiko's recent video work In the Land of the Head Hunters, which is currently on view at Barbara Edwards Contemporary in Toronto and previously has shown in Korea and Australia. For this video, Polataiko took Edward Curtis's 1914 film In the Land of the Head Hunters and showed it to current residents of the BC community where Curtis had made the film. During his BC screening, Polataiko filmed the residents in the audience, as well as some of their comments afterwards.

Following screenings of Curtis' and Polataiko's film, the artist talked a bit about his past work—work that often addressed the disappearance of colonization of Ukrainian cultures. Then I spoke a bit about my assessment of the film as a general art critic, and then Bonnie Devine spoke about the work from her perspective as a First Nations artist and curator.

My take on Polataiko's work went something like this: While the themes in Polataiko's past work and new work shared certain broad themes--like the erasure of cultural history, or the effects of colonization--I didn't find In the Land of the Head Hunters as successful or strong as his past work.

From my perspective, the reason for this is as follows: Polataiko, being a Ukrainian-Canadian person, had decades of experience and investment in Ukrainian cultural history when he started to make works about that particular culture being colonized. He is inevitably deeply engaged in that particular narrative or web of tensions and symbols, and that deep engagement, to me, really showed up in his past work, and made the works themselves deeply engaging (Polataiko's artistic skill, of course, was key too! But the engagement also really comes across.)

It was my opinion that Polataiko's lack of experience in and investment in the First Nations community and its cultural history issues resulted in the new work being much less engaged--and much less engaging. To me, the work ended up being more about distance--distance between the artist and his subjects, distance between the subjects and the 1914 film they were watching, distance between generations and cultures even today.

As a result, Polataiko's In the Land of the Head Hunters ended up, for me, feeling more like the beginning of the work than a finished work--or rather, it felt incomplete, and not in a good way. (Polataiko did confirm he is continuing on projects and collaboration with this First Nations community, so maybe I'll have more to look at in the future on this point.)

When the question of "Well, should artists be allowed to make work about different cultures? Should there be limit setting or box ticking?" came up, I clarified my position this way--when an artist is working in a culture or subculture different from their own, they actually need to expand the limits of their practice, not limit them. They have to understand that the same old approaches or techniques or production schedules will not necessarily be equal to the task. They need to understand they have to invest more energy and more intellect and more time into the work to even get an inkling of the rich understandings they can draw upon so instantly when working within their own culture.

Granted, there are some lucky geniuses out there, across all artistic genres, who can make entering another cultural realm--be it gender based, nation based, language based, or ability based--seem effortless. But those geniuses are far and few between. For most of us, it takes more effort, time and thought to intelligently, sensitively and convincingly work outside our own sociocultural niche.

So, that was my take....

For my part, I found Bonnie Devine's perspectives really enlightening as well. She reflected that the people she saw in Polataiko's film are/represent "those who have not died." They are survivors. And when those survivors are watching the 1914 film, they are naturally not critiquing all the film artifices that Polataiko might. Rather, they are seeing their uncles, aunts, grandparents, loved ones--those who have died; those who have not survived. (For many in that audience, it was their first time seeing the Curtis film.)

Devine, along with artist/curator Gerald McMaster, who was in the audience, also noted how Polataiko's shots of current-day residents in some ways replicated the profiles of Curtis' famed (and much critiqued) photography of First Nations people. She also noted how much the adults in Polataiko's film avoided meeting the gaze of the camera--a survival strategy, perhaps, or remnant of that historical legacy.

Overall, I felt Devine was able to open up the consideration of the film, and I wish I had taken more notes on her comments because they were really insightful (as well as less judgmental of the work than yours truly, but hey, I guess that's what I'm supposed to bring). McMaster also provided a lot of interesting perspectives as well, positing that what we were seeing in Polataiko's film was two timespans floating past each other, with a big space between them.

The conversation continued for some time with quite engaged commentary and questions from the audience. I bet that panel organizer Rose Bouthillier, an artist and curator herself, will likely do more interesting stuff in the future.

And... just to reiterate, this post is a very, very, very partial record of the proceedings, so I appreciate any clarifications, questions, links, criticisms or comments readers might be willing to share.

