Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fuse Magazine reaches $10,000 goal for December 1 -- $30,000 Left to Go

Congrats to arts-and-politics mag Fuse on reaching its goal of raising $10,000 by December 1. The funds are to be used to make up for federal government cuts to small-circulation magazines. (Small-circulation is defined as a circulation of less than 5,000.)

The December 1 goal is just part of the effort at Fuse, though; the magazine hopes to raise $40,000 in total by March in order to cover the cuts. Donations of all denominations are being accepted, and you can donate here if you'd like.

One of the interesting things to come out of this funding drive is the notion that Fuse is using it to re-evaluate its approach. The magazine is now putting more content on its website and becoming more engaged in social media. From their post "We're in this together":

Fuse is a work in progress! This moment has provided an opportunity for us to rethink what the magazine has been doing, increase community engagement and consider the different forms our editorial content can take. By consulting with you, we are bringing more people into the organization to help rethink, re-imagine and re-create what Fuse is and can be.
We are part of an industry that is changing, and we are excited to explore the ways that Fuse, too, is changing: to reach more people, and to engage in a more meaningful and long term way with diverse communities. Our intention is to intensify the amount of free online content that we provide while maintaining a print presence.

To help us steer the organization into the future, we have mobilized a steering committee for the organization. Franco Boni, Deirdre Logue, Rebecca McGowan, Christopher Regimbal, Kristian Clarke, Jessica Shepherd, June Pak, Syrus Marcus Ware, Izida Zorde, Denise Macharacek, Michelle Jacques and Srimoyee Mitra are working to put these ideas in motion and make Fuse magazine relevant, readable and revolutionary. And this list of people is growing.

I, for one, feel for the many small magazines whose federal funding has been cut by these measures. As has been pointed out elsewhere since the cuts were announced almost two years ago, many of these smaller magazines have helped nurture writers that went on to greater fame in the market and elsewhere. Also, this same requirement around circulation is, interestingly, not made of book publishers as far as I know. In Canadian book publishing, it's rare to sell more than 2,500 to 5,000 copies of a given title.

I also think that Fuse in particular offers an outlet for points of view not typically expressed in the "mainstream" art press. So I'm excited to see their success with this first fundraising goal, as well as a renewed push to reach out online. If you're interested in finding out more, I recommend reading Art Gallery of Ontario curator Michelle Jacques' letter of support.

(Image of a past issue of Fuse from Praxis Theatre Blog)

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Driving Art Up the Wall: Jeff Harrison, Cavalcade, Shannon Gerard

This past week, I've gone to a few fun shows that have artists working intensively with walls. All three are recommended for a drop by. For his exhibition at Parts Gallery, pictured above, Jeff Harrison takes his characteristically crazy-busy canvas style and extends it onto screenprints on newsprint, which paper the walls. Extra prints were handed out for free at the opening, and Parts tells me they still have a few on hand if you'd like. My favourite work in the show was was a work that spelled out "GRAVY," a word which seemed to sum up, for me, the enjoyable excess that characterizes Harrison's best work.

Over in the west end, there's a also Cavalcade, a terrific show by a group of young illustrators at Xpace. For this show, the illustrators have painted and collaged directly onto the gallery walls, often using the theme of the parade or procession. Apparently over the course of the show they're also adding details to each others' works. Very fun. Also reminds me, considering a different angle of the show, of the success that Team Macho has had mining the illustration/art divide. (Team Macho's show, which recently closed at Narwhal, was very fun as well. How, I wondered as I looked at their painting of a Batman/Spock/Han Solo hybrid, has this collective managed to so effectively plumb the depth of my husband's sci-fi-centric brain? Remarkable.) (Image of Cavalcade in progress from illustrator Nat Janin's website)

Finally, Shannon Gerard, fairly well known for her bookworks in Toronto and recent winner of This Magazine's literary competition, graphic novel category, has begun a wheatpaste wallwork near YYZ that will evolve slowly over the course of a year. Though the wheatpaste graphics are based on her recent bookwork Unspent Love, Gerard plans to add a twist in the wallwork of wheatpasting in changes twice a month to create short stop-motion animations. This way, over the course of the year, several narratives will slowly unfold on the wall. You can watch a GIF of her first animation here. (Detail of Shannon Gerard's wheatpaste installation from her Unspent Love tumblr)

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Congrats, Critiques and Conundrums (w/ Conflicts!): It Is What It Is

Time for another conflict-of-interest-filled blog post! This time, I’m taking on “It Is What It Is,” the National Gallery’s current exhibition of contemporary Canadian art, which is pulled from recent acquisitions but is framed partly as a biennial (a format which, in the art world, is usually understood as not being based in a museum’s holdings nor including works older than two years old).

