Monday, June 27, 2011

"Art in the 21st Century" talk July 10 at Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. As part of it, I'm happy to say I'm part of a panel taking place Sunday, July 10, at the fair. It's themed on Art in the 21st Century (thank god there's only been 11 years of that century so far!) and also features artist Alexandre Castonguay and Textile Museum of Canada director Shauna McCabe. Here's the full details:

Art in the 21st Century – Exploring the Creativity in Today’s World
presented by the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition
Sunday, July 10th 2:00 – 3:00 PM
Toronto City Hall Rotunda
Free admission
The 21st century is becoming known as the Digital Age and as contemporary art practices advance as does the art. Alexandre Castonguay, artist and Professor at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Shauna McCabe, Executive Director of the Textile Museum of Canada and Leah Sandals, professional art writer and editor will discuss the challenges faced when displaying contemporary art, the role of the audience and whether the notion that new movements or organization are being developed to showcase these works.

As is typical with these things, it's a pretty big topic for an hour's discussion, but I look forward to joining in the discussion. My two cents to myself: Sandals, you might do better in the digital age if you tried updating your blog more than once every two weeks. Ah well.

The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition runs at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Friday July 8 from 10:30am to 7:30pm, Saturday July 9 from 10:30am to 7:30pm and Sunday July 10 from 10:30am to 6:30pm. Admission is free. For more information visit

(Image of a past Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition from BlogTO)

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Friday, June 10, 2011

In Which I Learn a Little Something about Surrealism, First Nations Art and Jacques Hurtubise

One of my favourite things about the line of work I'm in is learning new things. Since doing a few little preview-y items for Canadian Art's website in the past few weeks, I've learned a little bit I didn't know before about Surrealism's First Nations connections (as is noted in the Vancouver Art Gallery's current exhibition The Colour of My Dreams) and about Jacques Hurtubise, a hard-edge abstract painter who's best known for his 1960s Montreal work but been churning eye-popping, print-influenced paintings in Cape Breton for the past 30 years. An exhibition about Hurtubise--one also shouted out by Artforum--is currently on at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.

(Image of Jacques Hurtubise's kinda nutty Léocephale, 1991, via

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Apology: On My Own Particular Idiocies

Reader, I was chagrined today to realize I had made quite a mistake in one of my reviews that was published last week, and I am posting now to own up to my own particular idiocies.

In my National Post review last week of Maya Hayuk and Jen Stark at Show & Tell Gallery, I wrote that I preferred Stark's work to that of Hayuk because there was no large installation by Hayuk on view. Specifically I wrote, "I’m disappointed that Brooklyn’s Hayuk, who’s done stunning murals and installations from the Bahamas to Bonnaroo (check them on her website) is represented here by such standard, smallish formats. So until someone invites Hayuk back for a large-scale project, it’s Stark’s out-there, hippieish quirks — from intensive handwork to starburst wall hangings — that have more staying power in my mind."

Well reader, I realized today that someone in Toronto HAD invited Hayuk to do a large-scale installation, and that is up and running now, just as it has almost fully since the Show and Tell exhibition opened. This Hayuk installation is at the Drake Hotel.

I realize in retrospect this confusion might have come about because I saw the Show & Tell exhibition while the mural by Hayuk was just in development at the Drake. Nonetheless, by the time the review was published, the mural was already up for a couple of weeks.

I apologize to Hayuk, Show & Tell, the Drake and anyone who may have been misled or confused by this omission.

Also on the idiocy front, I let my email get overloaded today and yesterday, so it went on the fritz this afternoon from about 3pm to 8pm. If anyone was trying to send materials during that time, best to resend.

Back now to our irregularly scheduled programming!

(Image of scolding figure from Shatterbox)

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Philip Beesley Q&A out in today's National Post

Toronto architect Philip Beesley is one of those particularly Canadian art heroes--celebrated abroad, but rarely getting to exhibit domestically. That's changing this week as Beesley--the hit of last year's Venice Architecture Biennale--opens Sargasso, a sprawling interactive installation, at Toronto's Brookfield Place as part of Luminato.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Beesley as he was setting up his installation. Today's National Post has the resulting condensed Q&A. An excerpt:

Q Your installations have been hailed as a cure for what ails architecture. What's the problem you're fixing here?

A When I was a student, I was taught the perfect building would be a sphere: minimum possible enclosing envelope--because glass and windows are expensive, right?--and maximum enclosing volume. But that kind of form, where you try to be as enclosed and bounded as possible, is also the kind of form that says, "You have as little to do with your neighbours as possible." Nature might agree some of the time that that's a good form; look at clamshells or armoured animals.

On the other hand, though, what about dandelions or sea urchins or snowflakes? That's the opposite kind of form, which has a maximum extension of envelope. It's the opposite idea, and one I'm pursuing. So instead of a world populated by individual, closed forms where "I know who I am, you know who you are, I got my territory, I got a fence between me and you," this is a very optimistic idea which imagines that things are profoundly tangled together--that there are many gentle boundaries between things rather than one absolute fence.

Read on for Beesley's reponse to critics and the answer to "What's your favourite building?" at the National Post.

Beesley had a lot of interesting things to say; as usual, I didn't manage to squeeze them all into the article. Here's a few extras:

1) Did you know Beesley has a tech person for this project who used to be a roadie with Van Halen? Yup!

