Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Of Art & Money: Q&A on RBC Painting Prize out in today's Post

Oscar Wilde once quipped, "When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money." Such were the thoughts that came up for me when I talked to RBC art curator Robin Anthony last week about the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, whose finalists and winners are currently on tour.

Our condensed chat was published in today's Post along with pictures of the winning paintings (first place received $25,000, each of two runners-up $15,000). Here's an excerpt:

Q: Many banks sponsor art awards and maintain corporate art collections. Why?

A: I’m not sure about other banks, but the RBC collection started in the late 1800s — primarily as historical and landscape prints from Halifax and Montreal. As RBC expanded, so did the art collection. Over the years, depending on who’s been chair of the board and what buildings have been built, the collection has grown. Today, there are over 4,000 works spread in reception areas and meeting rooms across the country. The winning paintings in this competition will also become part of the collection: Alexis Lavoie’s first-place painting will hang in our Montreal office, while runners-up Mark Stebbins’ and Jon Reed’s works will probably go in this new RBC centre at Simcoe and Wellington in Toronto.

Q: Don’t Canadian businesses also get tax write-offs for buying Canadian art?

A: That’s not our reason for collecting. RBC collects to support artists and give exposure to artists in our facilities — and then, obviously, to enhance our spaces. RBC Wealth Management is a sponsor of the Toronto International Art Fair this weekend and will be giving exposure at its fair booth to past winners and jury members. So we continue to follow through.

Q: You mentioned wealth management. What advice do you give to investors who hope to make money in the art market?

A: I say that art is an asset that you get to enjoy looking at and living with, and that no one can guarantee whether the investment value will increase. It’s the same thing as the stock market — there are no guarantees. If you do your research, there are artists who have a potential for their work to go up in value. But the main reason for acquiring art should be to live with it, to enjoy it, and to look at it.

Later, Anthony speculates on how the market crash might have been good for art—a POV that's common in the art-crit realm, but less so, I might imagine, in the banking world. You can read on here.

Image of Alexis Lavoie's winning painting for RBC 2010, Restants, from the National Post

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Election Over, Lots to Learn

From the looks of things on Twitter and Facebook, it seems like many, many (many!) people in Toronto are trying to figure out how the Toronto election results ended up being what they were last night.

As I proved in my own Twitter stream last night, I'm no political expert. Far from it. I know I have lots to learn in this field. That said, as a total political layperson, the thing that struck me most about the results--and reaction to it--was how divided Toronto seemed to be. I was also struck by how much anger there was--whether it was anger directed at the "gravy train" concept or anger directed at "those who are angered by the "gravy train" concept." From an emotional (and again, totally *not* politically savvy) standpoint, it was this divisiveness that I found most disconcerting. Also, the 50% voter turnout, which I'm told is high for a municipal election. Glad it improved from 30-40%, but still a sad statistic overall.

So today, I'm trying to learn from the following:

ArtsVote's assessment's of the arts-friendly councillors who were elected.

David Meslin's presentation on how we live in a world that actively discourages civic engagement (thanks to Torontoist for the link):

Naheed Nenshi's presentation on how Calgary got to the verge of becoming a different kind of divided city:

Gerald Hannon's Toronto Life profile (October 2010 issue) on Rob Ford and his appeal and Shawn Micallef's report for Eye Weekly on his visit to a Ford Fest

So that's where I'm starting. If there's any links you've found helpful while dealing with the election results or Toronto political situation, feel free to post.

(Image of Toronto wards from the CBC)

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Out today: Reviews of Three Distillery-District Shows

In today's National Post, I review three shows in the Distillery District: Bill Vorn at Le Labo (which closes today), Scott McFarland at Clark & Faria and Iain Baxter& at Jane Corkin. An excerpt:

Iain Baxter& at Jane Corkin
55 Mill St., Bldg. 61., to Nov. 7

This exhibition seems especially appropriate for back to school, as two large installations evoke education and its systems. Fahrenheit 450 (Homage to Bradbury and Orwell) is a large figure eight made out of shoe-wearing books; The Lecture is a stripped-down classroom where each stacking chair is nestled into boots or shoes. This use of footwear (which ranges from office-ready pumps to rubber galoshes) is playful but unclear, feeling glib sometimes. Nonetheless, the brogues and ballet flats lend individuality to identical objects. Similarly, the books reflect a range of interests, from neurology to entertaining -- though again Baxter& forces that diversity into a big uniform structure. As a result, it feels like the renowned professor has grown weary of the forced march of our educational institutions-- or is at least willing to question their merits. That figure eight, for instance, could be the infinite cycle of lifelong learning or an inward-looking, tuition-fee-grabbing parade. Likewise, his podium notes list that a lecture can be both "instruction" and "reprimand" -- the opening of doors and the closing of them, too. An older Baxter& photo showing a painted mountain backdrop in front of real mountains echoes these concerns: What stands between us and the real world? Does it introduce us to the latter's grandeur or offer only a pale copy? Interestingly, these questions are as relevant to art as they are to education.

Read on here for the other two reviews.

(Image of the Distillery District from Toronto Tours)

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Realization: Reactive

I had an interesting time--in a good way!--talking at Sheridan the other day. There's a a few reasons for that.

First is that I can never get over what a great building Sheridan College has for its visual arts program--the Annie Smith Centre may seem cramped to some, but it's also got a very strong cottagey, cozy, studio-centric feel. Relaxed but active, you know? I don't know if people who actually inhabit it feel quite the same way, but just visiting is nice. Then again, I studied art in the rabbit warren that is NSCAD's Granville Street campus, so there could be a strong nostalgia factor at work.

Second was that my exchanges with attendees underlined for me that my practice/job is a very reactive one at this point in time. I kind of knew that already, but the point was sharpened for me as one person asked about whether I ever write just kind of free form to figure something nebulous out, or to gather a kind of range of experience into a collected, cohesive form. I said no, though I think it would be a good idea for me to try and do more of that in future. At this point, I'm basically always reacting to deadlines, to artworks, to texts, etc. I'm grateful to be busy, especially in this economy, but it does generate a certain state of mind.

Another person asked about whether the increasingly popular Q&A format reflected a more communal or collaborative approach to art criticism or making meaning from art. I hadn't really thought about that; being someone who works in media, offered the perspective some writers have: that Q&As are proliferating in part because they often take less time to do than a feature article on the same topic. It's a reaction to budgets--both of money and of time--is the way I was viewing it.

Anybody else want to react here with their comments on creativity vs. reactivity in criticism? (It's still an okay thing to do, I promise!)

(And oh, yes, that's right, I *am* pulling out the Far Side for this one, people. Cartoon via The Lowy Interpreter)

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pae White Q&A: Textile-Topia

Her newest works might be massive cloth tapestries, but California artist Pae White is a hard one to pin down. Over the past decade, White has turned the Venice Arsenale into a giant birdcage, transformed small pieces of paper into sprawling museum installations and elevated junk-drawer detritus into opera-house décor. This month, an exhibition of some recent works opened at the Power Plant in Toronto. I was fortunate she took some time to chat with me; the condensed chat is out in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q: You’ve said your smoke tapestries [displayed at this year's Whitney Biennial] are about “cotton’s dream of becoming something else.” Is all art about this desire for transformation?

A: I don’t think so. I’ve thought about this because it’s come up a lot in my work. And is it an aggressive thing? Is it a challenge? Is there a setup for failure? Maybe there’s material failing at its struggle to be another — or not. Or maybe the inanimate object is being brought to life somehow. Anthropomorphizing the material is what somebody accused me of, and I think that’s true. To me, materials or colours have an inherent personality, a fluctuating

Q: Speaking of hierarchy, you use a lot of “crafty” materials, such as cloth and paper. Some might also see your work as more design than art. How do you deal with these value assumptions?

A: I don’t see any lesser value to paper in serious artmaking. I remember a friend who did very, very meticulous drawings. They took him forever. He also was involved in paintings — they were process and would take half an hour. That these drawings were never taken as seriously as these paintings — I always found that absurd. And for myself, I’ve never seen “craft as craft” or “design as design.” As far as I’m concerned, I’m always making art. Maybe it uses the language of design or the language of craft, but it’s always making art.

