Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three Reviews in Bloor-Lansdowne

My end-of-the-month gallery stroll -- out in the Post today -- took me to the Bloor-Lansdowne area, a nabe where a new businesses seem to be changing the streetscape on an increasing basis. Here's an excerpt:

Days of the Eclipse/50 Light Fixtures from Home Depot
Mercer Union, 1286 Bloor St. W.

An eclipse -- at least one of the non-Twilight-series kind--offers a strange state during which light and dark coexist, as well as a sense of suspended time and cosmic awareness. So it makes sense that the works in Days of the Eclipse, Mercer's current group show, riff on these eerie feelings -- albeit with an emphasis more on bleak darkness than awe-filled light. It's a particularly Januaryish show that way, with the promise of beginning weighed down by anxiety and regret (post-holiday credit-card statements, anyone?). Best in show is L.A. artist Marie Jager's Past/Present/Future, a wall piece that overlaps its titular words to form a laser-cut mirror. This artwork reflects the difficulty of teasing apart the three temporal states, and suggests that the place where these difficult time-planets meet is, perhaps, one's own, unremarkable, very human body. Jager's Pollution Paintings are also interesting. Made of diesel oil, they look like exploding planets and seem at first to deliver a simple environmental-anxiety message. But they change when one learns (from the exhibition brochure) that Jager makes her paintings by holding canvases up to an auto's exhaust pipe at the moment of ignition. Overall, the show --complemented in the back gallery by Christian Giroux and Daniel Young's stripped-down film 50 Light Fixtures from Home Depot -- takes a scientific, clinical approach to big problems of the soul. And though that kind of withdrawn weariness suits the season, this exhibit could use a little more feeling to balance its philosophy. To March 6.

Image of Marie Jager's Past Present Future from her website

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Last Chance: Mark Kasumovic @ TIW

A little show I saw and really enjoyed recently was Mark Kasumovic at Toronto Image Works. The show, which focuses on power-line infrastructure, closes tomorrow, Saturday, January 30. Definitely worth a look. Also, if you have the time while in 80 Spadina, check out Sammy Baloji's installation at the Contact fest's new gallery. Baloji's work (the Toronto debut for this Congolese photographer, I beleive) is up to March 14, but merits repeat visits. (I'll be going back.)

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back in the USSR Canada-SSR, Don't Know How Lucky You Are: Q&A With Caitlin Jones

Truth out!–-I'm a dual citizen of the US and Canada. When my US passport was still valid, I mostly liked it because it made travelling south of the 49th a little easier. But the lack of health care coverage freaked me out in terms of long-term stays--something that I do hope will change for the good folks of America as its new health-care plan gets implemented.

In any case, like everyone, I'm well aware that the US art scene pretty much eclipses Canada's in every way. Truly, you sometimes just have to admit that quantity can sometimes equal quality--or at least better odds of same.

Nonetheless, it was very interesting to chat a couple of weeks back with Caitlin Jones, who recently returned to Vancouver after a decade in the NYC region, where she worked for the Guggenheim, Rhizome and a variety of other impressive orgs (Believer and PS1, anybody?) Soon after returning, Jones became executive director at Western Front, the venerable artist-run centre, and this became my excuse to, you know, find out why she would abscond from what many culturati think of as mega-hyper-art-land to our supposedly barren frontiers.

Today, Canadian Art published an edited version of our phone chat. Here's an excerpt:

LS: You mentioned that you came back to Vancouver (and BC, and Canada) even before this position was posted. What do you like about being back?

CJ: Well, it’s nice to just be in this city; Vancouver’s a beautiful city to be in. So that’s number one, getting a little more space and breathing fresher air.

In terms of the art world, one of the things I found so frustrating living in New York was that despite the hard work of many, many people working independently, it’s extremely driven and directed by the market. In New York, there’s just no way you can get away from that. It’s a really commercial-gallery-driven culture.

Being back in Canada, and being back in British Columbia—although, sadly with massive funding cuts all this may change very soon or is changing drastically—it’s very nice to be in an environment and brainstorming with people in a way that has nothing to do with salability or market value or anything like that. It feels great—it feels the way it’s supposed to be, really inspiring and open.

So far, that’s biggest change I’ve noticed. Of course, once I get into the nitty-gritty of how arts funding and policy works, my feelings might change. But for the moment it’s a really refreshing change of perspective.

In the interview, we also talk about her views on Internet/art stuffs, which is a specialty of hers. One thing that didn't make it into the edit was that Jones' arrival marks a shift for the Front from a collective-management structure to a more traditional executive-director mode. Also, I had been wondering why a couple of positions became available at the Front this year--though many readers likely already figured this out, former exhibitions director Candice Hopkins got a job offer from the National Gallery in Ottawa and former media director Alissa Firth-Eagland departed for schooling in Europa. So there ya go!

