Friday, February 25, 2011

Hogtown Heroics: Reviews of Luis Jacob, Davida Nemeroff and the Toronto Show up @ National Post

Toronto was recently named one of the Top 10 most livable cities in the world. Is its art also as amenable? Find out on a tour of three Hogtown-centric exhibitions I've reviewed over at Posted Toronto: Luis Jacob @ MOCCA, Davida Nemeroff @ TPW and the much-buzzed Toronto Show @ Stephen Bulger. An excerpt:

Luis Jacob at MOCCA
952 Queen St. W., to March 27
Queen West fixture Luis Jacob studied philosophy in university, not art, and it shows (to favourable effect) in the way he uses visual items to investigate perception and culture. This mid-career survey opens with Eclipse, a life-size glass eye. From there, the installation alternates between early abstract paintings and large versions of Jacob’s 2008 series They Sleep with One Eye Open — tie-dyed faces that waver between abstraction and figuration, between Rothko and radical hippie. It all leads up to the highlight, Album X, a wall-long assemblage of images that ricochet around the idea of the frame and its role in identifying something as “art.” Several images belong to big names including Michael Snow, Claude Cahun and Jeff Wall, but in one of those tidy rhetorical twists, Jacob, through his reframing, makes their reframings his own. There’s also a lot of self-reflexive moments as visitors gaze at pictures of people looking at art … as, erm, art. These themes are further refracted in Cabinet, a nice show of National Gallery works curated by Jacob in an adjoining gallery. Some might quibble with the hype Jacob currently enjoys, but one thing’s for certain — he sure is a whiz at discoursing with the discourse.

Read on for the Nemeroff and Toronto Show reviews here at Posted Toronto. I'll admit that I'm a self-reflexive gal, and those questions I pose about the Nemeroff could very well apply to me through that old and neat trick of projection.

Some other Toronto-related shows I haven't seen yet but that look promising and I want to check out: Sandy Plotnikoff @ Paul Petro and Dean Drever @ MKG127. The current student show at Xpace on the monochrome is also kinda interesting--what up with the new formalism, yo?

(Image of Luis Jacob's They Sleep with One Eye Open from MOCCA via the National Post)

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March 4 Art Writing Workshop @ Hart House

The more I know about art writing, the less I understand. Therefore I'm grateful to be invited to participate in panels where others can shed light on this issue. For serious! There are so many paths to arriving at this somewhat unusual profession, and ultimately I really only know my own trajectory and activities best.

So... next opp on this for me (and maybe for you too) is "Careers in Art Writing," a panel at Hart House in Toronto on March 4. The event is open to the public as well as students, though RSVP is requested. Here's the details:

The Education and Outreach Sub-Committee of the Hart House Art Committee presents:
Careers in Art Writing
Date: Friday March 4th, 2011
Location: Meeting Room in Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto
Time: 2-4pm
Join three writers from different backgrounds in art criticism to discuss how to begin writing professionally.
Presenters: Johnson Ngo (Akimblog contributor), Amish Morrell (editor of C Magazine), and Leah Sandals (professional freelance writer and editor)
Please RSVP to: hh.educationcommittee [at]

(Cute Scrabble-letters image from the Hart House Art Committee)

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beaux Arts for Belmore: Defense Fund Auction Article Out Today in Toronto Star

I didn't publish a year-end top 10 this year, but if I did, "court action" would be on it. Work agreements can be so nebulous in the art world--a situation often exacerbated by the predominance of oral, rather than written, contracts--that sometimes legal action is the only way to figure out what is right or wrong in an given situation. Of late, we've seen this lawyerish course of "clarification" taken by Michael Snow and AA Bronson, not to mention Rebecca Belmore.

While legal clarifications may be helpful to all parties concerned (I'm curious about the outcome of all these suits, no matter how they might end up falling) they aren't cheap. So on March 1, a fundraiser is being held for the Rebecca Belmore Defense Fund in Toronto.

More information about this fundraiser is available in my article out today in the Toronto Star. An excerpt:

Prominent Canadian artists have lined up in support of Rebecca Belmore, who is locked in a legal dispute with her former art dealer.

