Friday, April 29, 2011

Suzy Lake Q&A Out in Today's Post

Since her inclusion in WACK Art and the Feminist Revolution a few years back, the work of Detroit-born, Toronto-based artist Suzy Lake is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. Following showings in the last few years in California, New York, Italy and Turkey, Lake is the focus of a much-anticipated survey exhibition at UTAC opening next week as part of CONTACT. Word is the AGO is also prepping for a big Lake show in the next few years, one that may tour as well.

A few weeks ago, I got to talk with Lake in her studio about this recent flurry of exhibition activity and her 30-plus years of production so far--as well as her connections to Cindy Sherman, who was a colleague during the artists' upstate New York days. The results are condensed into a Q&A in today's Post. An excerpt:

Q Your early artworks resemble those of Cindy Sherman, who started later and went on to worldwide fame. How do you feel about that?

A Oh, the Suzy-Cindy thing? Well, it's almost like a market question, although it's probably not intended to be. Cindy has always, right from the very beginning, gone out of her way to give Eleanor Antin and I credit as being her influences. The thing is, Cindy as a person and as an artist is one thing, but Cindy as a commodity in the art market is a different thing. People don't want to know that there's a precedent to her, because of her value. I went to New York too early: My work that influenced her was thought of as being narcissistic and uninteresting -"women's work" as an accusation, not an adjective. So timing is everything. Ultimately, my work and her work are more different than people assume. And sure, sitting in Canada you always wonder, "How far could I have gone if I didn't go to Canada?" But those questions are irrelevant; they come up on a bad day when you're feeling sorry for yourself. I was teaching, I had a family, I loved making work. And now that I've taken early retirement to be in the studio full time, it's like, well, timing is everything, you know? All of a sudden people are interested in seeing what happened between then and now, and I couldn't be busier. So I think I'm a lucky duck, really.

Check out the back page of the Post's movie section today for some great images of Lake's work, and more commentary about her career. If you can't get a hold of the print version, the text-only version is available today online as well.

Lake's show at UTAC opens May 2 and runs to June 25, while a smaller show at Paul Petro opens May 6 and runs to June 4.

(Image: Suzy Lake, On Stage, 1972-5. Performance/photography. DVD Courtesy of Paul Petro Contemporary Art; Prints Courtesy of the artist..)

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reece Terris' Wow-Inducing Art Bridge

Today for, I helped write up a previewy-type item about Sitely Premises, an interesting-looking spring show at the Surrey Art Gallery. The exhibition focuses on West Coast artists who have used the space around detached single-family houses (usually their own) to create work.

Writing this thing pushed me into full Reece Terris fan territory, as it prompted me to view a video of the bridge he built between his own house and a neighbouring one in 2006. Here's some pretty cool documentation from Terris' website:

Bridge (2006) from Reece Terris on Vimeo.

Of course, I'm not the only one in the Terris fan club. The guy's receiving a VIVA Award this year, and his crazy recentish apartment installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery got tons of press. My pressing question now: When will he do an installation in Toronto? I'd love to see this happen.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Must-Read: George Zimbel's Copyright Crusade w/ the NY Times

Last month, through what is perhaps the most unlikely of means—a conversation with one of Toronto's city councillors, Michael Thompson—I became aware of the work of well-respected photojournalist George Zimbel. (Zimbel is Thompson's father-in-law, and Thompson cited him in an interview as anecdotal proof that culture, beyond being a creative realm, is also a business realm.)

Anyway, shortly after that conversation with Thompson I started perusing Zimbel's site and came across an absolute must-read: A Freelance Photographer vs. the New York Times. This copyright-related correspondence is a bit of an oldie (1999/2001 era), but a total goodie—nuanced, well-argued, persistent, passionate, and sporting a hell of a kicker. (No wonder it was reproduced in the Columbia Journalism Review soon afterwards.)

Because I'm now scared of copyright infringement myself, I'm not going to reproduce any of the correspondence here. But I highly recommend it for a read over at Zimbel's site.

If you enjoy the exchange, you may also want to note that Zimbel is due to give a talk in the Toronto area this week. He's chatting at the McMichael Collection in Kleinburg on April 30 from 11am to 12:30pm. Tickets cost $30 for the public, $15 for members—a bit steep in my view, but given Zimbel's experience, tempting. The talk is to focus on Zimbel's iconic Seven Year Itch pics of Marilyn Monroe, but it would still be a great chance to ask him questions about life as a freelance photographer in general. For more information, visit the McMichael's event page.

(Image of the New York Times building from VentureBeat)

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Papier 11 in Pictures (Plus a Few Just MTL-Related Snaps)

My Papier 11 roundup last week compiled some of my thoughts on the annual Montreal works-on-paper fair. (In a nutshell: I'd love to see Toronto adopt some of Papier's strategies, like free admission, a nice tent setup and an outdoor kiosk component. But is this actually possible, like ever? Given Toronto's general citywide prediliction to unaffordability? Dunno.)

Anyway, to flesh that out a bit, I'm posting some images of some things I enjoyed at Papier 11—this is a far from comprehensive attempt, but hopefully helpful to those who didn't get to drop by at all. Also included at the end are some things I found interesting in Montreal beyond of the fair. So without further ado:

Here's some of the outdoor kiosks that were out on the sidewalk in advance of and during the fair. They featured reproductions of select works at the fair. I would love to see something like this at a Toronto fair reaching out to a public audience.