Image of Caitlin Jones from

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too Cool For School: Art & Science Fair Call for Submissions

Got a very interesting call for submissions via Sally McKay today. It's for Too Cool for School: Art and Science Fair which will take place at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on May 8, 2010. According to McKay,

The Too Cool For School Art & Science Fair is an interdisciplinary project in which people from all walks of life come together in a convergence of art and science.The event is structured just like a school science fair participants will display their projects on rows of tables, and will be on hand to discuss their work with the public. The difference is that this event is as much about art as it is about science. Participants will be selected from an open call for submissionson the basis of originality, depth of inquiry, creative innovation and the element of surprise.

The deadline for submissions is March 26, and all "dreamers and inventors, original thinkers and adventurous tinkerers, mad scientists and misunderstood artists, anyone with an over-active imagination and a love/hate relationship with the so-called "real world"" are welcome to apply. (Some of the "winners" will be asked to develop their project further for a fall 2010 exhibition. Break out the ribbons!) Visit to find out more.

Image from Second Thoughts

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Art Matters: Who Knew?

As you know, reader, I'm mighty out of the loop sometimes. So it was this week when I read about Art Matters, a conference winding up Calgary's venerable High Performance Rodeo festival. The Calgary Herald has a report on the event, which sought to address the use of arts in social change.

But, but, but... that's not all. Not only was it a surprise to hear about the conference; it was a surprise to find out that Art Matters is also part of Governor General Michaëlle Jean's wider project Citizen Voices: Breaking Down Solitudes, which lists "Art Matters" and "Urban Arts" as two of its themes of interest.

As Jean said at the Art Matters conference,

"Art has the power to inspire, to heal, to transform, to rehabilitate, to bear witness and to make us believe there are better days ahead."

Such a different perspective from that of Stephen Harper, who has been quite silent on the arts issue since his much-blogged Beatles performance last year. (Oh, unless chopping funding to small arts mags -- some of those "citizen voices" -- makes a noise. Maybe someone should write a pop song for that?)

Image of Jean from the Calgary Herald

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Recommended Read: Chris Nuttall-Smith in the Globe on hunt for a new head of the ROM

Great article in the Globe this weekend on the search for a new head of the Royal Ontario Museum. Written by Chris Nuttall-Smith, who was honoured at the National Magazine Awards last year for his Toronto Life feature about the ROM's problems, most of of the article focuses on ideas of what exhibitions should be, or how they should be designed. But there was some mention of access issues, to wit:

Dr. Colin Saldanha, a ROM trustee, said he doesn't care which field the winning candidate comes from. He wants his board colleagues to “think outside the box,” he said. “Nobody should be excluded. We want to see people presenting a vision, whoever you are. If your vision fits in with the vision of the board's strategic plan, then that's the kind of person that we need to hire.”

Saldanha, who runs a family practice clinic in Mississauga, said that many of the patients he sees – new immigrants who live outside the city core – haven't even heard of the ROM, much less visited it. He wants a new director who will make the museum, which charges $22 for adult admission, more affordable, and will reach out to ethnic and religious groups around the region. His hope: “A redefining of the term and concept of the museum,” he said. “It should be a centre for innovation, information, technology, all combined together within the grasp of the common man, the average Ontarian,” he said.

I do hope Dr. Saldanha finds some friends on the board who share his views.

Image of outgoing ROM head William Thorsell from the Globe and Mail

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Best things seen and unseen today

Here's where I went today: Radiant Dark, Mercer Union, Toronto Free Gallery, Olga Korper, Christopher Cutts, Peak Gallery, Fine and Dandy, Industrees, Jessica Bradley, Show & Tell, MKG127, Xpace, Hunter & Cook, Paul Petro, Heavy Metal, Clint Roenisch, Angell, Pari Nadimi, Open Studio, A Space, Red Head, Red Bull.

Here's where I did not go today (sadly): the big anti-prorogue protest in downtown Toronto.

Nonetheless, here's the best things I saw today:

Pictures from the anti-prorogue protest. Estimated 7,000 turnout in Toronto, thousands more across the country. Frequent updates and more images available at (Particular image above via

Jon Sasaki's video of trying to run up an unsupported ladder in front of the "Better Living" building. Entertaining, sad, funny, all of the above. At Jessica Bradley. (Image from

Jessica Johnston's Recession Bling, which are copper cent-symbols necklaces created from--you guessed it--melted-down pennies. Sadly, I don't have any photos of these. But Anneke van Bommel's gold versions of disposable-fairground cutlery and Erin McCutcheon's "community vessels" (which require the joining of two pieces to be functional, pictured above) were also great. All at Radiant Dark. (Image from BlogTO)

Lead image of prorogue protest from

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Get into Spoke Club for Free! Oh, and Also See Some Art.

In the last little while, I've been intrigued by the Spoke Club playing host to art exhibitions. As a writer who likes to address general-interest readers, I really don't like to cover shows that the general public doesn't have access to--and the Spoke Club, if you weren't aware, is basically an exclusive sort of social and dining club with a $800 annual membership fee and $500 initiation fee. Good for Viggo Mortenson and Colin Farrell's budget, not so much for mine and those of others I know.