To be clear, the conflict in this instance comes about because I was invited to moderate a panel at a symposium related to the exhibition, Conversations about Contemporary Canadian Art, which took place last Friday, November 19.

In advance of the exhibition, I rounded up available reviews, most of which were fairly positive. Yesterday at Canadian Art, I also helped edit my colleague Bryne McLaughlin’s take on the show and proceedings. Oh, and in terms of other recent coverage, Robert Labossiere of the Canadian Art Museum Directors’ Organization took some rough notes during the panel and another that preceded it, which can be viewed here and here.

So that’s what everyone else is sayin’ and my two cents is really not needed. But damn the strictures of necessity! To this, I add my extra-biased, extra-long-winded rundown, divided into Congrats, Critiques and Conundrums. (I warn you, reader, this is on the very "un" side of "unedited" and leaves out a lot of complexities raised during the symposium, so feel free to add your views, conflicting and otherwise, in the comments.)

  • It Is What It Is is actually a really great, enjoyable show overall. There. I enjoyed it. And I said it. It meets the "would recommend it to a friend" test.
  • Part of the enjoyment is that I really did feel it’s a fairly accurate reflection of the contemporary Canadian art scene – even if it’s not totally completist, most of the key names are here. You feel like someone who isn’t that familiar with the art scene could use this as a good starter primer.
  • There’s also a nice mix of expected and unexpected names – Simon Hugues, Rodney La Tourelle, Susan Turcot were less expected, for example, while David Altmejd, Shary Boyle more on the expected end. It’s not just a “usual suspects” show.
  • Of course, part of the enjoyment is also that there’s some pretty great individual works in the show—the Rodney Latourelle, a set of large coloured structures that one walks through, is delightful, as is Luanne Martineau’s massive, floppy, felted Parasite Buttress. Sarah Anne Johnson’s Galapagos Project, Simon Hughes' pencil drawing, David Altmejd’s Two Holes, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s Live to Tell, Rodney Graham’s the Talented Amateur—basically a good load of engaging, solid works to be seen here.
  • It’s also a sizable show – though could be bigger, it’s big enough to not feel cursory or duty bound as a project, at least to the viewer (there were some wonderings from folks I spoke with about how into this project the curators were, given that it was likely director Marc Mayer’s brainchild, but the results remain engaging enough nonetheless). (Part of my noticing this size-of-the-show aspect relates back to the strange kind of space crunch that Toronto often lands in; though many TO institutions have expanded their galleries of late, few have the kind of square footage that the National Gallery can offer.)
  • The overall result is that I felt warmly, and actually a bit mini-patriotic about this show. I felt glad it happened, and overall was impressed. It felt like the kind of thing a National Gallery should be doing.
  • Also, the catalogue is a nice, pragmatic accompaniment. It’s a handy guide to some of the major contemporary art players at the moment. Probably not academic enough for some, but I like a good guidebook. I can see myself referring to it in future, like I do the catalogue for another Mayer project, the Quebec Triennial (though the Triennial catalogue was more useful in that it had some CV information for each artist in the back)
  • Similarly, I appreciated that texts were provided in the gallery for almost every work. I get very annoyed by public-institution shows that assume the viewer already knows about an artist’s practice, or where a particular work has come from. I like shows that feel at least partway friendly to the public in terms of wall texts. So this fit the bill that way for me. And for the text-haters--don't worry, the texts were there, but unobtrusive.
  • There were some interesting themes traced throughout the show, none of which are endemic to Canadian art in particular, but that made for some enjoyable conceptual weaving—like the first room focusing on art history and ideas about art, the next two rooms seemingly about different approaches to sculpture, the next two after htat somewhat about multipanel narratives and idealized landscapes, another room later on referencing décor and the politicization of space, and another room later on taking up ye olde photography/death dualities. Overall, a lot to grab onto conceptually and thematically (thinking about drawing, which was prominently featured throughout, for instance) as one worked one’s way through the exhibition.