Image of notepad from PSDRockstar

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review of Sitting Pretty out in NOW

Sitting Pretty is a little group show that has generated a lot of conversation in the Toronto art world of late. The conversation was sparked by View on Canadian Art's Andrea Carson when she expressed dislike of the show, then questioned that dislike. This approach/discussion was more recently critiqued (helpfully, I think) by Gabrielle Moser over at her own blog.

In any case, my review of the show is out today in NOW--assigned well before all this controversy erupted, it responds to the work alone... though I do find the related uproar really interesting in its own right.

Image of Tibi Tibi Neuspiel's (surprisingly controversial) work from NOW

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Panel Pause: Notes to Come and "What's The New Line?" Tonight

With two panels in two days, it has been an exciting time in my normally-hermit-like world. I just wanted to offer a quick confirmation that I am planning to post some notes from both "Of/By/For" and "Bring It" in the next few days.

Until then, if you still need a panel fix, there's a doozy for ya tonight at Cinecycle. I can't make it, but I look forward to reading other folks' observations. Here's the details from the press release:

Lawrence Weschler: What's The New Line?
December 3, 2009
Cinecycle (behind 129 Spadina Ave, Toronto)

The great American writer, Lawrence Weschler (who was on the staff of The New Yorker for 20 years and is considered by many one of the best narrative non-fiction writers working) is being brought to town by Sheila Heti and Margaux Williamson's production company, THE PRODUCTION FRONT, for an evening in which we, along with some great local artists and journalists, will try and figure out a better way of thinking about art in our time than along the increasingly confusing spectrum (or line) of fiction/non-fiction. In other words: We need a new line!

Participants on stage and around the stage that night will include: Douglas Bell, Shary Boyle, Jon Davies, Kelly Jenkins, Amy Lam, Jon McCurley , Darren O'Donnell, Christine Pountney, and Nadja Sayej.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More art links for the Ecole Polytechnique Anniversary: Off the Beaten Path

Last week, I posted some information on the Guerilla Girls show at Galerie de l'UQAM, which includes a special-commission poster designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings.

Recently, I stumbled across another exhibition related to these themes. It's not happening in Canada, but in San Diego—and while that's far, far away from the 49th parallel, there's luckily a virtual exhibition component that can give us points to reflect upon on this sad anniversary.

The show is called "Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women and Art," and it includes a number of internationally known artists like Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic, Mona Hatoum and Wangechi Mutu. It was curated by Randy Jayne Rosenberg for Art Works for Change, an Oakland nonprofit organized to "address social and environmental issues such as social justice, human rights, gender equity, and environmental sustainability."

The show opened at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo, Norway, in June, and is at the University of California San Diego's art gallery to December 12. The exhibition then travels to Centro Cultural Tijuana in Mexico and Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico through to the end of summer 2010.

I'm really glad this exhibition has been put together--and that it has this virtual component available. Here's hoping it can exhibit a little closer to home in the future.

Image of Mona Hatoum's artwork from Art Works for Change

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

McMichael Gallery launches "Mood on Demand" TV channel. Wha????

When I receive a publicity factsheet titled "Mood on Demand," I'm pretty sure it has to do with pharmaceuticals, self-help, or some homegrown mixture of the two.

Alas, the McMichael Collection was shilling neither prozac or paperbacks when it lobbed this particular press release into my inbox the other day.

According to the release, "Mood on Demand" is actually a new on-demand channel option at Rogers Cable which scrolls through McMichael hits like Tom Thomson's Snow Shadows and A. Y. Jackson's Bent Pine.

The overall promise is "content that transforms a flat-panel TV into an art gallery"... Just what the Group of Seven was I'm sure hoping for when they took to the great Canadian "wilderness" to document its glory.

Aw, in all seriousness distribution of art is a good thing, and I'd like to see more art coverage on TV. This just feels a bit cheesy, especially with the unfortunate word-branding where art=mood. Blech.

If you're interested, the service does launch today at the rate of 99 cents a day. (Personally, I may just be sticking with Gossip Girl. Srsly!)

TV image from The Magpie's Nest

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