In any case, since there is a free-and-open-to-the-public art event there tonight--one that even looks kind of interesting--I thought I would put the word out.

The work on view tonight is by Mitchell F. Chan and is detailed in the vid above. Chan seems to specialize in kinetic sculpture, with a past hit being his the cycle-driven projections at Nuit Blanche 2008. Tonight, Chan will be showing off a voice-activated piece with an opera singer performing every hour on the hour from 7 to 10pm. As Chan writes on YouTube, "Each string in the arrangement is activated by a different note, and spins with a velocity dependent on the volume of that note. So each song and unique delivery creates a different ballet."

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Friendly Appreciation: Sam Javanrouh's Torontotopia Pics & Vids

Toronto on Ice from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

Having roomed with some civic activist types when I first arrived in Toronto, I have to say there's plenty of times I feel I've OD'd on Hogtown boosterism. Perhaps I've simply been away from the genre long enough to appreciate it again, but I must admit that stumbling upon Sam Javanrouh's Vimeo channel revitalized my hope for the cause.

Javanrouh is already fairly well known for his multi-award-winning photoblog Daily Dose of Imagery, as well as his work shooting for Spacing Magazine and a few other outlets. But one thing I think his videos reinforce is the sense of reflecting a city back to its citizens, and reflecting it in quite a beautiful and charming way--a way that intrigues one to find out more about/marvel at locations that might seem overly familiar. Whether doing a time-lapse of lightning strikes downtown, recording the progress of two chess players at Yonge/Dundas Square, or speeding up a pedestrian crosswalk, Javanrouh has the ability to make me see the city where I live through fresh eyes.

I guess another thing I find interesting about his work is the way it's specific to Toronto--New York, LA, and Chicago have had a lot of photographic mythologizing of this type, but Javanrouh makes it convincing in a Toronto context. I frankly would like to find out more about photographers like Javanrouh working in any Canadian city--would love to see a similar approach to Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax or Montreal--if only, admittedly to see my pedestrian civic experiences in those places, or perhaps just a sense of place, period, reflected back to me. If you know of people working in other Canadian cities this way, feel free to add in the comments

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Star Trek, Avatar and Indians: Q&A with Jeff Thomas

A couple of years back, I had a chance to see Jeff Thomas' exhibition at the University of Toronto Art Centre. I really enjoyed it, and was happy to have the opportunity to chat with him last week about his work, which is currently part of a much different, more intervention-styled, project at the Glenbow in Calgary. Today the National Post published our condensed Q&A. Here's an excerpt:

Q Avatar -- which has been criticized by some for promoting stereotypes of aboriginals -- won a couple of Golden Globes this past weekend. What's your take on the film?

A I haven't seen the movie yet, but I want to. Reading reviews, it's reminded me of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. In that episode, the Enterprise receives a distress signal from a band of Indians that've been relocated to another planet. Turns out they're being pushed to relocate again by the race on that planet. So here we are, thinking a thousand years into the future, and the Indians are still being forced to move. What's more, they're still dressed in tribal clothing, and still being shown as not-everyday, not-evolved people. Avatar seems to push the same buttons.

Thomas also curated a show, "Home/land & Security" currently up at Render in Waterloo.

Image of Jeff Thomas' Buffalo Robe Visits the Paris Louvre Courtesy of the artist

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Plague of Bloggers? Really?

Recently, while perusing the pages of the current issue of Border Crossings--an edition I also recently gave a shout-out to on Twitter for its Lawrence-Weiner-penned tribute to the late Gerald Ferguson--I saw something a bit strange that I thought might be worth noting here, however self-reflexively.

The troubling points in question are written by Robert Enright in his review of the documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism.

Writes Enright,
What the documentary also shows is that in place of serious film critics, the Internet has facilitated (and I’ll have no trouble with the collective noun for this group) a plague of bloggers.

He goes on to state,
There are those in the film generous enough to view this development as a healthy democratization, a state where everyone is a film critic. They’re welcome to that opinion. What the film makes clear is that one Stanley Kauffmann is worth a hundred Harry Knowles. “What I see of Internet reviewing,” says Richard Schickel, “is people of surpassing ignorance about the medium expressing themselves in the medium.”

I guess what concerned me, mostly, is that any argument that posits "bloggers" vs "critics" seems kind of old and tired, and frankly I'm surprised to see it even being tossed out as a helpful dividing line in 2010.

The fact is--at least in my experience--that both print and online mediums provide forums to good writers and bad writers, thoughtful reviewers and unthoughtful ones.

Granted, I'll admit that the process of getting into print can, in theory, provide some measure of separating the wheat from the chaff. But this is less so in the art media, where jargon and poor writing tends to reign.