More outdoor kiosks. It's worth noting they could be a bit better constructed; bottom edges were cracking apart by Sunday.

A view of the fair's tent from the kiosks.

One entrance to the tent (there were two in total). I liked the reinforcement of the paper theme in the entrance design.

This was in my last post: part of Adrian Norvid's large drawing at Galerie Joyce Yahouda. Apparently it is to be part of an upcoming public art project in Montreal called Metro Lines, curated by Renee Baert.

The Papirmasse wall at Maison Kasini's booth. If you subscribe to Papirmasse, you get art like this in the mail for just $5 a month.

Jon Rafman's Matisse David - this isn't the exact image that was printed for the fair, but you get the idea: one sculptural or architectural icon wrapped in the "wallpaper" of another iconic artist or graphic. All done digitally as part of his Brand New Paint Job project. At Art 45's booth.

Patrick Lundeen's faces made out of Mad-Magazine back-page fold-ins at Galerie Push.

I should know what these are/who made them/where they were, but I don't. Feel free to chime in! They are basically lotus flowers that look like they're floating in cardboard boxes.

Unique foldout books of drawings by Mauricio Limon at Laroche/Joncas.

One of many spraypaint-on-art-poster works by Mathieu Lefevre at Galerie Division's booth.

A very small, 3-inch-wide drawing by Kelly Wallace at Michael Gibson Gallery. He had a lot of big drawings with similar themes, but I really preferred the small ones.

Self-explanatory... well, almost: Micah Lexier's I Am the Only Micah Lexier at Birch Libralato's booth. The formula for this one was that the word for row 1 could only be 1 letter long, the word for row 2, 2 letters, etc.

Some members of the group En Masse continue their collaborative drawings on canvas at Galerie Pangée's booth.

And... the official Papier 11 washroom trailer!

Like I said previously, this a far from comprehensive look at the fair. I also really enjoyed Marion Wagschal at Battat Contemporary, Nadia Myre's beadwork photos at Art Mur, and Landon MacKenzie's watercolours at Art 45, the Chih-Chien Wang focus at Pierre-Francois Ouellette, Shuvinai Ashoona at Feheley Fine Arts, Stephen Andrews' prints at Paul Petro, Nadia Moss' Balint Zsako-esque drawings at Galerie Push, Jocelyn Philibert's photos at Galerie [SAS], Maclean's ART/ARRET interventions and Michael Merrill's drawings at Galerie Roger Bellemare, the big print names like Karel Appel at Jean-Claude Bergeron, Mark Igloliorte's diptychs and Jerome Ruby's crazy drawings at Galerie Donald Browne, Jamie Angelopoulos' big drawings, Susi Brister's photos and Valerie Blass' collaborative collages at Parisian Laundry, the Carl Beam–dedicated booth at Art Kanata, and last but not least Michel Campeau's darkroom photos and book at Galerie Simon Blais. I couldn't believe I had never seen the Campeaus before.

On a purely Montreal note, here's a few more pictures from my visit to the city:

A Bill 101 protest at the McGill campus gates. I was surprised such a protest still existed given it's been some 34 years since the bill was passed.

Military/paramilitary folks kitty corner to the Bill 101 protest. (There was also a long line of police cars at the ready, which is what attracted my attention in the first place.)

What's a better advertisement for a jazz bar than... a somewhat grubby Panda Band diorama? I can't think of one.

Only in Montreal? Fromage graffiti.

Finally, a little public-art witticism. This Duchampian bicycle wheel contraption was locked up to various bike-rack-type environs during the couple of days I was in La Belle Ville.

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Distillery-Area Reviews: Owen Kydd, Mandy Keeping, Daniel Hutchinson

With new galleries popping up as far west as the Junction, the east end seems more remote than ever to some art scenesters. (Case in point: the person this weekend who told me it's been years since he went east of Yonge. I get it.)

But the east end is still well worth a visit, as my reviews in this past Saturday's Post indicate. They cover Owen Kydd @ Monte Clark, Mandy Keeping @ Pikto and Daniel Hutchinson @ G Gallery. An excerpt:

Owen Kydd at Monte Clark Gallery
55 Mill St., Bldg. 2, to May 1
In these video portraits, Vancouver’s Owen Kydd continues to draw out the decisive moment, allowing us to look at people and places for several seconds rather than just 1/100th of one. Created along two sometimes down-at-the-heels strips (Vancouver’s Kingsway and Los Angeles’s Florence Avenue), Kydd’s videos find beauty in many things we might otherwise miss: a bungee cord-covered painting, strawberries scattered across a scratched wood tabletop, a lush tree spied through a bare window. Communing with Kydd’s artworks (particularly the Kingsway, Home series) produces the intense sensation that life is beautiful, if you only take the time to look at and appreciate it. He really has a knack for showing how worn our world and its people might be, but also how alive and how vibrant. Granted, some could quite reasonably query if it’s ever really this sunny in Vancouver, whether physically or philosophically. Others might opine that it’s all a bit too precious. Personally, I don’t mind Kydd holding my vision still for a few moments while the world marches on. One video focusing on a petal-losing Camellia (a plant that supposedly blooms just one week per year in Lotusland) underlines Kydd’s point: Life is falling away every moment, people. Let’s enjoy it — and maybe actually even see it — while it lasts.

