Friday, July 29, 2011

At the Galleries: Morrow Avenue

Some fun shows up at Morrow Avenue right now, like Lyla Rye @ Olga Korper, Dennis Burton @ Chris Cutts and a summer group show @ Peak Gallery. My reviews of these are up at Posted Toronto, and will be out in this Saturday's National Post. An excerpt:

1. Lyla Rye at Koffler Gallery Off-Site at Olga Korper Gallery
17 Morrow Ave., to Aug. 20
Lyla Rye’s Swing Stage is a must see — make that a must swing? — of the summer. Its webs of steel chains suspend a large, glossy black platform a few inches off the floor of Olga Korper Gallery. Slip off your shoes, step onto the platform and you’ll experience something akin to a bouncy-castle version of conceptual art as the chains sway your strides in unexpected ways. Wall texts outline Rye’s aim: namely, to call attention to the gallery space itself, which was once an industrial foundry. To underline this point, Rye has arranged the chains to mirror the building’s roof struts, and she’s provided a catalogue of the old factory’s wares, as well as a video projection of the locale past and present. (The projector wasn’t working when I visited, but I didn’t feel the lack of it — the material force of the structure is the main draw here.) Overall, Rye’s mix of context and content reminded me of how we’re forever treading on the past — if not on the shoulders of giants, then on the tiptoes of regular ol’ working stiffs like the hundreds of folks who produced electroplating supplies, generator sets and walrus hides (!) on this very site just 100 years ago. We might use the same space they did, Rye’s magnum opus suggests, but we’re forever at least a few unstable inches removed from their reality.

Read on for the rest at Posted Toronto.

(Image of Lyla Rye with her Swing Stage courtesy the Koffler and via the National Post)

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Jade Jager Clark Profile out on Yonge Street

Continuing a newish endeavour for me--profiling people who are not visual artists, but work in dance, music, literature, etc.--my article on young Brampton dance-studio owner Jade Jager Clark is up at Yonge Street Media. An excerpt:

The low-slung industrial parks around 410 and Steeles in Brampton might initially seem the world's least hip-hop-esque environment. With shops like Safety Superstore and Metro Fence operating amidst chirping sparrows and whining weed wackers, it's hardly the stuff of Jay Z's Manhattan-centric hits or Will Smith's South-Beach odes.

But look closely at the one of the area's pinecone-smattered cul-de-sacs and you might recheck your head. Bram Court is home to Jade's Hip Hop Academy (JHHA), a youth dance school that's winning prizes with owner Jade Jager Clark's self-defined commitment to "authentic hip hop."

Recently, Clark sat on the floor of the academy's multipurpose room, showing 8- to 11-year-olds highlights from Rize, a documentary about the gritty South Central LA origins of Krump. The film's patois of "ghetto ballet" and drug-trade trauma contrasted starkly with the room's decor, which featured reams of shiny trophies, a tray of construction-paper crafts, a large bin of Duplo blocks, and a Rock N Roll Elmo doll.

"It's very important for even young students to see parts of these films," Clark tells me later, "because to do anything you need your foundations. You need to know where it comes from to truly appreciate what you're doing."

You can read more, and see some pretty fun pics, at Yonge Street.

(Image of Jade Jager Clark with some of her students from Yonge Street Media)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Most Leadingest-Questionsest Q&A Ever: John Currin on Sexism & Second Thoughts

I know I tend to ask leading questions sometimes in my interviews. While you can get a good, interesting answer from an open-ended question, there's sometimes particular things I can't help thinking about in regards to a given artist or artwork, and I let my personal curiosity get the better of me.

That's kind of what happened in my Q&A with John Currin, out in today's National Post and online at Post blog the Ampersand. Currin was nice enough to chat with me on the phone in advance of his survey opening at the DHC-ART Foundation in Montreal June 30. Around that time, the Anthony Weiner thing was still a bit in the air, so I asked him about it, as well as sexism in general.

Here's an excerpt from our condensed exchange:

Q You’ve admitted in past interviews that your paintings are sexist. Why do you continue with them?