Also, there's a number of blogs (and let me be clear, I ain't talking about mine) that provide vital, engaging approaches to criticism. I'm talking about, to name just a few examples, Art Fag City, Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic, Two Coats of Paint, Another Bouncing Ball, Modern Art Notes and C Monster. What's more, to be academic about it, there are newspaper critics who have their own informative blogs, like Roger Ebert and Jonathan Jones. Finally, whether some folks like it or not, blogs provide an often entertaining forum for discussion, perspective and information, a reason I regularly visit outlets ranging from Sally & Lorna Mills' blog to Simpleposie to View on Canadian Art.

Another concerning point of argument comes up when Enright writes,
The heavyweights are included [in the film]—Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times), A O Scott (The New York Times), J Hoberman (The Village Voice), Richard Schickel (Time) and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly)—as are the featherweights—Harry Knowles (, Mike Szymanski ( and Scott Weinberg ( For the most part, this latter group has little to say about the history of film criticism, since they are its irredeemable present. They measure their success in website hits and the number of times they have been quoted. When Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader says that, “the best thing that can be said of a critic is that what he writes is so singular and interesting that you can’t turn it into advertising,” you are aware he has drawn a line in the sand and the boy from is decidedly on the other side.

The main criticism of bloggers that caught my eye here was "They measure their success in website hits and the number of times they have been quoted"--as if print magazines don't measure their own success in audited circulation numbers or in the number of instances their title was referred to in other media. (Magazine grant applications and advertising/media kits are, as I think all of us know at this point, replete with the results of this kind of intensively tracked data.)

The sub-criticism that's also worth noting is the implication that bloggers are more susceptible than print critics to becoming mere glowing-review/advertising-quote generators. The thing is, at least in the Canadian art world, print critics (myself admittedly included) write a whole hella lot more positive reviews than negative ones. And the more negative critiques in our realm tend to turn up on blogs (hello, Artfag!). But that's another post...

Overall, I respect Border Crossings, and I respect Robert Enright--as a result I find the logical leaps and judgment calls in this review quite strange indeed. Now it's duly noted. Thanks Internet!

Image from Pop and Politics

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Scorsese Makes Unwitting Case for the Existence of Museums Everywhere

I'm not a huge fan of Martin Scorsese's movies (too brutal, oftentimes, for delicate art critics--oh, ok, just lifetime scardey cats--like me).

But I caught a speech by the acclaimed director on last night's Golden Globes broadcast, and I have to say he makes a damn eloquent case for film preservation, one which can be easily extended to the practice of cultural-artifact preservation/collections curating in general, I think.

Scorsese's points on cultural memory and image memory are also interesting, no matter what the boredom on the celeb audience's faces might imply. (Best quote: "The past is never dead; it is not even past." -- William Faulkner) Just make sure to skip the montage-which-turns-into-a-commercial (or, you know, not) by starting at the 6 minute mark, and enjoy.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Design Angles on Art

This weekend, my gallery column in the National Post considers three shows from a perspective of design--something I'm hoping is timely given the Interior Design Show and related conferences coming to Toronto this week. Here's an excerpt:

Terreform One and Mitchell Joachim at Eric Arthur Gallery 230 College St.

Praised by CNBC, Wired and Rolling Stone, Brooklyn architect Mitchell Joachim is a provocative poster boy for eco-aware city design. Currently a visiting chair at the University of Toronto's school of architecture, Joachim offers a peek at his increasingly influential ideas (and those of his non-profit organization Terreform One) in this exhibition at Eric Arthur. The funny (and slightly unexpected) thing about the show is just how much Joachim's highly speculative, sci-fi-flavoured proposals seem to resemble whimsical conceptual art rather than pragmatic, user-friendly design. Sure, everything in here -- six panels, three models and one video -- looks plenty slick, speaking the graphic patois of design lingo in spades. But the imagery and ideas behind the slickness -- like colonial houses attached to robot legs so they can exist permanently in transit on highways (or "homeways") -- can seem way-out wacky. Jellyfish-shaped "blimp buses" and soft-sided "sneaker cars" are also pretty wild. However, the show does convincingly suggest that the real-world problems Joachim is reacting to (like the fact that New York City generates one Statue of Liberty's worth of waste every hour) are jaw-droppingly dramatic in their own right. Unfortunately, as in many design shows, the works here seem more like props for a presentation than a presentation in itself. But if edgy projections like these can make preventative carbon cap-and-trade seem mainstream, perhaps it's all for the best. To Feb. 20.

Image of one of Terreform One's lamb cars from Inhabitat

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Lookin' Good: Ken Lum's East Van sign

There's a nice set of images up on Graham Barron Design's blog of Ken Lum's East Van signs, which went up this past week in Vancouver. Also a nice discussion of the points it's raising in the city. Worth a read! Wish I was there to see it.

Image from Graham Barron Design

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dean Drever's Bear Hunt at Toronto Sculpture Garden

Dean Drever is obsessed with bears, it seems. Last year, he showed a large yellow bear at MKG127 and more recently showed what look like smaller metal works at Douglas Udell Gallery. This winter, a few neon-orange grizzlies at the Toronto Sculpture Garden are raising his profile in Hogtown's public art sphere. As I mentioned in a brief review in today's NOW, this work seems a little worse for wear sans snow, with its plywood base showing distracting scuffs quite readily -- not a good sign for a work that's meant to be up until April. Nonetheless, I like the symbolic obsessiveness (and obstinate wilderness-orientation) of Drever's work, even if the delivery here could use work. I also find it interesting the way the Toronto Sculpture Garden morphed from a very different expression of nature--Katie Bethune Leamen's Mushroom Studio--last year to the pop-coloured mammalian this winter.