Read on at the Post for the Keeping and Hutchinson reviews.

One thing I noticed from this outing: when I really, really like a show, I tend to try and think of (or acknowledge) how other people might also object to it. With shows I feel less exuberant about, I actually let go the critique thing a little more. Don't know quite what this is about, but I'll be watching this tendency a bit more from now on.

(Still from one of Owen Kydd's Florence Avenue videos from

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Art Museum Directors call for National Museums Policy in Canada

Many may have already seen this, but given the policy request, I thought I would post. Last week, the Canadian Art Museum Directors' Organization (CAMDO) released a statement concerning the 2011 federal election. No parties were named (damn!) but I thought it was notable it calls for a National Museums Policy. Here's the statement:


A strong culture is fundamental to the health of every nation and its people. It is the basis of our sense of right and wrong, fairness and opportunity. Culture is founded in education and one of the most important ways people engage as citizens and participate in their communities. Canada's public galleries and art museums are stewards of Canadian culture and, through their collections, programs and exhibitions, essential to its ongoing production and evolution. We therefore call on political representatives of all parties to confirm their support for the following seven principles, which are essential to a secure and thriving cultural life.

1 Freedom of Expression – This is the foundation of all culture. Artists must be free to create and public institutions free to support and present their work without fear of favouritism, bias or prejudice.

2 Open, Transparent and Accountable Government – Our public institutions rely on government to be open about its goals and policies. Support programs for culture and the arts must be transparent so they can be properly understood and accessible. Accountability is fundamental to ensure fairness.

3 Philanthropy and Private Investment in the Arts and Cultural Industries – The independence and financial security of the arts requires diversification as well as increases to the funding base to keep pace with the remarkable growth of the cultural sector.

4 Domestic and Foreign Market Development – A successful market can only come about if artworks can be shared with Canadians from coast to coast to coast and promoted outside Canada.

5 Copyright – This essential framework must fairly balance the rights of creators with the rights of the public in order to ensure the richness of Canadian culture is available for the benefit of all.

6 The Canada Council for the Arts – Founded in 1957, the Canada Council is the figurehead and model for arts funding throughout the country. Its capacity to play this essential role is compromised if it does not have access to sufficient funding to fulfil its mandate.

7 A National Museums Policy – Leadership is needed to guide research, conservation, travelling exhibitions, public learning awareness, and promotion of our heritage, and the development of programs to secure the financial conditions of creators and the institutions that present their work, including Canada's public galleries and art museums.

It's a pretty neutral statement in my eyes, but again, interesting to see from a policy perspective.

(Image of Canada's Parliament from Defense Industry Daily)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Papier 11 Roundup: 5 Things You Never See in Toronto

This past weekend, I went on a junket to Papier 11, the annual Montreal works-on-paper fair. Having had my trip paid for by the organizers, I'm inevitably going to be biased when subjectively assessing the event. (Secret scoop: I quite enjoyed it.) But I can objectively tell you Papier 11 had 5 Things You Never See In Toronto (At Least At A Professional Art Fair):

1) A tent as venue

2) An outdoor display to draw passerby into the fair, or give them some non-thresholded experience of it

3) Free admission for the public

4) Free, professionally produced book/catalogue handed out to all members of the public

5) Free coat check for all members of the public

It's a measure of either my lack of sanity or my city's that that it was really the free coat check that pushed me over the edge into totally, head-about-to-pop-off flabbergasted. Or, as one Ontario dealer put it, "Welcome to subsidized culture!"

More subjectively speaking, here's what I enjoyed about Papier 11:

-Accessibility: It was really nice to see the fair so busy and open to newcomers. It had a friendly feeling.

-Seeing works on paper by artists who I thought of as "people who don't work on paper." I'm talking drawings and prints by people like Shirley Wiitasalo, Stephen Andrews, Renee Van Halm. These offered a nice mix of surprise and familiarity.

-Seeing works I hadn't yet seen in person, like stuff by Jon Rafman and Marion Wagschal

-Seeing a focus on works on paper, period. I grew up loving books and I studied photography in art school, so guess what? I'm pretty much predisposed, folks. Deal with it.

-Innovative approaches. Gallery Joyce Yahouda hosted a different "solo show" in its booth every day. The first day I went, it was a huge drawing by Adrian Norvid. The next, several prints by Milutin Gubash. I also enjoyed the booth for Maison Kasini, which set up a pegboard advertising its Papiermasse mail-art subscriptions (just $5 per month!)

-The size: Lots to discover without being overwhelming. About 40 dealers overall.

-A public opening as well as a VIP opening. Whatttt?????

Here's what some dealers told me they liked about Papier 11:

-Everyone gets the same size booth. I have never, ever, considered this point. Ever. But it seems to be a big deal to dealers because many of them mentioned it to me in conversation.

-Low cost to participate. Word was booths were around $2,900 as opposed to the $7,600-ish "discounted NEXT section" rate at Art Toronto and the $11,000-ish "standard" rate at Art Toronto. (Note these figures were estimated by dealers, not the fairs themselves.)