Later on, we talk about the difference between weaving an image and printing it as a photograph on paper, as well as White's upcoming installation in the London Underground.

(Image of Pae White's Oslo Opera House curtain from Musicweb)

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happening this Thursday: Talk at Sheridan College

I'm giving a talk at Sheridan College this Thursday. Feel free to drop by if you're in the Oakville zone! Here's the info:

Sheridan Art and Art History presents
Leah Sandals
Thursday 21 October 2010
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
Sheridan B124
1430 Trafalgar Road, Oakville

Good times!

Also, I'll probably be posting more about this in future, but here's a heads-up: on November 19 I'm moderating a panel on "Exhibiting and Disseminating Canadian Art" at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. It's part of a symposium related to "It Is What It Is," the National Gallery's biennial of recent acquisitions of contemporary Canadian art. (I'll be interested to see how that show has turned out; haven't seen much in terms of an "acquisitions biennial" before.) There are in-person and webcast prices for the symposium; early bird registration for the webcast ends October 26. You can register here.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

To & From Life: Q&A with Eric Fischl in today's National Post

Art Fag City's subtitle/tagline "As relevant as Eric Fischl" has always made me chuckle. Indeed, Fischl is a much-revered icon, but it takes a quick wit like Paddy Johnson's to use it with such blogular effect.

So I kind of had to ask Fischl about the tagline when I got a chance to talk with him on the phone last week about new watercolours (yes, watercolours) he's showing at Barbara Edwards Contemporary in Toronto. Mostly we talked about the paintings themselves, which was also interesting, and touched on the fact that he paints in his opinion not "from life," but "back to life."

Here's an excerpt from our condensed Q&A out in today's National Post:

Q You’ve famously said, “I paint to tell myself about myself.” What did these paintings tell you?
A Well, what I’ve learned about myself is in the paintings. It’s not something that easily gets translated back into words. The things I make are the best way I could articulate the things I’m thinking and feeling about.

Q That’s fair. Watercolours are usually associated with genteel landscapes, not the kind of muscular, sexy paintings you’re known for. Why use watercolour this time out?
A I love how direct and fragile and ephemeral and liquid and sort of challenging it is. I mean, you make a mistake in watercolour and that kills the watercolour. It’s not like an [oil] painting, which you can keep going back into and fixing. In watercolour, you do that and it just keeps getting worse. It’s got this fabulous discipline, and I love it for that.
Q You’re an art icon, so much so that critic Paddy Johnson’s blog is subtitled, “As relevant as Eric Fischl.” How does your status present challenges?
A I didn’t know about that blog. So maybe I have a self-protective mechanism — one that keeps me sane, I guess. How do you deal with stuff like that, you know? I don’t go around thinking of myself as an icon; it wouldn’t be very productive in the studio.

Read the rest of the interview at the Ampersand, the Post's arts hub.

(Image of Eric Fischl's Untitled 2010 (five feet wide in situ) from Barbara Edwards Contemporary)

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Making a Link: Q&A with El Anatsui Out in Today's Post

I'm quite excited about the El Anatsui retrospective that's on here in Toronto at the ROM right now--Anatsui's sculptures, which bind together often-discarded materials like bottlecaps and milk-can lids, are stunning. So I was excited to get the chance to chat with the Nigerian-based artist when he was in town for his exhibition preview last week. Our condensed exchange, out in today's Post, focuses on the way that Anatsui tends to include others or reference others in his practice--so much so that he talks about his students' works in his lectures and says he would like to collaborate with non-art professionals in future. To me this also reflects his material practice of bringing overlooked items together. Here's an excerpt from our Q&A:

Q Last year when you gave a public lecture in Toronto, you started by showing some artworks created by your students. No other artist of your stature does this. Why did you?

A Because I've spent most of my career teaching and, at times, students' work is very strong -- strong inspiration to me. They come up with solutions that you have not thought about. It's not that they inspire me to work exactly like them, but they inspire me to search deeper.

Q That "searching deeper" also relates to something you said last year -- that you still don't feel you've reached the level of your own art heroes, that you still feel a need to get better. So here we are at your 40-year retrospective. Do you still feel the need to improve?