  • As was pointed out repeatedly at the related panels, it’s dubious whether a recent-acquisitions show can actually a biennial make. I’m not an expert in this field, so I can’t really say. Walking around at points I would think “Well, this is the best in Canadian art, really,” but then I would catch myself and remember “Well, the best that the National Gallery can afford.” There can be a difference, right? At the same time, I do appreciate the pragmatism of showcasing works that you’ve already spent money on—heck, if you’re willing to spend money on it, you must think it’s pretty good, right? Short version: Though the show was enjoyable, the labeling of it was problematic to some. As long as it’s a good show, I don’t know if it needs to be called a “biennial,” though the copy editor in me notes that as long as it’s a biannual event, that term might still technically fit.
  • As a collary to the above, it could be argued that while there's a lot of strong artists in the show, not all are represented by their strongest works. I heard someone whispering this particularly around the Isabelle Hayeur, but it could also apply to the Adad Hannah, the Jeff Wall (though at least that was surprising in its gelatin-silverness and lack of figures and newness), the Tim Lee, etc.
  • While the print catalogue was satisfying, I was disappointed not to see more of its information distributed online. The National Gallery put a lot of web resources into promoting an imported show, Pop Life, this summer. There were podcasts, artist bios, primers, etc. for that one. The site for It Is What It Is is a bit impoverished by comparison (not podcasts, no primers no bios) which is a shame, because our country is so big and it’s not like all Canadians will be able to visit the show. Only a very small percentage will be able to do that. Plus, I know there can be a fear institutionally of putting work online (if people can get the milk for free, etc.) but I really think putting more of it online would draw more people from the region into the gallery to see the show. The work is strong enough to provide this tempting effect.
  • As a minor complaint, there were what seemed to be a few installation glitches; for example, six or seven works were relegated to quite small video monitors near the exit of the exhibition, and were easily missed as a result. For a few days last week, the Valerie Blass sculpture, a centerpiece of the exhibition, went AWOL due to damage, with no accompanying signage to indicate same. And (this is a small complaint, because it’s not something I immediately noticed), Geoffrey Farmer was promised as part of the show in the catalogue but in the end did not end up in the exhibition. When I asked about this, I was told by the gallery that during the installation process they realized there just wasn’t the space to showcase his work. (So there’s a case for the idea that even though the exhibition is large, it could be larger.)