-Proximity to other galleries. Being located close to the Belgo Building and the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art was considered a boon by many dealers, especially (of course) those Montreal ones located in the Belgo. They could just direct clients to check out solo shows there.

-The tent. Some dealers said they preferred a nice tent to being stuck in, say, the Toronto Convention Centre, as the tents mimic Frieze and other famed fair setups.

-The colleagues. Many dealers said they preferred being in what they considered a well-curated "smaller" fair rather than a "larger" fair with many galleries they might consider to be amateurish.

-And not so much liked as simply noted: The fair opened at 10am each day rather than 12 noon--a rare thing, though hard for some hard-partying dealers to handle. A signal of difference, though, for sure.

Here's what some of the problems or areas for improvement might be:

-Two words: Washroom. Trailer.

-Integrating some print or works-on-paper-focused artist-run centres, which could amp the educational side

-Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing other galleries from across the country, though I know it's a stretch to get there from Halifax and Vancouver.

-Also--and this is a borrowed dealer observation--if the show wants non-Quebec galleries to participate again in future, it may have to try ensuring that attending collectors don't just collect Quebec art. Apparently this is a big focus for collectors who reside in Quebec, and it's understandable because the province is home to so many rad artists, but it makes it difficult for outside galleries to participate.

Outstanding questions emerging from this trip, at least for me:

-What might Toronto's big art fair look like if it was organized by a professional association (like Papier organizer AGAC) rather than a profit-driven corporation?

-Could a better venue be found (or built, or tented) for Toronto's big art fair?

-Could an outdoor component ever be developed for Toronto's big art fair?

-Would free admission for the public (and not just "VIPs") ever be a possibility for Toronto's big art fair? Dealers are being charged a fair bit for booths already, so I speculate as to how much the door really brings in.

-How much does a fair really need to charge for a booth? How are those levels set or evaluated?

-How much more is Quebec funding the arts than Ontario? (I know this is a question that likely has an answer, I just haven't looked it up yet.) Is that level of funding sustainable?

To find out more about Papier 11, visit its website.

(Image of Adrian Norvid's massive drawing at Joyce Yahouda's Papier 11 booth by yours truly)

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Arts and the Election: Où ça?

There was an interesting article in the Montreal Gazette this weekend about arts and the federal election—a topic I hadn't seen discussed much this time out. It's certainly worth a read, as it polls some major arts advocacy orgs on their views re: the election. An excerpt:

Blindsided by $45 million in budget cuts before the fall 2008 federal election, the artistic community across the country and especially in Quebec vowed to drive Stephen Harper's Conservatives from power.

In the end, Harper won, the artists lost, and the cuts went ahead. Now, better organized both at the provincial and national level, the artists want their message heard more than ever.

But compared to the outrage of 2008, they're going about in a very polite, very Canadian way.

Without much fanfare, Quebec's Mouvement pour les arts et les lettres, which represents 14,000 artists, asked all five major federal parties to outline what they have in store for culture if elected.

The Quebec group wants to know where the parties stand on three issues: more funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, more funding for promotion of Quebec arts abroad, and anything else that'll have a "positive effect" on arts and culture.

Deadline for answers: the end of Friday. Results so far: unknown.

Read on for the rest at the Gazette.

A few other links that might be of interest on this front:

Cube Gallery in Ottawa is holding a local candidates panel (sans Conservative candidate) tomorrow, Tuesday, April 19 at 6:30pm

The artist group Department of Culture has put out a call for election-related projects and posted a whack of resources on their site

Happy, er, polling!

(Image of 2008 arts election rally by Dave Sidaway for the Montreal Gazette)

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Protest in Pictures: Q&A with Sharon Hayes out in today's Post

Over the past few days, it's been great to see the 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei protest initiative come together in cities around the globe. This makes it an especially timely moment (as if protest hadn't been a big theme of 2011 already) to take a look at Sharon Hayes' In the Near Future, a series just opened at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. In this series, which I enjoy every much, Hayes takes historical protest slogans to the streets around the world.

Last week, Hayes took some time to chat about In the Near Future on the phone with me. The resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q Why did you start staging protests as art?

A There's two reasons. One had to do with my feeling, at the beginning of the second Bush administration, that street protest had lost its power to move politicians and publics. The other reason had to do with intersections between history, politics and speech. When I started this project, I'd just finished up another where I went onto the streets of New York leading up to the 2004 presidential election and asked people questions. One of the questions was, "What's the first political image you remember?" An 18-yearold man said that the first political image he remembered was of a black-power salute from the 1968 Mexico Olympics, a time he hadn't lived through. I became interested in how images allow us to access past political events we never experienced ourselves.

Q All the slogans you held were from past protests. Can you explain where some came from?

A Sure. I did this project in several cities, and the English-language slogans were mostly from New York and London. One from London was "Organise or Starve," which was from the late 19th-century labour movement in England. The other was "Votes for Women," from women's suffrage. The third of the London signs, "When is This Going to End?" was from a series of protests against police brutality that happened in Brixton, a London neighbourhood of people of African descent. In terms of New York actions, one was "Ratify the ERA." That's a contrast to "Votes for Women," because the ERA was never fulfilled. "Who Approved the War in Vietnam??" is a more obvious anachronism. There's also "I Am a Man," a slogan from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' strike. And there's one slogan -actually the first one I held up in New York -that says, "Actions Speak Louder than Words." For me, that's the funny ambivalence of the protest sign. Are these words or are these actions? In essence, they're both.