A I still feel the same thing. The nature of the profession is that you never get satisfied with what you have done. There are always new things beckoning at you -- vaguely, from a distance.

Q What's beckoning to you right now?

A I said "vaguely." Ha! If you can name what is beckoning, then it doesn't become interesting.

He was a fun person to speak with. The show, organized by the Museum for African Art in New York, will open there next year and then go on a US tour. You can read more of the Q&A here.

(Image of El Anatsui's 2007 Venice Biennale installation from Newsgrist/Robert Goldwater Library)

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three Dundas West Reviews, Just to be Kind of Conventional and All

Now that Nuit Blanche is over, we can go back to looking at art in the daytime! Not that there ain't a lot of other festivals around to organize the experience for us... the super-quick Flash Forward Festival of photography (Oct 6-10) in Liberty Village looks like a mini-tour of the emerging photog world in terms of its exhibitions, while heavies like Alec Soth step up to its lecture mic. Also coming up soon is Printopolis (Oct 18-21), which focuses on printmaking (apparently famed Dutch printmeister Stefan Hoffmann is printing a work directly onto the Drake Hotel's windows and other public spaces as part of the fest). So it's with a bit of an extra-conventional mood that I headed out to some commercial galleries on Dundas West for my reviews at the National Post this week. The reviews went up online today and will be in print on Saturday. An excerpt:

Nicole De Brabandere at Alison Smith Gallery 1410 Dundas St. W., to Oct. 23
Sometimes art appreciation can simply be a matter of finding your own particular kind of weirdness reflected back to you in an object — and Nicole De Brabandere’s works are definitely my kind of weird. Her small porcelain sculptures mash up decorative with ugly, industrial with biological, artistic with domestic, and fleshy with futuristic. Lately, these have gotten even weirder (yay!) with the addition of bricks and brick slices. De Brabandere is inspired by growing up on an Ontario farm, and by the way its harsh outdoor work contrasted with the charming depictions of rural life in her parents’ Franklin Mint figurines. That sense of contradictory meanings being bound together in individual objects definitely comes across in her works and in titles such as Sugared Intestine. Overall, De Brabandere’s wide-ranging references, absurd mood and crafty practice remind me of better-known artists such as Luanne Martineau. I trust that her own reputation will soon expand accordingly.

You can read on here for more.

(Image of Nicole De Brabandere's Sugared Intestine from Alison Smith Gallery)

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Nuit blanche Yeahs, Nahs & Wha?-s

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, this was my most conflict-of-interest-filled Nuit Blanche ever, since I was participating in a festival project (Speed Art Criticism) and also on a festival panel (When Critics Speak…). This means that my point of view is less objective than ever. With that disclaimer, here are my Nuit Blanche yeahs, nahs and wha?-s for 2010, which join extensive existing online postmortem discussions at the Star, Torontoist, BlogTO, Prairie Artsters and other sites.