Douglas Coupland, Shary Boyle, Rodney Graham and others have donated works to be auctioned off at an event March 1 at Parts & Labour on Queen West. Event co-organizer Paul Bain, a Toronto lawyer, hopes it will raise $50,000 for the Rebecca Belmore Defence Fund, which is held in trust by his firm, Dickinson Wright.

Until now, the conflict between the OCAD-trained artist and local gallery owner Pari Nadimi has played out in Bay Street law offices, on Vancouver sidewalks and in national news headlines.

Belmore, who lives in Vancouver and represented Canada at the 2005 Venice Biennale, is being sued by Nadimi for breach of contract after trying to end her relationship with the gallery in 2006. Nadimi, whose Toronto gallery continues to operate at 254 Niagara St., is claiming $750,000 in damages, plus other costs. The statement of claim alleges Nadimi was negotiating nearly $1.1 million in sales connected to Belmore’s works.

The suit was brought to wider attention last September, when Belmore staged a related performance outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in which she sat cross-legged with a sign that read, “I am worth more than one million dollars to my people.”

Financially, says Bain, “it’s hard enough to be an artist in this country,” so when it comes to soured artist-dealer relationships, the challenges of meeting legal action can be significant.”

More information is available at the Star, and on the event's website.

(Image of a gavel -- favoured symbol of judges and auctioneers alike -- from Sara Marberry)

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Can Street Furniture Bring Street Fitness? Find out at Openfile Toronto

Being fortunate in the past to have served as an editor at Spacing Magazine, I have come to notice installations of new objects in public space much more than I would have previously. And this tendency doesn't just apply to public art, or to public typos. In the fall, the installation of some public athleticism--ie. new outdoor gyms in Toronto--also caught my eye.

At first, these gyms appealed to the (very strong) nostalgist in me, bringing back the afternoons I once spent jogging around woodchip-lined Calgary fitness parks in the 1980s and 1990s. (Oh for the days when I could do a chinup!)

Then, I started wondering... why bring the outdoor fitness "park" back after so many of them from the 80s seem to be decrepit and abandoned?

Could this be part of a wider trend to remove "sedentary" street furniture like benches and bus stop shelters and replace them with more sporting types of equipment?

Today Openfile Toronto published my brief look at some of these questions. An excerpt:

Over the past year, new outdoor gyms have been installed in four Toronto parks: Woodbine Beach Park; Julius Deutsch Park (formerly Cecil Street Parkette) and Sally Bird Park, both in the Annex; and Glen Ravine Park, near Eglinton Avenue East and Midland Avenue. All are public; all are free. The largest, arrayed around the Woodbine Beach playground, has seven stations that can accommodate a total of twelve people, and includes a leg press, seated back row, and elliptical trainer. The smallest, at Sally Bird Park, has three stations—a chest press, air skier, and warm-up-and-stretch station—that can handle four users.

“If we could do this everywhere, we would,” says Catriona Delaney, manager of Get Active Toronto, a nonprofit that helped coordinate placement of the Woodbine and Glen Ravine gyms. “If kids are brought to the playground, but their parents are sitting on benches, what message does that send? We’d like to build a physically active culture by default rather than by mandate.”

This outdoor-fitness trend has some eighty-year-old precedents. In the 1930s, with unemployment at its height, concerns about declines in physical activity, combined with the need for make-work projects, resulted in the construction of walking trails in many parts of Canada. And in the '60s and '70s, governments, warned about the health effects of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, installed wood-and-steel fitness circuits like the Vita Parcours in Sunnybrook Park.

Delaney says that now's the time to further remove barriers to physical activity in Toronto. “We have the fastest-rising obesity rate of any city in the country,” she says. “These gyms are great for people who are just starting to be physically active. And we need that. We don’t all have the means to hire personal trainers, right?”

While these sites are great in a lot of ways, there's also some valid concerns about them. Read on at Openfile for those.