2) In response to possible criticisms about this project being "frilly," whether physically or societally, Beesley also pointed out that the project is in a way radically efficient, as it fills quite a massive space with materials that pack down to just a few boxes.

3) And just to clarify, these installations that Beesley does have a speculative or exploratory quality. He knows they couldn't build a city now, but the hope is some discoveries made in the process could contribute do functional city materials and spaces in the future. And his studio still does "actual buildings" as well. You can read about these, like a Niagara Credit Union, on his website.

Finally, I'm embedding below Vernissage TV's look at Beesley's much-talked-about Venice Architecture Biennale installation of last year. It gives a close up view of some of the types of things strung high above passerby's heads at Brookfield Place.

Beesley's installation continues at Brookfield Place to June 18.

(Image of Philip Beesley's Sargasso just before it opened at Brookfield Place in Toronto by Brett Gundlock via the National Post)

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Steven Shearer Venice Biennale Q&A out in today's National Post

Following three days of press previews, the Venice Biennale opened to the public on Saturday, including Vancouverite Steven Shearer's installation at the Canada Pavilion. A few weeks ago, Shearer spoke with me on the phone—from a walk on the Vancouver seawall, natch—about his preparations for the world's biggest art event.

A condensed version of our exchange is out in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q How does it feel to be representing Canada in Venice?

A I don't feel like I'm representing a nation. To make something about being a Canadian person... I don't know how you do that other than just do what I've done, be an artist based in Canada. And at many points, I never even thought I'd be an artist. I had social anxiety and for a long time wanted nothing more than to be left alone in my parents' basement making drawings and playing guitar. The fact that those kinds of activities are what pushed me out into the world... that's about as big of a transition as I can handle.

Q So what are you doing in Venice?

A I wanted to respond to the Canada Pavilion's space, and also to some anxiety that exists about its small scale and lack of prominence. So I decided to create a false front for it and put one of my poem murals on it. This way, at least from one point of view, the Canada Pavilion appears to be as big as the German or British ones. I also liked putting this large thing out in front to point out how intimate the Canada Pavilion is. It's not a great pavilion for big, dominant works. It was made to show paintings, drawings and small sculptures. So inside, I decided to do that. Overall, I was interested in celebrating the space rather than trying to negate it.

You can read the rest in today's print edition of the Post, which has some nice pics of Steven's work. A more fragmentary text version is also online today.

One of the things I learned from this interview was the influence Shearer has realized that his mom and uncle had upon his work. As he discusses in the last A of our Post Q&A, both of these influences introduced freeing ideas about gender and art to him.

One thing that I didn't squeeze into the condensed interview was my exchange with Shearer about whether his mom and uncle would be in Venice. He said his uncle is deceased and his mom unfortunately can't make it, which I find sad, of course. Shearer said he did try to get some works by them into the catalogue, but it didn't work out. In any case, I appreciate Shearer speaking to these early influences. He explained that he did create a small exhibition of their works with some of his works a few years ago at the Apartment, a domestic-home venue in Vancouver. You can read more about that exhibition on the Apartment's blog.

Also, just to be clear, Shearer is also one of those artists who thinks that once you understand where your work is coming from, it loses some of its spark in terms of inspiration. So I'm curious to see where he'll be going in the future with his art.

(Image of Steven Shearer's The Fauves from

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

UPDATED John Eisler, Maya Hayuk, Jen Stark & Freegums Reviews in Today's National Post

UPDATE June 9 - Reader, I realized my description of Hayuk's work in Toronto in my reviews is inaccurate. Read on here for my apology post.

Today is the last day to catch John Eisler at Diaz Contemporary. I review the show in today's National Post, along with a few other fun abstract-art shows: Maya Hayuk and Jen Stark at Show and Tell and Freegums at Narwhal. An excerpt:

3. John Eisler at Diaz Contemporary
100 Niagara St., to June 4
Local John Eisler puts a more cerebral spin on abstract-art tendencies [than Hayuk, Stark and Freegums]. His massive, glossy wall sculptures, constructed of layers of low-fi materials such as corrugated plastic, metal shelf supports and hardware-store chains, amp classic tensions between flat image and deep space, resolution and dissolution. While being generally enjoyable to look at, these wall works also remind me of something of-the-moment in Canadian art: Their play with symmetry and almost-figuration makes me think of Luis Jacob’s They Sleep with One Eye Open (shown this winter at MOCCA and soon to be installed, we keep being told, in the Dufferin Underpass). And frankly, it’s hard for me to see gold-coloured chains in a work these days and not think of Montrealer-cum-New-Yorker David Altmejd, who’s also used them to famous effect. Perhaps because it comes across as more original, the highlight of the show for me is a series of much smaller folded-paper works in Diaz’s back gallery. Though each is subtitled “model for future weapon” (threatening, no?) these whimsical structures strike me as a string of unusual kites — something for the imagination to sail away on, whether the weather is fine or cloudy.

You can read on at the Post for more. FYI I made reference in to the AGO's Ab Ex show in my lede, but didn't intend it to be the headline! Like I say in the review, these works do not fall under the same art-historical rubric.

(Image of John Eisler's "model for future weapon" installation via Diaz Contemporary)

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