Image of Drever's Bear Hunt from the Toronto Sculpture Garden

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Expo 86 Meets Olympics 2010: Q&A on Jeremy Shaw's Vancouver Poster Projects

When I was in grade 7 in ye olde Calgary, Alberta, our class took a one-day field trip to Expo 86 in Vancouver. In retrospect, it sounds like a migraine waiting to happen: 70 12- and 13-year-olds up ultraearly for a flight, then running around in the rain and soggy plastic ponchos for 10 hours, then back on the plane for a flight home. (I really do not know how they talk parents into this stuff, I have to say.)

My main memories of Expo are of the Alberta pavilion, which featured toy dump trucks and styrofoam versions of tar sands pellets (I think) for the edumacation of the youngsters. I did not really notice much else at all, or at least not much that sticks in my memory.

So what was that big world-class event all about anyway? What does it teach us about others of its kind? These are the types of memories and questions artist Jeremy Shaw was trying to raise when he developed a yearlong Expo-86-themed public-art poster project for Vancouver's downtown. My Q&A with him, as well as some install shots, are in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q It's 2010 ... why do a poster project on Expo 86?

A It connects to the Olympics, and wanting to recognize that there was another major global event in Vancouver 24 years ago. That's actually a pretty short time [in the] past, but sometimes it seems there's very little that remains of it. The point is also to make you do a double take, to revive those memories and bring them into the discussion. Like, what will Vancouver be like 24 years on from the Olympics? I wanted to prompt conversations on those kinds of history-and-future issues.

Q How did it begin?

A Initially, I was photographing a sort of legendary piece of architecture from Expo -- the McBarge, a floating McDonald's restaurant. There was a debate about what was to become of it after the fair; now it's just moored in Burrard Inlet. The original poster idea was just a photo of that, but it turned into a broader idea to remind the public of this other major-event moment.

BTW, I went to find images of that McBarge online, and it is not a pretty sight:

Yes, the Expo 86 logos and robot mascots are actually a much prettier choice, I'd say. But you can check it out for yourself: a good assortment of additional Shaw-poster installation shots are available on the website of Presentation House Gallery, which coproduced the project. And the project will run through the Olympics to March 1, with some of the posters hanging on hoardings near the Olympic Village.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Art Crit v. Poetry Smackdown: Charles Bernstein Makes the Call

Last month just before the BRING IT panel, I nervously gabbed the following blather to a fellow panellist: "Whoa, it's pretty full in there. Shouldn't there be somebody warming up the crowd for us? But who's small enough open for art critics? Maybe a poet. Yeah."

Well, shame on me. In digging around for information about this past weekend's talk at Vancouver's Speakeasy: Writing and Contemporary Art series, I came across this assertion from January 9 lecturer Charles Bernstein:

Reading Lytle Shaw’s study of the 50s and 60s, underscores, once again, how, indeed, pernicious is the cliché that poetry is fifty years behind visual art. On the contrary, art criticism, insofar as it succumbs to a paranoiac fear of theatricality that induces frame-lock, lags behind poetry at its peril. Meanwhile, the visual and verbal arts remain complicit with one another 50 years ago and today.

I type corrected! Thanks to Emily Carr University's Glen Lowry for the link to Bernstein's text.

Image of Charles Bernstein and Richard Tuttle's With Strings from Artspeak

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Open Call: Want to be an Audio Describer for Art?

Just got an interesting announcement through the grapevine seeking audio describers for live theatre, music and dance. According to the audition call,

Audio Description (AD) has been around in the US since the early 1980’s. It is not sign interpreting. It is not a play-by-play analysis of an event. It is an art of creating a visual picture through words. It enables a blind patron the opportunity to see the show with everyone else and gives them the ability to come to their own conclusions about what is happening on stage along with everyone else.

Basically, it looks like two community groups, Creative Trust and Picasso Pro, have gotten funding from Sun Life Financial to "initiate a communications access program for Blind, Deaf, Low-Vision and Hard of Hearing audiences wishing to attend the performing arts on an ongoing basis."

Sounds like a nice cause... If you're interested in training to be an audio describer, deadline is January 25 to apply. See the full info after the jump.

Image of Moataz Nasr's 2001 Cairo Biennale piece An Ear of Mud, Another of Dough from Nasr's website

Picasso PRO in collaboration with Creative Trust
Audition Call for Trainees!

Would You Like to Become a Professional Audio Describer
for Live Theatre, Music and Dance?