Conundrums (many being borrowed questions that many others have iterated--if attribution is missing or incorrect, please let me know and I will fix!)
  • Why did it take 20 years time between the National Gallery’s first biennial of contemporary Canadian art in 1989 and its second, this year? As Ken Lum pointed out during his appearance at a related panel, that’s a pretty crazy amount of time to wait, no? I can’t recall who clarified (it was probably Lum as well) that part of the problem after 1989 was that it had been assumed that regional venues would organize subsequent national biennials, and that just didn’t happen. Anyway, the result is kind of bittersweet—like, “Yay! Awesome way to revive something we really need!” on the one hand and “Why did it take so damn long?” on the other.
  • How much is an exhibition like this tied up in notions of Canadian identity? And how do those ideas relate to power dynamics in our society? Part of the panels for the exhibition turned into what I might consider a classic CBC phone-in on this first question of “Canadian identity—what is it?" and extending it to "Can it ever be summarized in an exhibition? Is it too diverse and flexible to be named? Etc.” But part of the critique was also well warranted, as First Nations curator Ryan Rice pointed out that many of the First Nations artists he has worked with do not identify primarily as Canadian, or may (quite reasonably, given the circumstances of residential schooling histories, forced migration, etc.) even see Canada as an aggressor and not wish to be identified with it. Personally, I hadn’t considered these aspects of the show in much depth; I had considered Canadian art to maybe be “art made by someone with a Canadian passport or residing in Canada”—but I can see it’s an important question.
  • Why is it always (or perhaps at least more often than one would like that it is) seemingly left to non-Canadians to do key documentation of (or key recognition of) Canadian culture? This question came up for me via a number of factors: that Ken Lum opined there is still no comprehensive history of contemporary Canadian art, saying the last useful book in this vein, Dennis Reid’s A Concise History of Canadian Painting, was published in 1980; that some curators in conversation then noted that a book like this is being released soon, but by a British publisher; that I remembered the book Art Textiles of the World: Canada was also recently published by a British house, Telos; and that I also read on the way back home via Leah MacLaren about a modern Canadian poetry book being also published by a British house. On top of all that, one of the panelists at the conference was Denise Markonish, an American curator who is actually organizing a survey of contemporary Canadian art for MASS MoCA, to open in spring of 2012 with an MIT-published catalogue. Crazy! Obviously this question is somewhat redundant—by doing “It Is What It Is” the National Gallery is making a gesture towards picking up the slack on documentation and recognition of the national scene—but it was a pattern that really struck me.
  • Why has the nonexistent book Ken Lum mentioned not been created yet? Is it because art history works best with the far past rather than the near past? Is it because art history requires secondary sources into order for research to be considered “serious” by one of its many academics? Is it because it would be too politically risky for any institution to take on such a project? Or is it the classic “no resources available” for such a long-term, wide-aiming, travel-require project? Is the answer all of the above?
  • How can we get more Canadian art institutions working with decent online formats? And distributing information about art in ways that Canadians can actually access and use? It was clear to me during the panels that curators are very comfortable discussing physical exhibition formats and physical documentation and research (ie. catalogues). But they clam up when asked about how to better distribute that information (both visual and text) online. And you know what? To a large extent I get this. We see this every day even in the media industry, where print publications are given way more eyeballing and way more financial and human resources than their related web counterparts. But! But! The fact is that it seems kind of crazy to sweat every comma and colour balance on an exhibition catalogue that will likely sell just 5-20% of its print run, and that to a limited audience, while the website for that show or institution, online 24/7 to a potential audience of thousands, is barely updated, or even, in some cases, nonexistent. (!!!) People, you don’t have to sell me—a word nerd and an art nerd—on the importance of print. I like a beautiful book object as much as the next library luster. But! But! But! I also use this thing called Google to find information these days, y’know? Just like you probably do. So… if you really want to share information about art you’re showing, Canadian and otherwise, you need to start making some beautiful websites too. Or at least some functional and informative ones. I know there can be copyright issues involved, but please, let’s get working on this! The word nerds and art nerds need to meet up with some tech nerds, alright? And stop pretending there is just one or two kinds of nerdom that are valuable. Nerd convergence. Nerdvergence. Let’s use it for the greater educational good. (Sorry to seemingly go off the deep end on this one, but these concerns were further exacerbated by reading Amy Fung's Akimblog report on a recent curators' conference in Banff where some outright *refused* to write for online. What?????)
  • Further to the above question, what websites are actually useful for helping high-school teachers (or anyone else) teach Canadian art and learn about Canadian art history? And, by extension, helping non-traditional art audiences learn about art? According to one audience member who stepped up to the mic, the answer is “nil.” The National Gallery representative told her Cybermuse (the gallery’s web-archive project, which I’m told has been updated more recently) was a good bet, and I filled her in on Canadian Art’s soon to be launched canadianartschool.ca. But this is a very valid question. We have no Art 21 equivalent here. And even if we did… or if we do in future… is it being marketed well enough to actually connect with the people who need it? Can that connection be made? I hope so. This teacher’s question really seemed to signify for me the disconnect between art-worlders and interested “non-art-worlders” (ie. people without an art degree or positions in art institutions) – the latter might actually be quite interested in art, but as they can’t find anything about it online, they are left with the impression that it is not all that interested in them. At the same time, because the institutions are not putting (we might qualify this with sufficient or appropriate) resources into web and marketing and being friendly and open, they are left with the feeling that the wider public actually doesn’t like them very much. I urge the institutions to make the first move on this front—reach out to people as much as possible. Be friendly. Be easy to find. Make information about art available online, so people can be drawn into its narratives and wonder from their living rooms, and yearn to seek it out in person. Well, to be honest, I don’t know how accurate my interpretations and connections are on this. All I know is there is a disconnect between art institutions and their non-traditional publics, and it would do well for the art institutions to reach out a bit and try to bridge some of those gaps.
  • And finally.... how on earth will the National Gallery be able to pull together something similar over the next couple of years? What will the next "biennial" of this sort (should it, please God, actually happen to actually fulfill the term) look like? Do the curators feel like they actually have time to pull it together in addition to all the other stuff they have to do? Will the acquisitions style (or acquisitions pressures) change if it's understood that this exhibition is an ongoing affair? Is doing a first biennial like doing a first amazing pop or rock album, the kind of thing that actually takes the accumulated experience 20 years (or even 10) to do rather than just two? Anyway, as is probably already clear, I do hope another exhibition of this type does get organized by the gallery for 2012. It was impressive to see how much material the gallery has acquired over the past few years, and what good quality most of it seems to be. So I wish the gallery best of luck on the next go-round with the caveat to please consider pumping some more web-info-distribution into the mix.
There's a lot of other issues to be discussed about this show, many of which were raised in the symposium. I hope everyone and anyone feels free to post comments about their views, critiques, congrats and questions below.