  • Zone C. The main challenge of curating for Nuit Blanche, in my opinion, is gathering works that can be seen and engaged by large crowds of people simultaneously, and that can be continuously in action for 12 hours. (Finding appropriate sites for same is also part of the game.) To me, a lot of the works (and sites) in Zone C, curated by Christof Migone, met this challenge. There, I greatly enjoyed Zilvinas Kempinas’ Big O, Kim Adams’ Auto Lamp, Michael Fernandes’ Arrivals/Departures, Davide Balula’s The Endless Pace, Max Streicher’s Endgame, Martin Arnold and Micah Lexier’s Erik Satie’s Vexations and more. I thought the scale and contexts of these works really worked well.
  • Music and sound. Sure, Daniel Lanois has zero contemporary-art credibility, and in a lot of ways it’s infuriating to art folks to see him get centre stage (and top budget, $400,000) at Nuit Blanche. Still, the sound setup at Nathan Phillips Square was pretty awesome and immersive. I was reminded of some conversations I’ve had with Heather Nicol, curator of Art School Dismissed, who notably integrates musical performers into her projects. In these conversations, Nicol noted that contemporary art often dabbles in sound and dance, and because those domains have their own history in art practice, there can be a misconception that art “owns” these areas. But really, art doesn’t—dance and sound are also places where, well, dancers and musicians work, right? Furthermore, Nuit Blanche operates on an arena-rock scale of hundreds of thousands of audience members… why not actually integrate a little arena rock? To this point, I enjoyed the Daniel Lanois work (though was kind of annoyed by the cliché go-go girl thing), Kianga Ford and Isabelle Noel’s Dances with Strangers (which was pretty joyous when I dropped by), Dave Dyment’s Day for Night, and the roving (non-programmed) band of drummers that I spotted at University and Queen and later at OCAD. (The other projects named were curated by Anthony Keindl.)
  • Improved (though still far from perfect) logistics: better attempts at dealing with crowds and the flow of crowds; shutting down more streets; a more compact and easily walked zone for “official” exhibitions; more places (it seemed to me) to warm up while still being able to view works; longer TTC service
  • My own improved attitude and physical situation: This involved resting up during the day, bundling up and packing up for the evening out, vowing to skip anything with a long lineup, and lowering my expectations overall in terms of “what, exactly, I was going to see.” I also committed to staying out for six hours, which reduced time pressure. If I had only gone out for two, I might have been more disappointed. Also, I got to spend three hours afterwards sitting in a nice little guitar shop where people came by to talk about art, which ended up being surprisingly pleasant. If I had had to deal with the cold wind for those remaining three hours, I may not have been as enthusiastic.
  • The people who came out. As usual, this is the most impressive part of Nuit Blanche. Sure, there are tons of drunk folks just looking to party, who can sometimes be annoying. And yeah, I saw my share of pukingness. But for the most part it seemed to me that people were really looking to have fun, have a good time, share something together besides just getting drunk. It was touching to see the Ontario Crafts Council Gallery full of people at 3am. We had some great folks come out to Speed Art Criticism from 4am to 7am, of all time slots! And I feel like I saw lots of people were not gallery regulars. This outreach component of the event remains pretty stunning.
  • The volunteers. How do they do it? I do not know.
  • Retro-schoolishness flavour. I experienced some pangs of this at Hart House, which showed works that were both academic and fun-feeling, textbook and tantalizing: Gerald Ferguson’s One Million Pennies, General Idea’s Orgasm Energy Chart, Colin Campbell’s video, Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s Imponderabilia. I got a similar feeling at Zone B’s Reunion, curated by Sarah Robayo Sheridan. This was a 12-hour performance based on a 1968 John Cage and Marcel Duchamp performance at the same site, the Ryerson Theatre. When I was there, Takako Saito (I think!), a Japanese Fluxus artist, was dressed like a chessboard and encouraged the audience to pull strings attached to her outfit. When the strings were pulled, certain parts of her outfit would fall off. After this, a black and white film on Cage and Duchamp was screened, and I felt like I was in the same era—like those audiences you see in old Dan Graham documentation. Something about that “waiting to just see what will happen-ness,” of schoolishness and academicness, was there. Which was nice for me, though it may have shut out others.
  • Random shit: Mammalian Diving Reflex’s collaboration with the Toronto Weston Flea Market, bringing the vitality (yes, the vitality) of the burbs to a highly commercialized and mall-ified downtown. People playing video games on the façade of the Drake at 3:30am. The white balloon sculpture floating out a second floor window of the Gladstone. Etc.