A few more extra notes of interest on this topic:

City Councillor Adam Vaughan, who faciliated two of the parks, told me he would one day like to see a park in his ward where the electric lights or other electric features are powered by the actions of people on these types of gym machines.

There's a variety of ways these parks have come to be across Canada. In Red Deer, they were implemented through a health-care interest group formed of doctors. In Calgary, two members of the community pushed for them. In many places, though, it is something that the muncipality decides they are going to do.

There are actually a lot more of these gyms in Canada's smaller cities than in its larger ones. Fort McMurray claims to have the largest outdoor gym in Canada, for instance.

The main domestic competitor for GreenGyms, which manufactured Toronto's outdoor gyms, is Alberta's Fitness Outdoors. I wonder how different these pieces of equipment art.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Spacing's blog post and comment thread on these types of gyms in China.

Finally, there is a whole other realm that could have been investigated here on the aesthetic qualities of these gyms--colour choices, design, etc. I'll leave that to my more artistic readers, for now.

(Image of some chest press and back row machines at Woodbine Beach from OpenFile by Christopher Drost)

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Seminar Notes: Ottawa Art Gallery Workshop

On Saturday, I gave a workshop at the Ottawa Art Gallery that promised the following:

This practical seminar will lead participants through activities on a few aspects of professional art writing: generating raw material, identifying potential publications and story formats, pitching story ideas, freelancing, and self-editing. The increasing options in self-publishing will also be discussed, and time will be reserved for participant questions and input.

I really only scratched the surface of these topics in the time available, and I appreciated the energy, patience and stamina of those attending in terms of the limits of the day and of the, ahem, instructor.

In any case, I returned from the day with a variety of questions and notes. Here's a sampling. Many of them are basic questions or ones that most writers have already visited and revisited. Still, they stuck in my mind:

How does our view of (and writing about) an artwork change when we take at least 10 minutes to look at it as opposed to 1 minute?

How scary or uncomfortable (or maybe discovery-enhancing) can it be to look at art and try to engage it or make notes on it without doing preliminary research about the artist or the exhibition?

How does our view of an artwork change when we (similarly) do not look at the name of the artist on the accompanying label but simply at the work itself?

How useful is it to promote more writing on art when there are few venues that pay writers for such texts? Or few venues that publish such texts, period?

Some people perceive art writing to be much less lively and vital than movie writing. To what can we attribute this?

If one is a full-time journalist, how is one supposed to cover art when one finds it mundane--eliciting no strong reaction?

Is there a website in Canada where people can connect to discuss art writing or art criticism?

These are just a few of the questions that stuck in my craw. Some of these issues have already been discussed previously on my blog and of course elsewhere, but just wanted to commemorate. I already posted some of these questions to Twitter as well, where @GWHatt (Kitchener-area curator Gordon Hatt) and @hollygowritely (who I believe may be Ottawa journalist and workshop attendee Holly Gordon) had some great comments and clarifications to make. Both worth a follow!

(Incredibly realistic and definitely not Photoshopped writing pad image from Degree Directory)

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

CORRECTION Not Everyone Clicks with Google Art Project

CORRECTION, 2pm FEB 17 : Dear readers - as I was gathering material for this article, I made some mistakes in interpreting information. These mistakes were brought to my attention this afternoon. The mistakes relate to Darin Freitag and his statements. To his recollection, Frietag said that Google Art Project "degrades" art, not "damages" it. He also circulated his objections to the Google Art Project to just one media outlet, not several, although several did contact him and reference him following that initial contact. He also contacted a small group of museum directors with his views. Frietag in no way believes himself to be "unofficial spokesperson for a backlash" as I suggest he may be viewed in the article. I apologize to Mr. Freitag and to readers for any confusion or misrepresentation my mistakes may have caused. The text below and in the online article has been updated to reflect this corrected information.

It's been a couple of weeks now since the Google Art Project was launched, and while many are impressed with it (myself included) the honeymoon is also over for some folks. I talk about this a bit--and recommend other sites people can go to for a virtual art experience--in today's Toronto Star. An excerpt:

Hailed by Tate Britain director Nicholas Serota as an indicator of “the digital future of museums,” the Google Art Project is clearly an arts-access boon. With a few clicks, Torontonians can peruse galleries it would take thousands of dollars to visit in person — and add masterpieces to a personal virtual collection, too.