(Image of the "you're running out of time" notes I passed to panel speakers in Ottawa from yours truly.)

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Snowed Under: Personal Essay out in December's Canadian Geographic

Recently, in presentations to school groups, I've proposed that the subjects in which I have the most expertise all fall into the category of "ways of mapping the world" or "ways of recording experiences in the world"—namely, geography (which my first degree was in), art (which my second degree was in) and writing (where I've actually managed to make a bit of a career addressing matters related to those first two topics).

So it's with some pride that I see one of my pieces of writing printed in the December 2010 issue of Canadian Geographic. It's a personal essay published on the back page's "In Habitat" section, and it describes a visit to my hometown of Calgary, as well as some of the hidden and not-so-hidden emotional landmarks that exist for me there. Here's an excerpt:

It was a blue-sky Alberta foothills day, with the kind of clear, intense light that makes a Toronto-dwelling ex-Cowtowner smart at all the grotty slush and brown, smoggy afternoons she’s unjustly endured.

A thick, two-foot-deep frosting of glittering snow layered the landscape, refracting the sun in a million directions. My eyes squinted at the dazzle as we reached the edge of a small valley where bare, winter-elegant aspens stood.

With the outline of the Rockies in the distance, it was a perfect day for any number of outdoor activities—for skiing, for sliding, or even for that most gentle of Gore-Tex clad, polarized-sunglass-shielded pursuits: strolling leisurely, coffee in hand.

But it wasn’t that kind of day for me, nor for my fiancé, sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Despite the postcard-worthy loveliness of this place, we’d come on a less pretty endeavour—to find, and then visit, the dead.

Cheery, no? It gets better from that point on, I swear. And, to reiterate, I do feel honoured to be in the publication, which has done a super job over the past few years providing indepth coverage of climate change issues and other overlooked topics. (This December issue, for example, also contains an extensive feature by Linda Goyette on the need for schools in a Cree community on James Bay.)

Anyway, the rest of my essay isn't online, so I urge you to pick up a copy of Canadian Geographic at your favourite newsstand!

(Image of a snowy Calgary park from the City of Calgary)

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Out today: Reviews of Shows around Queen's Park

Today in the National Post, I review some of the shows happening in the Queen's Park area - all of which are among the strongest of the year. Here's an excerpt:

Breaking Boundaries at the Gardiner Museum
111 Queen’s Park Circ., to Jan. 30
This striking exhibition highlights four youngish Canucks who use ceramics to address manga, mayhem, monsters and other Nickelodeon-friendly themes. As a result, the show seems specially designed to attract “kids” — both toddlers or twentysomethings. But in reality, Breaking Boundaries is a terrific exhibition for all ages and stages: Its pop themes tempt the masses while its new works impress art stalwarts. B.C.’s Brendan Tang, known for mashing up sci-fi gadgetry and Ming-period vases, appears in video as an Indiana Jones-style swashbuckler. Ontario’s Shary Boyle surprises with ceramics that are bigger and rawer than ever before; these don’t just tolerate cracks, but highlight them in gold. Saskatchewan’s Marc Courtemanche offers a massive installation that looks like a woodshop but is largely crafted out of clay; it combines blue-collar workbenches and highfalutin’ art studios to pleasing effect. Finally, Quebec’s Carmela Laganse contributes fantastical vampire furnishings — regally upholstered objects that’d be right at home in True Blood’s vampire-king-of-Mississippi mansion. Check the show’s comment book, too; it traces viewer debates and demonstrates that when museums set out to engage “kids,” they might just engage the kid at heart in all of us.