Read on at the Post for a bit more of what we discussed. There's also some really nice images of her work in the print edition.

Hayes has also done a lot of other interesting work around politics, speech and protest: Revolutionary Love, which took place during the 2008 election outside of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and My Fellow Americans, a 10-hour performance where she read aloud all 36 of Ronald Reagan's Address to the Nation speeches. (These are just two examples of many.)

Interestingly, in some of her more recent work, Hayes focuses on a figure who acts as a "recorder" of public speech rather than a speaker. You can find a video of one of those related performances over at Art Review.

If you want to find out more about where Hayes is coming from, I highly recommend this 20-minute talk from a Creative Time conference in 2009:

(Image of one of Hayes' London actions from the Guardian)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Enjoying: Latitude 53's Writer in Residence Program, and Taking on Art's PR Problem

A couple of (related) things I've enjoyed seeing of late:

1) Latitude 53's Writer in Residence Program

It's not often I see writer-in-residence programs at artist-run centres, but Edmonton's Latitude 53 has bravely entered the fray in the last few years with one, and I commend them for it. I find it even more impressive, in the Canadian ARC context, that they put their writers to work not on catalogue or brochure essays, but on blog posts that are widely accessible. I would love to see more programming like this from ARCs and other public galleries alike. Here's how they describe their program:

The writer in residence program is a new initiative from Latitude 53 that builds upon the mandate of Latitude 53 to provide a forum for dialogue about contemporary visual culture throughout communities. Situated as a six-month residency the writer engages Latitude 53 programming, the greater Edmonton-regional community and beyond through critical writing. The writer in residence will create a minimum of three writings a month on visual culture and may choose to coordinate, create, or incite critical dialogue about visual culture through other complementary programming activities as well.

Anyone else know of other programs like this in Canada? I'm often ignorant.

2) Latitude 53's New Writer-in-Residence Vows to Take on "Art's PR Problem"

In her first post for the latest L53 residency, artist and writer Anne Pasek has vowed to take on "art's PR problem." She has a few choice observations on this that resounded with me:

This crisis, as I see it, arises from several loci. Our art education has not caught up with the conceptual turns of contemporary art. Just as we would struggle miserably through the novels of Borges and Falkner were it not for the guidance of our teachers, the gestures of Yves Klein, Zhang Huan, or Frank Stella can seem pretty incomprehensible if we don’t have the pillars of philosophy, visual literacy, and history to fall back on. With the exception of a few innovative art education programs such as that of the Art Gallery of Alberta, I see this education as everywhere lacking.

Secondly, a lot of artists can’t write and don’t speak up. It may seem like a particularly cruel double-standard to expect artists to be both visually and literarily coherent, but all the bad artist’s statements out there really do art a disservice. While I understand the desire to avoid over-determining a viewer’s experience with didactics, I also see a profound cowardice in shrugging one’s shoulders and absolving oneself of responsibility for the interpretation of art once it enters the public sphere. More often than not this is laziness or poor form on the part of the artist and it does everyone a disservice when a viewer walks away feeling completely frustrated or confused. Please, artists, write good statements and speak eloquently about your art, or else you perpetuate the continual infantilization of artists in the world today.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the disconnect between art and the public also emerges from our lack of a coherent answer to the questions of What is art? and What can it do? This is where I really want to focus my residency for, as impossible as it is to answer these monolithic questions, they still beg a response in the form of continual and fluid speculation. When we have some expectations for the art we see- and when we as viewers are as engaged in the search for answers as the artists producing the work before us- then not only will we see some amazing things, we’ll also have a larger, more inclusive community. And that, I believe, it to everyone’s benefit.

Sure, Pasek's is a lofty goal, but having recently written about a meeting where the goal was proclaimed to make "Toronto the cultural capital of the world, not just the country" and where, in terms of this goal "failure is not an option,"my hyperbole-meter is wrecked at this moment in time.

My one (constructive) criticism at this point (and it is admittedly a matter of pot... kettle... black) would be to urge Latitude 53 writers to embed more links in their posts. If education on art is the issue, perhaps directing people to some helpful sources could, well, assist in alleviating a bit of that problem? Just sayin'.

(Image of mega-awesome keyboard in which one can only type the word "blog" (or perhaps, "glob") from

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Different Pictures for New Culture Plan: Report on Final Creative Capital Initiative Consultation up at OpenFile Toronto

Toronto's Culture Plan is being revamped at high speed this spring. Where the last 2003 plan took two years of consultations to write, this 2011 plan, to be released May 4, took two months.

The plan is worth considering for anyone in the cultural sector of our city as it lays out priorities and goals for municipal spending in the arts over (in my estimate) the next four to ten years.

As I found out at the final culture-plan consultation (officially called the Creative Capital Initiative consultation) on Thursday, April 7, the methamphetamine-esque pace of our new plan is driven by a need to get it in before council starts its budget process next month, as well as a service review this week. Both of these processes will determine, in the words of Councillor Janet Davis, “what will get axed and what survives," so the case for culture needs to be made for councillors before they get down to voting time.