But for some critics, the honeymoon is over. Ms. magazine’s Kyle Bachan questioned the project’s lack of women artists. The Boston Globe’s Sebastian Smee wrote, “We’re deluding ourselves if we think Van Gogh’s brilliance can be subdivided into pixels . . . to start with, human vision is binocular; digital photography is not.”

One of the most outspoken critics of the Google Art Project lives in Toronto: Darin Freitag, managing director of Synthescape, a local company that’s assisted museums in putting exhibitions online for 10 years.

“What I found so remarkable about the Google Art Project was how s--tty it was, technically speaking,” Freitag explains over the phone from his Spadina Rd. office. “The quality was atrocious.” And he’s astounded so many museum directors bought into it. “It’s ethically wrong — it’s a desecration,” he says of Streetview’s low image resolution and fisheye distortions. “It takes a work of art and damages it.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

What Freitag means, as he also explained to me, is that art museums sweat the image quality in their print product (brochures and catalogs) and in-situ product (exhibitions and collections) like crazy, but those participating in the Google Art Project basically sacrificed a ton of image quality, and he doesn't this it's conscionable, particularly when businesses like, ahem, his own, exist to create much better quality virtual views.

As usual, I feel conflicted and sad about the research/interviews that didn't make it into the article. To this end, here's some additional notes I gathered:

1) Re: the financial feasibility of putting more exhibitions and collections online in Canada.

I asked a few people about this, because the classic excuse for not doing something in our museums or galleries is "the money's just not there to do it." The Canada Council said that it does support web outreach initiatives through its Support to National Visual Arts Service Organizations--orgs can use some of this operating money to enhance their website. The council doesn't have any programs designed exclusively for web outreach yet, though that might change as its recently announced "strategic directions" favour distribution of art and exhibitions in addition to their production.

The Virtual Museum of Canada said that they partner with 10 to 12 big institutions and 50 small institutions a year to create online exhibitions that are umbrella'd through their site. So it seems like there's some funding partnership there. Gabrielle Blais, director general of the Canadian Heritage Information Network which operates the VMC, said that doing high-res imaging of exhibitions is ideal and desirable, but "not cheap."

And Darin Freitag said that he, as part of his business, helps museums and galleries apply for special funding for online shows. He noted that the deadline for the Canada Interactive Fund, which offers grants up to $500,000, just passed on February 14.

2) Re: Social media rather than online exhibitions seem to be a focus for Canadian museums

In an interview, Blais said that now that many Canadian museums sites (and online exhibitions) are build, the next big challenge is getting users to comment on and interact with them. "One of the great challenges that we have right now is realizing that we are going to have to put some effort into getting public participation. Canadians are not used to having that dialogue with museums."

Megan Richardson, chief of education and public programs at the National Gallery of Canada, also pointed to the gallery's more recent interactive outreach initiatives, like the So You Want to Be an Artist contest for youth, which will be voted on by the public through Facebook.

Frietag also referred to this social-media focus in a less cheery way, noting that it seems to be the latest bandwagon museums have gotten on--even if their own websites could still use a lot of work in the first place.

3) How is the Google Art Project itself funded?

Well as we all know, Google is a megacorp with a pretty great cash flow. But the details of their arrangements with the museums--who gave who money to participate, and how much--are private.

Nonetheless, I wondered: would the Google Art Project every be treated as an outlet for content-specific ads, like Google Searches are? If you looked at one of GAP's Van Goghs, would you one day see related ads for visits to the Van Gogh Museum or Van Gogh biographies.... or coffee mugs, etc.?

I asked Wendy Rozeluk, a Canadian spokesperson for Google, about this, and she said "we don't have any plans to monetize it [Google Art Project] at this point." She also said "we would never introduce advertising for the sake of it. It needs to be relevant to the project." When I pointed out ads linked to Google Searches and Google Mail, she pointed to products that Google provides ad-free, like the mobile platform Android.