I'm serious about the comment book--it's confusingly labelled "Be a Curator" and is somewhat edited by staff, but really it is Best Comment Book of the Year. The first Shary Boyle-related comment, printed in shaky pencil script from "ANONYMOUS" listing their age as "OLD" and occupation as "--" is along the lines of "I love Shary Boyle's porcelain lace but I can't stand her mutilated women. What's wrong with her?" (I'm away from my notes right now, hence the paraphrasing.) The responses that follow that comment continue to show the diverse ways individuals can react to artwork.

In the rest of the column, I also review shows at the University of Toronto and the ROM. You can read on here. (Regarding the last review, I can see I've been hard on our big instos lately with placement issues--also did it with an AGO review a couple weeks back--and I do wonder, what's up with that? Why are placement issues bothering me so much of late? I guess I blame (a) my persnickityness and (b) my geographical training. For now. And maybe what seems like Toronto's perpetual space crunch.)

(Image of Marc Courtemanche's The Studio--an example of his work that is largely crafted out of clay but, interestingly, shaped using woodworking techniques--via the National Post)

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Of Place and Politics: Robert Adams Article out in Today's National Post

A few weeks ago, I scrambled across town on the streetcar to pick up a copy of Robert Adams' What Can We Believe Where? from what is perhaps the only bricks-and-mortar bookstore left in Toronto that's arty enough to stock it. (That store was the always-worth-a-visit Type Books, by the way.)

There was a bit of irony to this endeavour, I guess, (or at least Alanis Morissette might say so) because Adams, who was an english lit professor before he was a photographer, tended to focus throughout his career on distributing his art through books. Sure, he ended up showing in big galleries too, but he believed books were the best way to get his images and sequenced narratives out there.

In a way, this bookish principle remained true for me this time out as well; Adams' career retrospective, organized by Yale University Art Gallery, is currently on at the Vancouver Art Gallery, thousands of miles from where I live; so this relatively affordable paperback ($26), which contains about a third of the pictures from the show, was really my best entry point. Given, er, that I was able to track it down what seemed to be the only copy available for retail sale in Toronto. (It is also available from the major online booksellers, but I didn't have time to wait for shipping.)

Today in the National Post, I ponder What Can We Believe Where? and what it means for audiences today in terms of both form and content. Along the way, I got to speak with Yale University Art Gallery director Jock Reynolds and think about how Adams' ideas on place connected with my reaction to recent elections across North America. An excerpt:

Recent municipal elections across Canada, like this month's U.S. mid-terms, have highlighted the connection between place and politics. These outings show that North America's continental divide isn't just one line on a map; boundaries of east vs. west, north vs. south, urban vs. rural and suburban vs. downtown are also often marked at the ballot box.

Oregon photographer Robert Adams is well familiar with this intertwining of geography and judiciousness. His new book What Can We Believe Where? (an accompaniment to a new touring retrospective, The Place We Live, currently on at the Vancouver Art Gallery) concisely spans 40 years of his photographs of the American West. In its introduction, the 73-year-old Adams reiterates the questions that have intrigued him throughout his career: "What does our geography compel us to believe? What does it allow us to believe? And what obligations, if any, follow from our beliefs?"

Leafing through this compact paperback, it's clear that Adams' take is a complex balance of horror and hope. The book's 109 images, chosen from 2,000 of Adams' best prints, often focus on what some call environmental disasters -- the massive 1970s expansion of Denver-area tract housing, the 1980s growth of the Los Angeles smog bowl, and this decade's Coos County clear-cuts. But these sobering sequences (expanded to comprise 300 prints in the retrospective exhibition) are also woven with gentler scenes: a warm-hearted farmland coffee klatsch, a beautiful grove of prairie poplars, a gleeful toddler greeting her family.

One thing that I was glad to hear from Reynolds was that Yale co-curator Joshua Chang did manage to convince Adams, and his partner/collaborator Kiersten, that it would be a good idea to try and distribute his photos from the show through some 21st-century means--namely, a website--as well as through these nicely produced books. I do urge ya'll to check out the resulting survey exhibition site at http://artgallery.yale.edu/adams/.

If Robert Adams was a young photographer today, I wonder if he'd be a steadfast Flickr or Tumblr user, twigged to these non-gallery, populist means of distributing photography. We'll never know, but I'm glad that his exhibition has been put online and in print form for those of us who can't make it to the show. And for those who can make it to Vancouver, the show will be up until January 16, after which it travels to Los Angeles, New Haven, Madrid and other sites.