You can find out more about what happened at that final consultation in my report recently posted over at OpenFile Toronto. An excerpt:

How can Toronto be a creative city if Mayor Rob Ford has launched a war on graffiti?

How important can the arts be in Toronto’s future if its new culture plan has mostly been written before youth are asked for input?

How vital can the arts be as an economic driver when many workers in the sector are poorly paid and possess little job security?

These were among the concerns expressed by some of the more than 100 people who attended the Creative Capital Initiative consultation at Toronto City Hall on April 7. It was the last of 11 such public meetings, and the only one aimed specifically at youth. The consultations, to gather recommendations for the city’s new culture plan, started in early February.

Councillor Michael Thompson, who led the push on the culture plan and is head of the Economic Development Committee, where the finalized culture plan will be unveiled May 4, says the speediness of the process also reflects his desire to prioritize culture at the city.

As Thompson told me in an interview, "This is not about lip service [for culture]. If it was, we would not ask that this matter comes forward in a very short time frame. I know they talked before about 'we could have something in a year's time,' and I just said 'I don't have a year. We don't have a year.'"

Thompson is bullish on culture as a business. When I asked him about people who might disagree with him, and say that art is sacred, not necessarily a commercial endeavour, he said, "I say they're entitled to their opinion... and they're wrong."

Thompson also pointed to the success of his father in law, photographer George Zimbel, as proof that can artistic success and business success can be intertwined. On his website, he also states more general facts and figures: "Toronto's cultural sector employs nearly 133,000 people and annually generates $9 billion in GDP... Between 1991 and 2007, creative occupations grew at more than twice the rate of the general labour force."

If you want to have input into the (mostly written) culture plan, tomorrow (April 13) is the cutoff. You can comment at or, I was told at the meeting, email with your concerns.

More info on what happened at the consultations is available on the Creative Capital Initiative website and at Praxis Theatre, which helpfully solicited tweets from arts orgs during the last two consultations in the process.

(Image of CCI Consultations on April 7 by Nick Kozak for OpenFile)

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Goodbye Museums, Hel-lo Markets! David Moos to Leave AGO for Own Collector Consultancy

The always with-it Murray Whyte revealed on his Toronto Star blog today that David Moos is leaving his post as curator of contemporary art at the AGO. The Globe and Mail followed later in the day with a brief item.

In both items on Moos' departure, the curator indicates that he is leaving to do independent consulting for art collectors.

As Whyte reports, "No cloak and dagger, that I know of, but I spoke to David this afternoon, and he'll be serving as a private art advisor (his words) to local patrons in furtherance of acquiring significant international contemporary works both for institutional donation (like his old bosses) and their own collections. He called it a "missing piece of the puzzle" here, and a role that needed to be filled."

And as the Globe follows up, "In a brief interview, Moos said his job switch has been “in my mind for some time . . . [In the years ahead] I see myself as working very closely with a select group of collectors to build collections of international and Canadian art at the highest level.” Such a level is “uncommon in this city and this country, but is, when one travels internationally, not so uncommon . . . It’s an exhilarating moment.”

What resounds for me in these comments is some kind of refrain on the art world in general: the idea that if you want to go after the best art and the big guns, you should be working on the markets/sales/dealer side of the art world rather than the nonprofit/institutional side.

I don't know if that's what Moos meant, and I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that the markets end and the museums end of the art world are totally separate. But that resonance still exists for me, as it's clear that public museums, especially ones in Canada, are only capable of collecting so much given the fact that their budgets are more limited than that of corporate or certain individual collectors.

These ideas also remind me of some questions that came up around It Is What It Is, the recent-acquisitions-cum-national-biennial show at the National Gallery of Canada. I really enjoyed that exhibition and did find it representative of contemporary Canadian artmaking--in fact, I recommend ya'll give it a look before it closes April 24--but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking to myself "Is this really the best in Canadian art? Or is it simply the best that our national public institution can afford?"

There's also a bit of a national diss in Moos' comments in saying that collections of international and contemporary art of the highest level are "uncommon" in Toronto and Canada.

Ah well. As frequent readers of this blog know, I'd just be happy if we could see our national and local collections of art more readily, so we could evaluate said situation for ourselves.

One more recurring idea this departure touched off for me: that there's more "freedom" in the private-art-world side than in the public-art-world side, ie. that public galleries have many more guidelines and checklists and hoops to jump through about what they should and shouldn't be collecting or exhibiting or advocating for. I can imagine that freedom would make a jump to the private side more attractive for many public-institution curators. In this type of realm, I often think of Jessica Bradley, who once worked at the AGO and the National Gallery of Canada but then got into art dealing.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see who steps into the role over at the AGO. And see what Moos does next, too, and whether it agrees with him as much as he predicts it might.

(Image of the AGO from its website)

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Loved: Betty Woodman @ the Gardiner, Marian Bantjes @ Onsite at OCAD

Let's face it, people. There is a lot of crap going on in the world that's depressing. Earthquakes, wars, violence... those are three topics that will conquer my inner sense of sunniness pretty much any day of the week.

So, given the amount of pain floating around in the global ether, I'm capable of being especially awed by works that leave me with a renewed sense of joy and hope.