Rozeluk also said there are no specific timelines right now for expanding Google Art Project to other countries.

4) What else?

I wish I had been able to include some of the other comments on Google Art Project. I very much related to Roberta Smith's humorous observation in the NYT of being ejected onto the sidewalk when trying to zoom in on a wall-mounted artwork. And I appreciated Art Fag City's Will Brand pointing out that "the Rijksmuseum is committed to giving the full museum experience -- gift shop included."

I didn't get to mention that the National Gallery site also has a good number of interesting artist interviews -- the problem is, they're just a bit tricky to find and spread out over multiple platforms (Youtube, podcast, older Quicktime (?) formats). They also have put "audio stops" from in-gallery tours on the website for people to view. And they do say that they are committed to digitizing more of the collection, but couldn't say how many new items were being added per year. It was also unclear why so many artwork entries on Cybermuse existed sans image (I floated the idea of copyright being an issue, which was admitted but uncertain if it applied in all cases.) As I note in the article, hopefully things will become more cohesive when the gallery launches its web redesign in the spring.

(Image of Google Streetview Trolley in an art museum from Art Observed)

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Randall Anderson Q&A: The Art of Travel

Montreal artist Randall Anderson comes from a family of long-haul truckers. And while he's made work about travel for years, it's only recently that he realized its connection to his childhood years. This realization comes to the fore in his latest work, a trio of trailer-based sculptures that spend most of their time at the Toronto Sculpture Garden but get taken out for a drive once a month as part of the work. (Anderson also documented the sculptures' trip from Toronto to Montreal, and considers that part of the work too--a video from same is embedded above.)

Today, the National Post published my Q&A with Anderson. Here's an excerpt:

Q What travel-related artworks did you do previously?

A I was travelling to do performances but within each piece there was also movement. I did several pieces in Japan, New Zealand and Australia that involved an object being moved through a city. The first thing I ever produced as an undergraduate also involved movement. I was studying in Montreal and was disillusioned with schools and art institutions. So I did a drawing of a drain cover and drove from Halifax to Vancouver, pinning it on the front of all these art institutions like the AGO and the National Gallery. It was called Creative Drain. It expressed what I thought, but it involved movement. The history of Canadian conceptual art relates, too. In a way, this kind of art comes out of the spaces we inhabit as Canadians, because we're so far apart. In the late 1960s, for instance, Bill Vazan did photo pieces where he drove around the country.

Q Besides national trends, though, your artwork has a lot of family resonance, right?

A It does. And this is the first time I ever let that information out. I see now, looking back, that I had to separate myself from how I grew up in order to be who I am. Otherwise, I would have stayed a mechanic. Coming from that culture of mobile-home parks, the idea of going to university was kind of unheard of. We were in Alberta, B.C....basically following jobs. They have this show on television now-- Ice Truckers. My dad was an ice trucker in the early '60s, but it wasn't anything they'd make TV about back then! There was a point when I built racecars, and I guess all that was touchy for me as the role of male politics changed. It's only in the last couple years that my past has come back into view.

To find out more, including a related project Anderson is doing for Montreal's Nuit Blanche on February 26, read on here. You can also see his work (mostly) at the Toronto Sculpture Garden to April 15.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Art Criticism + City Worries = This Week's At the Galleries Column!

As with many phenomena in my life, I tend to be a big second-guesser when it comes to decisions of what to cover in art reviews, and when. In Toronto, Luis Jacob's MOCCA show--which I listed among my local and national shows to see in the Post earlier this year--just opened last week. So when I was considering what to write about for this week's At the Galleries column in the Post, it seemed like a no brainer.

Yet... yet... I couldn't get a few shows at Harbourfront off my mind, partly because they have to do with our city, and the city budget/administration process seems to be in quite a heated place right now.