To read more about the new book and Adams' work, visit the National Post.

(Image of Robert Adams' Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, looking toward Los Angeles, Redlands, California 1978 Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery and via Canadian Art)

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Que Sera, Sera: It Is What It Is Preview

In advance of my moderation of a panel on "Canadian Art: Exhibiting and Disseminating" at the National Gallery on Friday, I've been trying to seek out reviews of the exhibition that has spurred the panel--It Is What It Is, which displays a selection of contemporary Canadian art acquired by the gallery over the past two years.

Here's what I've been able to dig up:

Andrew Wright's thumbs-up at Akimbo

Peter Simpson's exhibition highlights in the Ottawa Citizen, with more pics available on his blog

Notes on the exhibition's lessons for Parliament Hill from the blog of Toronto Star politics reporter Susan Delacourt

Maclean's capital-region reporter John Geddes' blog post on It Is What It Is, which to his mind is better than Pop Life

A slideshow at CBC.ca

And, more tangentially, the Telegraph Journal notes there's no New Brunswick artists in the show during an extended interview with gallery director Marc Mayer

Anyway, I do look forward to seeing the show myself—in that, y'know, conflict-of-interest-filled way. To recap, the panel I'm involved with features Barbara Fischer (Barnicke Gallery), Louise Dery (Galerie de l'UQAM), Scott McLeod (Prefix) and Reid Shier (Presentation House Gallery) and is prefaced by a morning panel on Canadian Artistic Practices at Home and Abroad. That morning panel features Adam Budak (Kunsthaus Graz), Josee Drouin-Brisebois (National Gallery), Ken Lum (Independent), Denise Markonish (MASS MoCA) and Ryan Rice (Museum of Contemporary Native Arts). Registration info for webcast and in-person can be found here.

(Image of Rodney Graham's The Gifted Amateur Nov. 10th, 1962, 2007 © the National Gallery of Canada)

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Admission Impossible: Museum Fees Chart now out in This Magazine

Last month, at the When Critics Speak panel for Nuit Blanche, I got on a bit of a jag, as I so often do, about economic barriers to gallery and museum access in Canada.

But I also appreciated the response of audience member Kim Simon, well-respected curator at Gallery TPW, who shouted out that many of the major museums and galleries are hard up for cash, which is why they have to charge what I consider to be such high admission fees.

In discussing the matter with Kim, I came to the conclusion that both things may be true, that:
(a) Many major public galleries and museums in Canada have implemented significant (sometimes internationally unusual) economic barriers to public access in the form of high admission fees and eliminated free hours
(b) Many major public galleries and museums in Canada genuinely feel strapped for cash

I haven't any solutions to this conundrum, but to me the fact remains that it is in the mandate of many public galleries and museums to provide public access to their permanent (ie. public-owned) collections, and that they need to figure out how to restore levels of access to international norms—no matter how strapped they may be feeling.

In continuation of the discussion on this theme, I have a small charticle out in the current November/December issue of This Magazine. It's called "Admission Impossible" and lists data to the effect that Canada's museums are among the most expensive, least accessible in the world.

Since writing the piece, I've become more aware of some more nuanced barriers to public access in cultural institutions--things like daytime-centric hours of operation and codes of behaviour--that are explored at length by more expert sources like Nina K. Simon and Simon Brault.

However, I do believe economic access is still at a substandard level in Canada's major museums and galleries, a fact that is particularly surprising given admission fees only tend to make up a small (5-15%) portion of museum revenues.

What other things do you think are true about museum management in Canada? Both for good and for bad? Feel free to post. Also feel free to read the rest of the This article here.

(Image from This Magazine)

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finally Getting It: The Cedar Tavern Singers

I've heard a little bit about Alberta's Cedar Tavern Singers in the last few years, seen their name pop up in group shows and reviews and such. So it's a testament only to my own lack of effort that it's taken me this long to actually twig to the awesomeness of some of their stuff--namely, songs and (more recently) dance numbers about art and art history.

What finally got me listening, and what I highly recommend, is actually a video I can't embed--CTS' jazz-handed tribute to the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. Please view it on their webpage. It's really very cute and sweet, and extra, extra, extra (!) Canadian. Like, can we have some Canadian Heritage Minutes like this please? CBC, paragon of all things extra, extra, extra (!) Canadian, are you watching?