  • Logistics and safety gaps: Despite better efforts made to manage crowds this year, there were still issues with crowding during peak times, so much so that I occasionally felt unsafe as crowds spilled out into traffic-filled roads and car-drivers waged battle with pedestrians who had nowhere else to go. It seemed like longer stretches of Queen and Dundas should have been closed OR routing and signage improved to direct pedestrian traffic more safely. On another note, it’s unnerving to see skateboarders and cyclists, sans lights, going the wrong way down working streets—not safe, even though I understand the feeling of being invincible until proven otherwise. So I guess my point is there still seemed to be too much potential for injury, both in the design of the event and in some of the actions of its visitors.
  • Transit: Again, great to see extended TTC service but next year it needs to be thought through a bit more. If the event runs to 7am, buses need to consider starting earlier on the Sunday morning and running later into Saturday night—not just the subway.
  • Zone A: One thing that sucks about curating Nuit Blanche, I bet, is that if you don’t get it right the first time out, there’s basically no time to tweak your plan or troubleshoot. No closing one small gallery and reopening it tomorrow. And it seemed like there was a lot to troubleshoot in Zone A, curated by Gerald McMaster. I think McMaster has put together some really interesting shows in galleries, and put together an interesting group of artists here, but with Kent Monkman’s performance shutting down fairly early, with the difficulty of seeing the projections on the ROM (which could have been bigger), and with the time-lapse nature of Agnes Winter’s Monument to Smile (I think this could have worked better in the Nuit Blanche context if the building façade was full of images the whole night, and these images just slowly rotated, rather than going through a 4-minute cycle from no images to a full canvas), the official portion of Zone A ended up a disappointment, at least for me.
  • Borrowed complaints, aka, stuff I overheard and am now passing along: The apps for the evening were too slow, only showed you what was in your zone even if works from another zone were nearby, and wouldn’t download info to your phone, where it would be faster to access than from a central server. So—more app development next year, please.


  • How could our major cultural institutions use the lessons of Nuit Blanche to reach wider audiences the other 364 days of the year?
  • Why was the AGO completely dark around midnight? Is it not in their interest to use this event for outreach? (Same going for the Power Plant and other major art institutions?) (This is a bit of a borrowed question, something that seems to be in the air.)
  • How can we ensure that Toronto artists benefit from this event equitably and accordingly? To this end, I was reminded of a statement by Artscape’s Tim Jones: “Artists in this city do a great job of paying other people’s mortgages.” In doing projects for Nuit Blanche, many artists help the city increase its social and creative capital. What are they getting in return? I can imagine that for some emerging artists or spaces, just participating and being promoted alongside NB is compensation enough. But it’s definitely not compensation enough for everyone. Also: Do the artist fees for Nuit Blanche reflect CARFAC standards? (I haven’t done research on this point, obviously.)
  • Who are the people behind the “Save Nuit Blanche” postcards distributed at the event, aka OneToronto? What would public reaction be if Nuit Blanche was cancelled? (Seems unlikely in the near future given that Scotiabank has pledged support for four more years, but still…)
  • Could this event ever be extended into the daytime to be more family friendly? Or just more people-who-can-only-come-in-the-daytime friendly? (I realize this could be a disaster, but I’m curious.)
  • Can we just let go of (or attenuate intensity around) the whole “drunken people” complaint around Nuit Blanche? Fact is that any large public festival ends up having a party component. My husband pointed this out when he said “Well, it’s just like the Regatta.” See, the Regatta in St. John’s, Newfoundland, started out as a sailing and rowing celebration, but now a lot of people just treat it as an excuse to party. And as much as some people don’t like the distraction from sailing and rowing, etc., there’s no outcry from the community that “Regatta should be stopped because there’s too many people just partying, people who don’t care about boats.” Further on this stream of thought, I was reminded of my own hometown’s Calgary Stampede, which started out as a rodeo event. The rodeo still happens, of course, but I can assure you that thousands of folks at all levels of the social sphere use Stampede as an explicit opportunity to get shitfaced—often for 10 days straight. And yet, there are no anguished cries from the rodeo community that “no one really cares about the rodeo anymore, so we shouldn’t do it.” Sure, ideally, people should be out at Nuit Blanche to see some art, but any large public event is going to have a carousing component. As long as people are kept safe and it doesn’t become hooliganism or violence or a public nuisance, maybe we can just deal? Or maybe just look at it as a safety and public nuisance issue rather than a disrespect of art issue? (Note that this doesn’t mean I want to see Nuit Blanche become exactly like the Regatta or the Stampede; just that it’s of a similar scale and by its nature will have similar problems to deal with.) Also... to belabour this point further, there are plenty of events in the art world where people get drunk--they're called openings and fundraisers. So is the "problem" that it's "non-art-world-folks" getting in on the falling-down-drunk action here? Sometimes that's what the "problem" seems like to me.
  • What is contemporary art, exactly? (This is a question that gets more mystifying the longer I'm in this field...) Is it anything someone with "contemporary art credibility" makes? Is it's what's curated by someone with "contemporary art credibility"? Something shown in spaces that have "contemporary art credibility"? All or none of the above?
  • Why is it that "contemporary art" might be interested in the "carnivalesque", but resist the carnival itself? Must contemporary art always address the -ism rather than manifest the thing itself?
  • Is part of the reason that these 1 million people don't come out to art institutions during the rest of the year that many contemporary art institutions (or institutions with "contemporary art credibility") tend to resist showing large, spectacular works, which are considered facile, easy, nonrigorous, etc, within the "contemporary art community"? Another way of posing this question: does criticality about the spectacular in the contemporary art world undermine its ability to show engaging art that can be both spectacular and smart?
I look forward to any comments others might want to share here, and I also look forward to reading reviews and comments on other sites too.