Anyway, yes, I went with reviewing the Harbourfront shows, as is evident over at Posted Toronto. An excerpt:

Plotting a City at Harbourfront Centre
235 Queens Quay W., to April 3
This small vitrine show has a big premise: to consider the task of understanding a city the size of Toronto, which clocks in at 641 square kilometers, 100-plus neighbourhoods and 2.5 million people. Most of the eight exhibitors — some of whom are my friends and colleagues — use mapping as a strategy. This includes usual urban-activism suspects like [murmur] and former @rebelmayor Shawn Micallef, who here collects some of his poetic location-specific tweets about Toronto. But there’s also some unexpected angles, such as Howard Podeswa’s rough little paintings of rooftop ducts and Sandra Rechico’s neat ball of red thread that, unfurled, spans 7.8 kilometres — the distance from Rechico’s house to the gallery, as travelled on her own red bicycle. Photographer Peter MacCallum, who’s been documenting Hogtown architecture for several years, will trigger nostalgia for many with his four prints of recently destroyed Yonge Street buildings. None of these approaches, curator Pat Macaulay admits, provides anything close to a complete picture of the city. And there’s a palpable lack of non-downtown perspectives. Nonetheless, Plotting a City offers some eloquent opportunities to quickly glimpse our town through different eyes.

You can read the rest here. (Actually, please do, there's an absolute must see in the mix.) These reviews will also appear in print in the Post's Toronto section this Saturday.

I will file the Luis Jacob review next, though, I think. (The column runs every two weeks, so that'll be end of February.) Definitely worth discussing.

(Image of Peter MacCallum's Yonge Street Losses, 2007-2010, 335 Yonge Street at Gould, 2009 from Harbourfront Centre)

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Up for Discussion: Gregory Burke Is Leaving the Power Plant

I already tweeted this earlier today, but because a lot of folks may want to comment on this, I'm just going to repost the Power Plant's press release from this morning about director Gregory Burke's resignation. Says the press release:


February 8, 2011

Gregory Burke, Director of The Power Plant, today announced that he will leave his position at the end of May, 2011, after close to six years in the role.

On joining The Power Plant in 2005, Burke immediately set in place the development of a five year strategic plan, adopted in 2006. Under that plan, Burke led a broad range of ambitious initiatives to develop The Power Plant and increase awareness of its internationally significant programs. In 2006, Burke launched All Summer, All Free, a program providing free admission to tens of thousands of visitors to The Power Plant. This program, combined with other new public programs, has led to The Power Plant increasing visitation by more than 250% during Burke’s tenure. The Power Plant annual commissioning program was also launched by Burke in 2006, with the aim of realizing major new projects of international significance. Since then outstanding projects have been commissioned from Rafeal Lozanno-Hemmer, Simon Starling, Lawrence Weiner, Scott Lyall, Candice Breitz, Ian Wallace and Pae White.

In 2007, Burke initiated, with the Gallery’s Board of Directors, a highly successful 20th anniversary fundraising campaign. The highlight was the record-breaking 20/20 dinner and auction that featured major donated works by leading international artists, such as Christopher Williams, Francesco Vezzoli, Stan Douglas, Liam Gillick and General Idea. Burke also implemented many other new initiatives working with The Power Plant staff and Board including the annual Face to Face fundraising dinner, the bi-annual magazine of The Power Plant SWITCH and Power Talks, which brought many leading figures from the world of contemporary art to Toronto, including Hou Hanru, Jerry Saltz, Fumio Nanjo, Iwona Blazwick, Anton Vidokle, Thea Westreich and Thomas Crow.

Over the last five years Burke’s vision has also driven the international and critically acclaimed exhibition program of The Power Plant, with many of the exhibitions being curated by Mr. Burke including Fiona Banner: The Bastard Word, Auto Emotion: Autobiography, emotion and self-fashioning, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Front: Relational Architecture 12, Francesco Vezzoli: A True Hollywood Story!, Simon Starling: Cuttings (Supplement), Scott Lyall: The Color Ball, Goldin + Senneby: Headless, LAWRENCE WEINER: THE OTHER SIDE OF A CUL- DE-SAC, Universal Code: Art and Cosmology in the Information Age, Candice Breitz: Same Same, Recent Snow: Michael Snow, Peter Campus: Reflections and Inflections, Ian Wallace: The Economy of the Image, and Pae White: Material Mutters.