A much earlier CTS ditty, The Relational Aesthetics Song, is embedded above. You can find more of their live gigs (including an in-the-round Bruce Nauman piece) on Youtube, and more of their polished recorded stuffs on their website.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Least Risky Critical Statement Ever: I Too Loved the Shary Boyle Show at the AGO

So the Shary Boyle show at the AGO has already gotten a ton of press. And rightly so. It's a pretty awesome show. Did I really need to add to the love-in? I'm not sure, but gosh, I just had to 'fess up too. My glowing review is now online at Posted Toronto, the National Post's Hogtown-centric webstream. An excerpt:

Boyle tackles big, unwieldy themes: birth, death, sex, crisis and renewal, crystallizing these themes in works that strike a compelling balance between delightful and disturbing. A black-booted corpse covered with butterflies, two figures barfing pretty beads, a lute player turning the amp up to 11 — Boyle crafts it all so well that what could be heavy-handed in a lesser talent’s oeuvre communicates as mature and complex.

In the review, I also wonder what Boyle's show means for the AGO. Though it's easily one of the gallery's best shows ever, it's also one that was largely coordinated by a Montreal gallery--Galerie de l'UQAM. So it's a little unclear how much credit the AGO can take for the show's success, or for, y'know, kind of giving an actual Ontario artist a fair solo-show shake. I'm posing this as an open question, with no conclusions drawn, as I'm sure the AGO did contribute efforts and funds, as no doubt did a third presenting partner, the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver.

Also, I tried to point out in the review that the placement of the show in the museum's historical-art section has a double-edged effect, at least for me. This consideration was driven in part by thinking about how different the show might look at Galerie de l'UQAM and the CAG, which are more standard "white cube" environments for contemporary art—-for better or for worse.

(Image of Shary Boyle's White Light from Canadianart.ca - photo by Ian Lefebvre)

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Enjoyed: The Toughest Show on Earth

Posting has been skimpy lately here at Unedit My Heart, for which I blame illness, overwork and, oh yes, my new tendency to jump from elitism to elitism—ie. from art to opera. Yeeeeehawwwww!

To this latter point, I've just finished reading The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera by Joseph Volpe. And y'know what? I really enjoyed it. Volpe--a longtime manager of the Met who retired in 2006, just as the book was being published--has a reputation as an outspoken figure in a genteel field, and he does a super job of slicing and dicing the behind-the-scenes tensions in a large arts organization. (Granted, having a co-author like Charles Michener couldn't have hurt on the expository front.)

There's also some great quotes Volpe includes from other opera figures. This one, from the diary of past Met director John Dexter, seemed particularly worth repeating. It starts out as a rant prompted by a request to keep production expenses low, and ends with some interesting inversions of the art/cash equation:

Economy is not a policy, it is a fact. Imagination/Simplicity is a policy. It is an approach to opera for the twentieth century. When the theatre began to remove elaborate "realistic" effects, it became free so that from Schiffbauerdam to Sloane Square, any physical and emotional demand a playwright could make was capable of fulfillment. Time and place could flow freely in the audience's imagination (which, according to Coleridge, is where the excitement lies).

Only at the Metropolitan has time stood still. The curtain can sitll rise on a performance and the audience can be transported back to the nineteenth century and sit and wallow in an imaginary world. Unfortunately drama is reality given meaning and form. Opera and drama are not a drug for the feeble-minded, they are an essential enhancement of our lives from which we can enrich ourselves and from which we can learn.

Only when the operatic stage can share the freedom of the dramatic stage can the medium exist in the twentieth century and maybe help us understand the world and ourselves, instead of remaining a morphine of the overprivileged.

Economy is a watchword is meaningless. Imagination costs more in the mind but less in the purse. But the imagination must swing out from the stage to embrace the audience and the audience must be trained to join in an act of imagination.

To hell with economy, spend imagination.

That last line's a good one.

Also of interest to me in the book were Volpe's stories about board trustees and donors--some huge, some small--who fell in love with opera in their youth due to free nationwide broadcasts of Met performances. It's a little lesson on the value (and possible returns) on free programming that I hope isn't lost on other other cultural institutions.

Now I'm on to Renee Fleming's The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer. Also good so far, and also containing some interesting laments for the demise of regular arts education in public schools. I'll keep you posted!

(Image from Bookapex)

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