In the past few weeks, I've taken in two such shows that especially evoked this effect: Betty Woodman @ the Gardiner Museum and Marian Bantjes @ Onsite at OCAD. My reviews of these (plus one of Sanaugaq, an intellectually illuminating little show at UTAC) are up at Posted Toronto and will be out in tomorrow's National Post print edition.

An excerpt:

Betty Woodman at the Gardiner Museum
111 Queen’s Park, to June 5
Betty Woodman is one of those rare artistic geniuses who melds critical insight, masterful skill and joyful exuberance. Her ceramics both elevate and deconstruct the high-art legacies of Matisse and Picasso, cracking their old-school paintings open with longstanding tensions between image and object, art and craft. Woodman’s knack is best demonstrated by her wall-long Ceramic Paintings Pictures. Their colourful depictions of flowers in vases are full of classic Matissean “luxe, calme et volumpte.” But the vases in these paintings aren’t just pictures — they’re actual vessels sitting just in front of the canvas, split in two as if to underline the supposed boundary between image and object. Even cheekier are Woodman’s small porcelains named after art-historical greats: Chardin is a platter with messy, loose gold slashes; Manet is a teacup in cobalt, turquoise and green; Picasso is a plain white plate. My favourite work, Odyssian Dreams, has dozens of painted clay shards hung on a wall so that the negative space between reads alternately as body and as vase — to me, a tart twist on the outdated notion of a vessel (or ye olde ur-vessel, woman) as an emptiness simply waiting to be defined. As with most shows at the smallish Gardiner, the main shortcoming is not being able to see more works. Nonetheless, in a troubled world, Woodman’s work is a balm — a reminder that beauty and progress can still exist, and maybe even coexist.

I realize that part at the end about women and vessels is more me than the artist, and a bit out there. But it's honestly what I got to thinking about on the spot as a result.

Also, if you love the Woodman works like I do, you may want to check out this audiocast of her lecture at the AGO earlier this year.

Read on at Posted Toronto for the Bantjes and Sanaugaq details.

(Image of some of Woodman's Ceramic Pictures from Frank Lloyd Gallery)

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

TO Culture Leaders Get Own All-Star Cards, T-Shirts

Over the past week, a couple of initiatives have called out their must-know Toronto culture workers, producing all-star cards and T-shirts along the way.

Big on the cards front is Praxis Theatre, which has helpfully assembled pseudo-tradeable info on the Creative Capital Initiative advisory team—the group that will be advising Mayor Rob Ford on upcoming culture plans. Museums consultant Gail Lord, Toronto Arts Council head Claire Hopkinson and TIFF's Cameron Bailey all make an appearance. Fun stuff, with some definitely useful info on how each person is positioned as a culture-policy influencer in TO.

And on the T-shirts front is the City of Toronto itself. After announcing 12 local cultural champions at its Celebrate 27 launch last Thursday, it's worked with Joy Apparel to put the faces of these good folks on T-shirts. Included are poet Lillian Allen, late artist Doris McCarthy and performer Natalyn Tremblay, among others. A lot of them are lesser known names to me, and I enjoyed learning about them. You can check out the champions' line art and accomplishments/bios over on Celebrate 27's site.

More swag for Toronto art? Was that in the 2003 culture plan? Dunno, but I appreciate the deets from Praxis' cards and the recognition of hardworking folks on those city-made Ts.

(General image of trading cards--no art one's tho, dammit! from Dtobias on Wikimedia)

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Forget art! You made those shoes???

For a while now I've been hearing great things about clothing designer Natalie Purschwitz's Makeshift project. Currently featured in the Vancouver Art Gallery's "We: Vancouver" exhibition, Makeshift involved Purschwitz only wearing what clothing, footwear and accessories she could actually craft herself for an entire year.

Up until recently, I felt kind of "meh" about the project. Like... you're a clothing designer, how hard could this project really be? But then I looked at Purschwitz's blog, where she recorded in fair depth her outfits for each day from September 2009 to September 2010, and I was astounded. This was definitely one of those projects I needed to experience in volume in order to be impressed by. And I guess that would be the same for many others.

Also... shoes???? I was actually not aware until today that shoes were part of Purschwitz's plan. Shoes seem really, really hard to make. And I bet that they actually are. (This incredulosity of mine is exacerbated by the fact that I have some foot and hip problems, requiring me to buy expensive and unstylish nearly orthopedic footwear, and the prospect of walking around a large city in whatever horrible cardboard flipflop I might be able to craft for myself makes me want to give up on life. (Double parenthetical: I also realize how ridiculous it is to say that given how few people in the world actually have shoes, period, so I can see my own extreme privilege factor. Nonetheless I continue feel such dramatic statements are true.)) So, anyway, I really enjoyed seeing what footwear the artist ended up piecing together, like the bright blue boots that seem to be folded out of three or four different planes, and held together by grommets and ribbon or something. Her early posts on footwear failures are also interesting.

To sum up, this is just a little post to chime in and say, yes, that Makeshift project sure is just the darnedest. And that sometimes you (ahem) have to browse a few dozen posts to figure that out.

One last thing that struck me about this project... during it, Purschwitz was using something called "Parking Spot," an unconventionally funded artspace provided by patron of the arts Scott Hawthorn for a year at a time. (You can find out more in Makeshift's September 30, 2009, post.) Hadn't heard of this space or model before. Whoda thunk it?