What is Audio Description?
Audio Description (AD) has been around in the US since the early 1980’s. It is not sign interpreting. It is not a play-by-play analysis of an event. It is an art of creating a visual picture through words. It enables a blind patron the opportunity to see the show with everyone else and gives them the ability to come to their own conclusions about what is happening on stage along with everyone else. The Describer’s goal is to be unobtrusive and use vivid words to give the most direct description of the action of the performance, transmitted through a wireless headset worn by the listener. It is similar to a description of a person or place that you might read in a book in which you get a picture or image in your mind of how the object or scene looks. For live theatre and movies this description is fit into a quick time period between the lines of a play or film. It can also be used to describe concerts, dance performances any other live event or in conjunction with ‘touch tours’ of an art or history museum, zoo or aquarium.

Audition and Training Schedule
An Auditions Committee will select six to eight individuals to take Toronto’s inaugural training with audio describer and trainer Deborah Lewis, based on Auditions to be held between February 10 and 28, 2010. The three-day training will take place in late March 2010. Confirmed dates for Auditions and the Training will be announced by the end of January. Auditioners and Trainees will receive all pertinent materials and details prior to their scheduled sessions.

The Commitment
If selected for training you are expected to:

Complete the 3 day training with 100% attendance
Complete several hours of volunteer practicum with Picasso PRO
Participate in the pilot phase of the program as a paid describer by describing 1-3 professional productions by Creative Trust participating companies
Continue to meet with our AD Describers Circle for counsel, professional development and to help us evaluate and continue the program in Toronto
Offer your AD services professionally in an ongoing capacity

The Sun Life Financial Arts Access Program
Creating communications access to theatre, dance and other performance arts for Blind, Low Vision, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing audiences

Who Are We?
Picasso PRO is a long-term project formed to facilitate genuine opportunity and inclusion for Deaf and disabled artists and audiences in the performing & media arts. Creative Trust provides financial and planning support to Toronto’s theatre, music and dance companies so they can flourish and better serve their art, audiences and community for years to come. Access is a key point of our collaboration. The Sun Life Arts Access Program is linked to Creative Trust’s larger two-year Engaging Audiences Initiative.

Who Are You?
An individual interested in and committed to learning a new professional skill and providing Audio Description services, under the auspices of Picasso PRO/Creative Trust’s 2-year Arts Access Program, made possible through the generous support of Sun Life Financial. Audio description is a professional skill and paid service in many cultural centres worldwide but is new to Toronto’s live performing arts.

Audio describers come from all quarters! You may be:
A writer, translator, wordsmith, literate language lover
An improviser, actor or other trained performer
Someone who knows, lives with and/or works with Blind/low vision individuals
A visual artist or individual with well-honed descriptive skills
A radio narrator, voice-over specialist, volunteer/professional reader for audio recorded materials
An avid theatre go-er, arts advocate, cultural worker, disability activist
An enquiring mind who wants to learn and acquire a new or second vocation

What We Need From You

1. Maximum three-page submission with basic information

Name and address with postal code
Phone number(s): home, work and/or cell
E-mail address:
Your occupation:
Your hobbies/interests/additional skills

2. Brief answers to the following questions

Why are you interested in Audio Description?
What types of events are you interested in describing?
Do you have any description experience?
Are you available to attend the Audio Description training on an afternoon, evening and weekend? Please indicate all that apply
Additional comments

3. Please send your submission as an attachment and include a brief bio note or resume

Submissions should be e-mailed to Rose Jacobson by January 25, 2010:

E-mail: Tel: 416-536-7522


Picasso PRO/CT is generously funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Province-wide Program

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Looking Forward To: Radiant Dark at Commerce Court

One event I'm looking forward to this month is Radiant Dark, a themed show of contemporary design objects that runs from January 21 to 24. The show, which I think is in its third incarnation this year, is organized by the super CanCon design store MADE.

One thing that will make this edition of Radiant Dark particularly interesting is its move from a trendy Queen West location to the suit-and-tie-land of Commerce Court, located in Toronto's financial district. Appropriately, MADE has themed the show this year on "Assets & Values."

Besides the promise of great objects, I'm really curious to see how the show curators will manage the exhibition design in this difficult space. I'm also excited that the location of this show will bring a promising art and design show to audiences who don't usually seek it out. You can go here to RSVP for the opening night reception on January 20 and find out more about the program, which includes designer talks on January 24.

Image of one of Laura McKibbon's ceramic pieces from her website, Cul de Sac. McKibbon is one of the artists/designers included in Radiant Dark.

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Rolly's Garage to become Psych-Art Outpost?

Located on the ever-more-contentious Ossington Avenue strip in Toronto--you know, where city hall ixnayed any new nightclub licences--Rolly's Garage has played host to concerts, art shows and other events over the past few years.

Now, it may be finding a new incarnation. Yesterday, Meta Gallery--which focuses on largely on outsidery psychedelic art--released an announcement that they will be moving into the Rolly's Garage space in April. This makes it the third gallery to exeunt the Distillery in the last little while.

