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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