A Well, I’m bothered by [the sexist aspect] more now. I didn’t used to be. It shouldn’t bother me, I suppose, because I want to make a good painting, that’s the only thing I care about. And if the painting has sexist imagery, I don’t think that affects the goodness or badness of the painting. But it does affect my emotional state, and it’s started to bother me more and more.

Q Why does the sexism bother you now, after 20 years?

A The obvious thing to say is that I have a daughter now. But I don’t believe that’s really the reason. I think it’s more that I’m not as young. When you’re a young, attractive man, it’s easier to get away with that kind of stuff. Now, it’s more embarrassing. Overall, my work’s not changing, it’s just the way I feel about it that’s changing.

To get his angle on Weiner, as well as my most leading questions likely ever, read on at the Ampersand.

A tidbit I had to trim along the way: Currin was looking forward to seeing the show himself, as there were some works in it, like Rachel in Fur and Bea Arthur Naked, that he hadn't seen in about 10 years in his estimation.

Here's a link to a pic of Bea Arthur Naked, by the way. I had no idea Currin had painted such a thing until I started researching this story, and I think it's kinda great.

Also trimmed by me along the way: I asked Currin what he thought of Tina Fey's Bossypants book cover, because it kind of reminded me (in a less sexualized way) of his Big Hands, which showed in New York in fall 2010. Because the book came out in Spring 2011, I asked him whether he thought the cover designer might have seen the painting and borrowed from it. He said that he hadn't thought of that, but he felt certain the poster for the movieThe 40 Year Old Virgin borrowed from his painting The Producer. He also admitted, though, "God knows I've ripped off way more from movies and fashion than they could ever rip off from me. Big deficit there."

(Image of John Currin's Stamford After Brunch via the National Post)

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Monday, July 18, 2011

At the Galleries: Mink Mile & Yorkville

In my most recent reviews for the National Post, which came out on Saturday, I focus on the Mink Mile/Yorkville area. Here's an excerpt:

1. Bollywood Cinema Showcards at the ROM
100 Queen’s Park, to Oct. 2
I saw this exhibition and submitted my corresponding review before the horrific events in Mumbai took place this past week. Those who see this show in coming weeks will no doubt see it with a darker pall of associations, just as I myself will when I see it again. That’s a shame because, in a lot of ways, the exhibition design is right on, as pink, orange and yellow walls play off the saturated tones of Bollywood movie posters from the 1950s to the 1990s. To me, these artifacts generate a pleasure similar to that of peeping pulp-fiction covers — whether you’re looking at design or at plot, there’s a whole lotta drama going on. On a more brainy front, helpful texts hint at the way India’s movie heroes changed as the nation’s circumstances did. One of those circumstances, of course, has been the colonial and post-colonial interplay between Indian and Western cultures, and it’s eye-opening to see stories such as Tarzan and King Kong get Bollywood makeovers, as well as to learn about movie plots more endemic to India, like arranged-marriage conflicts. A sweet little film about a Mumbai poster collector that closes the exhibition does a good job of suggesting what these showcards might mean to locals, and a tiny related exhibition on India’s centuries-old painted-photography tradition is also terrific. That leaves any complaints to perennial ROM-related ones: a steep entry fee, a labyrinthine layout and a tendency to lean at times on borrowed, amateur-amassed collections.

Other shows looked at include Jun Kaneko at the Gardiner Museum and a smattering of commercial dealer shows in the Yorkville Ave/Hazelton Ave area. Read on at the Post for the details.

One show that I trimmed along the way is a photo exhibit at the Japan Foundation about the Grand Shrine of Ise. The photos didn't really grab me as standalones, but they were a great way to enter the fascinating, truly mindblowing aspect of this shrine: it is completely destroyed and rebuilt every 20 years. That includes all the artifacts in it. Wild.

Oh, and the ROM is screening a neat-looking doc on the disappearing art of hand-painted Indian billboards on July 21--this Thursday, and it's actually free!