(Image from Natalie Purschwitz from Day 360 of her Makeshift project blog)

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Last Chance to Input on Toronto's New Culture Plan April 7

This Thursday, April 7, offers the public its last in-person chance to help develop Toronto's new culture plan, which will be brought to bureaucrats in May. Since February, there's been almost a dozen meetings on this new culture plan, most of them focus grouped around certain topics like "sustainable space and cultural entrepreneurship" and "screen-based industries."

This final April 7 meeting at City Hall will focus on youth and youth-focused organizations. In terms of topics, I hope this is widely viewed as a "last but not least" scenario. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, "Arts education in childhood is the most significant predictor of both arts attendance and personal arts creation throughout the rest of a person's life."

In other words, arts institutions, this is a big one to listen up on and contribute to!

If you can't make it to the meeting, the organizers say they will be considering comments left at into account as well.

And if it's a transcript you're looking for, the good folks at @praxistheatre will be using the Twitter hashtag #creativeTO, as they did at a March 28 public meeting, to record the event as well.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Adam Matak Q&A out today

The work of Toronto-based artist Adam Matak has been catching attention over the past few years for the way it pictures viewers' possible relationships to art.

With a show just opened at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden (and another recently closed at the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham), Matak's got a lot on the go. I felt fortunate he took some time to chat with me a few weeks ago; the resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q Your paintings address our experience of art in museums and galleries. Why?

A I spent seven years as an educational tour guide, leading high-school trips that went to all the big art museums in New York, D.C. and Chicago. It's the job that got me through university. This examination of the museum scene really grew out of that -watching and talking to people at the Met and the National Gallery.

Q What did you notice during all those years of touring museums? Some of your paintings show people yawning and talking on cellphones.

A Well, I never noticed anyone yawning in those places. I did notice people being overstimulated and bored at the same time. You could have these very sexual, violent, over-the-top images and people were desensitized to them. It made me think of a Michael Bay movie, all these things exploding and people are like, "Oh, whatever."

Q Does part of that "oh, whatever" relate to the way art is taught? You have a degree in education, and I wondered if related concerns were in your paintings.

A Yeah, I guess so. I love art history. I just drool over it. And my art is kind of like teaching in that you're pulling people by the hand, saying, like, "Hey look at this; maybe this is something you're missing out on." There's a time when I was in Chicago looking at a Cézanne, and I had this trippy moment, this intense feeling of condensed space and time. I was thinking about how Cézanne would have held this object more than 100 years ago, and now this object was in front of me. Just thinking about us viewers, or creators, as a link in this really, really long chain got me excited. It's almost like a letter that's passed from person to person to person. There's this huge tradition of making images that's existed ever since we were cave people. It's quite beautiful.

Read on at the Post for more of Matak's insights.

Until I started research for this Q&A I wasn't aware of a different Matak body of work that Canadian art specialists will likely find amusing: Signs of Culture, a series of silhouettes of contemporary Canadian sculptures. You can look at the array and guess, if you wish, at which work belongs to which artist, be it Douglas Coupland, Iain Baxter&, Shary Boyle or otherwise. Besides a guessing game, I enjoy it as a pseudo-scientific classification of contemporary Canadian art, or as a hopeless search for a unified theory of national art.

(Image of Adam Matak's Fall of Man Courtesy Adam Matak)

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Great to See: New Toronto Fest Celebrates Arts Access

Great to see Celebrate 27, a new fest in Toronto that celebrates arts access. Named after UN Human Rights Declaration article 27—"Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."—the festival runs from April 1 to 27 at locations around Toronto.

Mostly the offerings are from civic arts groups and community arts groups (no showing from the big guns/museums or traditional contemporary-arty outlets of yet) but even if this is just a start I'm inspired to see it. Here's more information:

Celebrate 27 Arts Fest (C27) communicates and celebrates Article 27's assertion of the universal right of all to participate in the arts and cultural life of the community with a series of events across Toronto from April 1 to April 27, 2011. C27 promotes Toronto's vibrant cultural and community arts landscape in neighbourhoods across the city and raises awareness of the diverse programs and services offered by local artists, local arts organizations and the City. C27 partners include: Arts Etobicoke, Lakeshore Arts, Urban Arts Community Arts Council, Scarborough Arts, the Neighbourhood Arts Network and City of Toronto Cultural Services and Economic Development. Sponsors include: TD Bank, Canon Canada, Chamber of Commerce of Ontario, Alitalia and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.

C27 demonstrates the importance of the arts in our neighbourhoods and of the artists, and community arts organizations who as enablers of creativity, imagination, ingenuity and innovation help strengthen all communities and also build social and economic inclusion in the city's underserved neighbourhoods.

One event on the 21st looks particularly interesting to me:

Bridging the Gap: A Round Table Discussion
Please join the Neighbourhood Arts Network from 2 – 4 p.m. for a round table discussion on the gap between arts communities in the inner suburbs and the downtown core. This is a chance to share your ideas and meet other community-engaged artists, cultural workers and arts lovers. This event is free. For more details or to register, please contact or call 416.392.6802 x212.

For more information visit

(Image and logo from the Celebrate 27 website)

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