More details are available in a helpful report at BlogTO, which notes Meta owner Jody Polishchuk's complaints about high rents at the Distillery. Granted, given the kind of niche Meta is operating in, it could well be a challenge for them to make it anywhere in the post-conceptually focused Toronto scene. (I also wonder if those who hoped for more community/event oriented solutions for the Rolly's space could be disappointed by the news.) I'll be waiting and seeing on this one.... including whether any new galleries dare move into the Distillery.

Image of Mars-1's artwork from Jonathan Levine Gallery. If Rolly's gets up to code, Mars-1 is supposed to be the first show in Meta's space there.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Imaginus Redux? Q&A on JW Waterhouse

I'm dating myself a bit with this one, but during my first early-90s stint in university it was a yearly rite of passage to visit the Imaginus poster sale at the campus centre. (Or maybe I'm not dating myself... it seems Imaginus still turns up a few hits on the Interwebs.) In any case, one of the posters I remember selling well there was The Lady of Shallot by JW Waterhouse and related romantick images for the ladies.

In the last few years, a group of curators has tried to revamp Waterhouse's pop-slummin' image, creating an exhibition for the Royal Academy of Arts in London that travelled to the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands and is currently on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. Recently, I got to chat on the phone with one of the show curators, New York's Peter Trippi, about the aim of the exhibition. And today the interview was published in the National Post with some of those poster-sale-classic images. Here's an excerpt:

Q When this exhibition was showing in England last year, critics complained that all of Waterhouse's women look the same, and simply blur the line between art and erotica. What's your response?

A Well, I thought these critics were reading the work through the eyes of 2009, which is not fair. What a picture means to you today tells you little about what it meant in the past. And we argue in this exhibition that Waterhouse was very aware of women's power in many forms -- artistic, sexual and intellectual.

Also, this idea of Waterhouse's women looking too much the same is ludicrous when you look at other Victorian artists. Look at Rossetti, who is undisputed as a master by these same critics. He was always painting the same type of women. Granted, they're different in some ways from Waterhouse's models. But Waterhouse's women coincide greatly with our current ideal of feminine beauty. If we look at Kate Moss or others marching down the runways, Waterhouse pops up in a way that Rossetti doesn't. He was modern, and we see that reflected in fashion magazines and television today.

Q This exhibition includes a film by rock star Melissa Auf Der Maur, who carried a picture of Lady of Shalott during years of touring as a good luck charm. What circles do you think Waterhouse would move in if he was around today?

A I think Waterhouse today would run in filmmaking circles, and possibly musical ones. We see the presence of music in a lot of his pictures, and it's interesting that musicians like Rod Stewart and Andrew Lloyd Webber have bought Waterhouses.

To me each Waterhouse picture is a movie still of sorts -- some, with their dynamic angles, could easily feature George Clooney or Russell Crowe. And it's no coincidence that these types of paintings died as movies became popular. One of Waterhouse's favourite galleries was actually converted into a movie theatre when that happened.

I also think Waterhouse today, as back then, would be interested in beauty with a capital B. We see a lot of ugliness in Hollywood today --and in Chelsea galleries, for that matter. But Waterhouse was interested in people, in this other world of beauty. And I think that's still part of what draws people to him now.

Image of the Lady of Shallot from Art Blog

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Enjoyed: Real Life and More at the Glenbow Museum

Over the holidays, I visited family in Calgary. While there, I had a chance to see the show Real Life at the Glenbow Museum. Now, it's been a long, looooooong time since I went to the Glenbow; typically when in town I've tried to hit up the commercial galleries and artist-run centres. The Glenbow just has more a reputation for historical and anthropological stuff than art stuff, a reputation further consolidated by its well-publicized and abrupt parting with contemporary-art proponent Jeffrey Spalding last year. In any case, since smaller galleries seemed to be on holiday break--and the Glenbow was hosting Real Life, comprised of some massive works by Ron Mueck, as well as work by Guy Ben-Ner, that I've never seen before--I decided to give it a whirl.

Real Life is a touring show organized by the National Gallery of Canada, so a lot of folks from coast to coast have likely seen it already. Still, I'll put my two cents in and say that I enjoyed it. This was one of those shows where supplementary material was really engaging--though the Mueck component only showed three sculptures, a vitrine of studies and (in particular) a video of Mueck at work seemed to really captivate visitors. The Ben-Ner stuff was also enjoyable, though it felt a bit too cute at times. I do envy the dude's ability to integrate his family time into his work--a nice device, that! A couple of the videos on view also have Youtube teasers:

There were a few other contemporary-art things going on at the Glenbow as well. More notes on that after the jump.

I looked at the show on Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and thought the large manga-pictures installation looked really good. As usual, I had seen reproductions of this, but the wall-long scale worked really well in person. In terms of genre, I was reminded of one of the first big shows I ever went to see, Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre? at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, another attempt (albeit waaaaaay huger) to tell a story in pages and pictures, with the result then getting splayed big on the white wall. This memory likely applies to any book-turned-to-wall-work show, but nonetheless popped up here.