In 2009 Burke began developing and fundraising for The Power Plant Access Project that will deliver in 2011 a new reception and lobby designed by KPMB architects, new website, new visual identity, new signage and new communications and publications programs. The project is the most significant capital development since the 1987 opening of The Power Plant. It will be launched to the public on 10 March, 2011, along with the spring exhibitions, including those Burke curated by Thomas Hirschhorn and IƱigo Manglano Ovalle. Burke will continue as Director of The Power Plant until the conclusion of these exhibitions in late May.

William J.S Boyle, Chief Executive of Harbourfront Centre and Shanitha Kachan, President of The Power Plant Board said: “Greg has made many important contributions to the growing international stature of The Power Plant during his tenure as Director. On behalf of Harbourfront Centre and the Board of The Power Plant we extend our appreciation to Greg for his significant accomplishments on our behalf and wish him well in his new endeavours.”

What do you think? Obviously the talk by new PP curator Melanie O'Brian, scheduled for tonight at the Drake Hotel, will be even more well (or excitingly) attended as a result. I won't be able to make it, but look forward to reports.

(Image of the Power Plant smokestack by Xavier Snelgrove/wxs via Wikimedia Commons)

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Monday, February 7, 2011

More Museum-Access Facts From This Mag Commenters

There's some nice comments both online and in the letters section of the current issue of This Magazine about my charticle Admission Impossible, which was published in the Nov/Dec issue. I wanted to reproduce some fascinating facts that commenter meg added to the discussion:

This [museum access] is no new problem; shortly after the AGO was ratified as the Art Museum of Toronto in 1900, the Toronto Board of Control attempted to secure free admission every wednesday and saturday to improve access. [see: 'Toronto Gets a Gallery: The Origins and Development of the City's Permanent Public Art Museum” David Kimmel, Ontario History, The Quarterly Journal of the Ontario Historical Society, Volume 84, No. 3, September 1992 ]

My research shows as well that before the signing of the ROM act (1912) when they were really under the jurisdiction of U of T, there were university statutes in place to keep the museum 'free for the public'. [Statutes of U of T – Statutute 23 'Of the Museum']

Can you imagine governments and boards of control advocating today for Saturdays to be free at local museums? Or all week? We'd experience these spaces very differently, I think. To read the original article go here.

Related to this issue, I wanted to provide an update on the ROM's redeveloped plan on access, which I mentioned in the charticle and which was due to the Ontario Legislature's Standing Committee on Government Agencies in December. I got a copy of the plan today from the clerk of the committee.

On the plus side, the ROM has committed to offering two hours of free access on Wednesday afternoons, rather than just one, for the rest of 2011. On the negative side, those two hours (3:30-5:30pm) aren't all that accessible to a lot of folks given everyday working hours in Toronto.

I'd like to view the new ROM plan as "a start", and would feel better about that if the ROM, in its report, didn't try to make the politicos think that "free admission" has to mean 24/7 free admission. ie. "Free admission to the public would require replacing [all admissions] revenue, approximately $13M. Financial models of international museums which offer free admission suggests that this would only be possible for the ROM with increased financial support from other sources."

The ROM also takes a slightly presumptive turn when it argues "It’s important to note that visitor admission support much more than exhibitions. For example, each ticket sold contributes to help fund ROM international research. ROM curators continue to make new discoveries, conduct global research and field work and to enhance international scientific knowledge. As well, the ROM maintains custodial responsibility for over six million objects. Many artifacts are used for research and education and are not on public display."

Nowhere is it acknowledged here that Ontario residents (those visitors that the committee specifically requested an improved access plan for) already contribute to the research and exhibitions of the museum through taxes, which provided $18 million dollars of funding to the museum in 2008/2009. The museum also fails to mention that these taxes also fund the much trumpeted ROM CAN access program to the tune of $1.3 million per year.