(Image of one of the Bollywood Cinema Showcards in the ROM's exhibition via the National Post)

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Writing as Process: A Good Reminder from Ryad Assani Razaki in Yonge Street

Though I usually cover visual arts, I've been given an opportunity recently by Yonge Street Media to profile a few people in the GTA succeeding in other cultural genres. This experience is a bit intimidating for me, because as much as I sometimes love to slag ye olde art worlde, it's also a place of comfort for me.

In any case, my first profile for Yonge Street, focusing on Parkdale-based scribe Ryad Assani-Razaki, went up this past week. Here's an excerpt:

Jameson Avenue's 1960s apartment buildings, packed with new Canadians, are home to many stories on migration. But only one of its residents has won a $20,000 provincial prize for telling these tales.

That's 29-year-old Ryad Assani-Razaki, a native of Benin who settled on Jameson in spring 2008 and whose first book, Deux Cercles, won the Trillium Award for Best Book Published in French in spring 2010. The short stories in Deux Cercles are sensitive portrayals of the frustrations of immigration, and Assani-Razaki's anticipated first novel Le main d'Iman, due out in September, promises to more deeply explore these themes.

Sitting at the wobbly kitchen table cum writing desk in his tiny, tidy second-floor studio apartment, Assani-Razaki -- fluent in Yoruba, Fon, French and English -- talks energetically about his writing and its origins.

"I started seriously writing stories when I was 13," he says. Then as now, the driving motivation remains personal. "I just like writing stories for myself. Writing makes you feel good, makes you understand things, makes you release things and that's why I write, mostly. I think the process of writing is more important than the product."

Assani Razaki knows of what he speaks--he wrote his award winning short story collection for himself, and only sought a publisher on the urging of friends. Since writing is often a deadline driven job for me, speaking with him was personally a helpful reminder of the creative side of the process I often forget about, or perhaps have neglected.

A few fun facts that I trimmed for length along the way:

-Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri are among Assani Razaki's favourite authors

-One bonus of getting nominated for the Trillium was that Assani Razaki got to meet Margaret Atwood, also nominated for an award last year. Assani Razaki was thrilled by this, as reading Atwood's poetry (and writing his own) was part of what helped him learn to speak English when he landed in North America almost 10 years ago. (That was to go and do an undergrad degree in computer programming in North Carolina.)

-Well this fact is in the article, but it's worth reiterating: Assani Razaki works as a computer programmer by trade, and enjoys the balance he gets in terms of doing both writing and programming. He says he wouldn't like to write full time, as then one only ends up writing about writing.

Do read on at Yonge Street for the rest.

(Image of Ryad Assani Razaki on Jameson Ave from Yonge Street Media)

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Q&A with Sarah Anne Johnson in the National Post

Last month, when she opened her new series, Arctic Wonderland, at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, Winnipeg artist Sarah Anne Johnson was nice enough to sit down with me and chat about this work.

Johnson is always experimenting with different ways to expand the limits of photography--or at least that's the way I see it--and in this latest series that involved experimenting with painting, embossing, and silkscreening on her photographs, as well as using, oh yes, Photoshop. She's had a lot of recognition for her work, including showings at the Guggenheim Museum and Fondation Cartier and being a finalist for this year's $50,000 Sobey Art Award.

A condensed version of our conversation was published in yesterday's National Post. The Post also has a nice online version posted on its arts blog the Ampersand. An excerpt:

Q Your new show offers an unusual mix of celebration and desolation. Why?

A On some Arctic trips, artists are expected to make really serious work, because it’s horrible what’s happening to the world and we need to get the message out and all that. So I had this idea that I wanted to take pictures of the artists posing as cheerleaders. Because that’s what we are in a way, we’re like “Go, Arctic, go!” I was also thinking about hope and the problem of hope. One day I feel total doom and gloom, like, “That’s it, we’re going to hell in a handbasket,” and the next day I’m like, “No, we’ll sort it out somehow” — which logically, I don’t believe, but hope is this blind feeling of “Yay, humans!” I was also thinking about the human tendency toward, “Let’s get these big ideas and barrel ahead without always thinking of the consequences.” So there’s fireworks and celebrations, but look, these people are going to drown in their own confetti soon! Just because we’re a brilliant species and we can do all these things doesn’t mean that we should.