Though time was tight, I also scrambled to take a look at contemporary interventions by Paul Wong and Jeff Thomas in the Glenbow's historical exhibition spaces. The historical show in question, Mavericks, is actually something I wish I had had more time to take in. For one, it really hooked me with the fact that it now plays home to Calgary's once-iconic neon Telstar Drug sign. I remember driving by this drugstore repeatedly in my teens and twenties, so it's that slightly uncanny time of life when one starts seeing things from one's youth presented as history. Ah, well. I'm glad the sign, abandoned just a couple of years ago when the drugstore closed, now has a permanent home. I have to say I also really enjoyed similarly immersive installations as a Winnipeg kid visiting the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature--Mavericks takes a similar tack to prairie history with reconstructed storefronts, diners, signage, train cars and the like. Some might call it cheesy, but I know for a damn fact it's engaging to a lot of people.

Of course, exhibitions like Mavericks leave out a lot of historical complexity, which is why it's wise to integrate interventions from the likes of Wong and Thomas.

Wong's work, in a room adjacent to the Telstar sign, focused on Alberta's gay rodeo circuit, and juxtaposed photographs of same with rodeo bronzes from the Glenbow's collection. Though Wong's aesthetic was a bit over the top, with lots of rodeo double-entendre text scrolling across the screen, I really appreciated the artist making space for this often overlooked group, who challenge stereotypes both of Albertans and of queer culture.

As for Thomas, I've long admired his photographic projects documenting and juxtaposing representations of First Nations culture in the North American landscape. It's good to see a few of those works integrated into various locations throughout Mavericks, because First Nations history is a fraught topic, largely because of ye olde maverick-style colonization. However, I wish there had been more space to show Thomas' work on its own as well--maybe that's just because that's how I first saw Thomas' work, or maybe it's because it's work that really speaks for itself.

In any case, I hope the Glenbow welcomes more interventions of this kind--these so-called grand narratives certainly need it!

Finally, I have to make note of the Glenbow's weird internal layout, particularly the brassy, gold-tinged 70s/80s staircase, the centrepiece of which is a multi-story glass chandelier. I think this element is getting to the point of shifting potentially from "dated" to "retro", though it is far from white-cube asceticism. It actually makes me think of an hipster-glam nightclub opportunity waiting to happen, something the Glenbow could in future think about capitalizing on, perhaps, for rentals or fundraisers. After all, if we can't capitalize on weirdness, what kind of (art) mavericks are we, really?

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Retro Action: Delving into the CanArt Archives

With Stephen Harper proroguing our government to a standstill--over the phone, no less--it's an extra-depressing time to be in the present. Why not leap back to the past? That's something I've enjoyed doing for the past few years when it's come time to dig up some "Retro Reads" for the Canadian Art website's holiday break. I really enjoy looking through old art magazines for interesting photos and time-warp perspectives. This season, I posted three articles from the mid-1980s: an interview with Eric Fischl, a critique of the opening show at the Power Plant, and a museum policy op-ed by a guy who went on to become one of Montreal's (and Canada's) most prominent dealers. Enjoy.

Image of Robert Enright's 1985 interview with Eric Fischl from Canadian Art

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Flashback to the Future: First post of 2010

How many people are teary/crabby/unpleasant/disbelieving today because vacation is over? Me too and three. But I must recall that typing is a way of burning off all the ol' nog calories that I've accumulated over the past couple of weeks. To that end, here's a couple of items by me that went up over the break:

Top 10 of 2009 at Sally McKay & Lorna Mills's blog
posted December 26
I'm so glad to be a part of this annual top 10 project. Reading everyone's picks for the year, even if they're just snarky satires, is really great fun, a reminder of all good things seen and missed.

Reviews of Michael Snow and Nothing to Declare at the Power Plant and Hinterlands at Harbourfront Centre
from January 2 National Post
An excerpt: From the return of Tut at the Art Gallery of Ontario to the remount of General Idea at the Art Gallery of York University, there was a lot of retro action in Toronto-area galleries this fall. Unusual among these was the opening of Can-Art icon Michael Snow's solo exhibition at the Power Plant. Focusing solely on works from the past 10 years, Recent Snow seems to suggest that focusing on the present can be an effective means of honoring past achievement -- no tired retreads required. More concretely, the show provides newer art viewers with a taste of why the 81-year-old Snow might be relevant decades after Walking Woman and Wavelength made their debut. There are seven works here to make the case, all involving video, and all showing off Snow's playfully uncompromising sensibility. The best-- SSHTOORRTY, That/Cela/Dat and Piano Sculpture -- show Snow in top form, slicing and dicing plot, language and sound down to their essential elements only to build them back up again. The worst -- Serve, Deserve and The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets -- seem a bit more like MFA fodder than masterpiece material. Nevertheless, one leaves the show admiring not only Snow's longevity but also his sense of quickness, wonder and vibrancy -- qualities jaded twentysomethings could stand to learn from.

Image of the Ontario Finest Meat 2010 Calendar from

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