(Image of Kim Adams' Auto Lamp -- which worked as a kind of rotating, inside-out chandelier--from the City of Toronto)

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Today! Nuit Blanche debrief at the Drake

Just a quick reminder that there's a Nuit Blanche debrief panel at the Drake today from 4 to 5:30 pm. Panellists are me, Murray Whyte, Peggy Gale, James Bradshaw and Corinna Kirsch.
If you have questions or comments you want to share on the evening, feel free to join us!

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Surfing the Wind: Q&A with Zilvinas Kempinas in today's National Post

I've been a fan of Zilvinas Kempinas' work for a couple of years now, so I was excited to hear that he would be showing one of his large, partially-floating sculptures at Nuit Blanche. Today, my Q&A with the artist is out in the National Post. An excerpt:

Q You usually make your sculptures out of videotape. Why?

A I'm interested in non-conventional ways of making art. I started in painting, but I think that today we can do so much more.

At first, I was interested in how videotape could be seen as both a line and a data carrier. That's an interesting mix--you can have different perceptions of the same thing. Then, I saw lots of interesting sculptural qualities: infinite length; the ability to be a line but also disappear; it can carry colour but it's completely black; it's super light and very flexible. And no one was really working with it sculpturally.

Of course, a big part of the work is that I've animated the videotape with fans, with wind. I realized that the tape is very sensitive to wind, and that's become a fascination for me, because wind is a kind of invisible matter. It's been interesting making visual art with this invisible material. In many pieces, it's like the tape is tracing or surfing the wind.

Q Your artworks sometimes look like physics experiments. Were you ever into science?

A I'm not a scientist. But I do like basic physics, because I think any visual art is based on physics. We live in a material world, and if you want to build anything out of material you'd better know physics as much as you can. Painting is physics, sculpture is physics -- any kind of sculpture.

One more thing about the videotape, though--it connects with human memory, because it's often a record of something. It's about the past, but it's also about the present, because when you're faced with something flying or moving in front of you, it's a moment of pure "now." That's interesting to me--that it has ties with past memories and the present moment.

If you want to get a preview of how Kempinas works, check out the Youtube search results of his works.

(Image of Zilvinas Kempinas' Big O from Nuit Blanche)

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Schedule Update & Reminder: Speed Art Criticism at Nuit Blanche!

Nuit Blanche is bound to be a crazy evening for everyone, but I just wanted to post a reminder and schedule update for Speed Art Criticism, where everyone is welcome to meet a group of Toronto art critics face to face! (Artists are also welcome to bring a small work or reproduction and have it critiqued on a first come, first served basis.)

LOCATION: The Six String Garage, 1658 Queen Street West (East of Roncesvalles)

SCHEDULE: (updated, with a few of these critics many outlets noted)
7pm-10pm: David Balzer (Eye Weekly), Dan Adler (Artforum)
10pm-1am: Sarah Milroy (Canadian Art, Globe and Mail), Otino Corsano (ArtUS)
1am-4am: Amish Morrell (C Magazine), Elena Potter (BlogTO)
4am-7am: Bill Clarke (Magenta Magazine, Modern Painters), Leah Sandals (National Post)

->Murray Whyte (Toronto Star) is also slated for the earlier part of the evening though may have to leave early due to family needs
->RM Vaughan (Globe and Mail), previously slated for 1am to 4am, had to withdraw with regrets due to work commitments.

Hope to see you there!

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