Q Your self-critical approach to this Arctic trip mirrors your self-critical approach to photography — you’ve always thrown something into the mix to point out the limits of what photos can do. Are you aware of that?

A Oh, completely. I feel great frustration with representing ideas through photography. Because photography can show you what something looks like, but I’m interested in using it to illustrate a whole experience. And the whole experience isn’t just what it looked like, it’s what you learned from it, it’s how it changed you. And a lot of that stuff happens after you take the pictures. When I got home, I didn’t look at these Arctic pictures for five months so I could distance myself and just see the photograph for what it is — this rectangular, two-dimensional flat thing on the wall — and then go, “OK, this is my blank canvas. Now how do I get in there and express all the stuff I learned?” That’s when I started painting them.

For more, read on at the Ampersand. To view images from the show (like the crazy confetti ones she talks about further along) head to the Stephen Bulger Gallery website, or, heck, to the gallery itself--the show is up until July 16.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

80s Retro, for Good & for Bad... Reviews of This is Paradise & other Cameron House related shows

The 1980s Cameron House art scene is getting a big tribute at Toronto
galleries this summer. I highlight a few of these exhibitions in today's National Post Toronto section. An excerpt:

1. This is Paradise: The Cameron House and 1980s Toronto at MOCCA Mainspace
952 Queen St. W., to Aug. 21
People’s reactions to art are always diverse and subjective. This effect is sharpened when an exhibition tries to portray an art scene of the recent past, splitting viewers into camps: those who experienced the original scene and those who didn’t. Since I fall into the latter group, I enjoyed this exhibition as I might a long-lost family photo album — an opportunity to see things I’ve only heard about. So I liked seeing examples of the Cameron’s raucous parties and viewing recognizable early works by Evan Penny, Joanne Tod and Peter McCallum. I also enjoyed “discovering” artists and works I wasn’t previously aware of. Tony Wilson’s Art in the Background, a terrific painting of two self-conscious young women, captures art-scene awkwardness with great immediacy. Tim Jocelyn’s proudly queer textiles reminded me of the late Will Munro. And Isaac Applebaum’s Lovers and Fighters, a photo series set partly at the Lansdowne Boxing Club, shows gritty city history while reaching towards romance. Granted, there are problems. It seems uncouth for co-curator Rae Johnson to include two of her own (energetic but not so well painted) triptychs, as well as multiple paintings by other artists that are based on her. The wall and brochure texts are also heavy on gush, short on explanation. Overall, though, this is a welcome attempt at capturing a largely undocumented local history. It also, unexpectedly, has a strange kind of currency; the twentysomething boho life it pays homage to — one of partying, late nights, revolutionary ideas and, most importantly, the certainty one will never grow old — offers much for anyone who is young, or who’s been young, to relate to.

2. This is Paradise: From the National Gallery of Canada Collection at MOCCA Sidespace
952 Queen St. W., to Aug. 21
The National Gallery of Canada provides a different — and more widely sanctioned — take on 1980s Toronto art heroes in its sidespace at MOCCA. This smaller exhibition is bookended with works by General Idea, the local art trio that went on to international fame in the 1980s thanks to an incisive, deconstructive approach to art and media. Where the Cameron House scene seemed to buy into romantic ideas about artists, General Idea always seemed to be questioning notions of glamour, revolution and representation. Sandra Meigs’ drawings here of smokers and drinkers packed into anonymous bars echo that critical tone, as does, admittedly, Barbara Cole’s Tomorrow, a large photo of a young woman at the Cameron that opens the mainspace show. Together, these artworks raise key questions: Are bars where people go to drown their sorrows, or to drown their dreams? Are our watering holes havens from harsh reality, or merely holding pens?

For more, read on at Posted Toronto, the GTA blog of the National Post.

(Image of Barbara Cole's Tomorrow, which opens MOCCA's mainspace show, via the National Post)

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