Just wondering how the museum would react if a taxpayer wrote them to say "It's important to note that my tax dollars support much more than exhibitions. So please give me the permanent-collection access that I'm entitled to."

It's also sad to see that the museum cites visitor-exit surveys as a fair-cost indicator, when it would be more appropriate to survey those who can't get through the door in the first place.

In any case, if you want a copy of the ROM's plan you can get it by contacting committee clerk Katch Koch at katch_koch [at] or 416-325-3526. (I'd upload it but am unsure if this is permitted... will check.)

(Image of original Admission Impossible chart from This Magazine)

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brian Jungen Q&A: Where is the soul of art?

BC's Brian Jungen--2010 Gershon Iskowitz Prize winner and Smithsonian survey subject, not to mention the winner of the inaugural 2002 Sobey Art Award--has had quite a decade. During that time, his art has won fans not just across the country but around the world.

I know he's a very busy guy, so I felt lucky Jungen was able to book some interviews in relation to his recently opened show at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Though this Edmonton show is a small one--two older works from the early 2000s and a reconfiguration of his 2009 work Carapace--it also struck me as the closest-ever museum show to Jungen's home area, the Peace River region in northern BC.

I'll fess up and say that in chatting over the phone with Jungen, I ascribed Fort St John, BC, to be his hometown. He corrected me immediately that Fort St John was his birthplace, and the small towns, rural areas and reserve around it to be his true home. That exchange I trimmed from the resulting Q&A, published today in the National Post. But I definitely stand corrected. Here's an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q You grew up in northern B.C. How much of your inspiration comes from there?
A: I was born in Fort St. John and grew up in the Peace River area. That’s where my family and reserve is. I think more than anything, growing up in isolation made me be creative, because a lot of my activity was based on creating my own internal world. Pretty much all northern communities are connected to the outside world now, but in the ’70s there was one TV station and there wasn’t much coming to town in terms of art or anything. I did a lot of drawing and painting of animals — that was a reflection of the context. But my interests grew outside of that the more I learned about art history [in college].

Q: You’re known for taking manufactured items like plastic chairs and making them look natural. But in a recent Vancouver show, you took animal hides and wrapped them around industrial auto parts. Why the inversion?
A: It’s more like I’m combining [the manufactured and the natural]. I see them as equals. A lot of that Vancouver work was inspired by the landscape where I’m from, by things that you’d see in the north. There’s a lot of people who hunt there, and things like deep freezes and car parts are around outside. But I also wanted to make work that was kind of abstract. I wanted to make something that, when you first looked at it, would be like something you’d see at the Museum of Modern Art. They had very organic shapes, but once you looked at them closely you’d realize what the materials were. I like doing that. I like where people have this kind of “switch” in their heads, like when they see an artwork they look at the form first and then they see what it’s made out of. It kind of flips what happens.

Q: Your art was featured in NeoHooDoo, an exhibition on spirituality in contemporary art. Where do you locate spirituality in your art?
A: My work’s been pretty secular. My belief system is very private and I don’t want to make work that’s preachy. But it’s also really hard to make work of a spiritual nature in contemporary art. Like, I like the idea my work can move people, but I want the work to be as open as possible. That said, I do think there’s a need for something really meaningful in contemporary art because there’s been this overwhelming sense of irony in it for the last 10 years and it can be a bit depressing. I participate in a lot of my family’s and First Nations’ traditional things, but I would never show that in the context of the contemporary art world. How could you talk about that in a way that didn’t seem totally ironic or totally critical of religion or totally preachy? There’s no middle ground available, so I tend to keep my spiritual beliefs to myself. I like just to make work, and if it moves people to see the world in a different way, then I’m happy.

You can read the rest here.

If you're interested in finding out more, check Amy Fung's interview with Jungen, also related to the AGA show, and keep an eye out for his Gershon Iskowitz show at the AGO, which I've heard might be taking place in April or May.

(Image of Brian Jungen's Carapace at the Art Gallery of Alberta, via the National Post photo credit: MN Hutchinson Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan New York)

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