Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays! I'll be taking an official break from today through to Monday, January 2, inclusive. All best for the new year.

(William Armstrong's 1835 winter scene on a Toronto bay from Wikimedia Commons)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year-End List Time! My Top 3 Art "Things" of the Year at

Aw, yeah, it's year-end list time! Today I got to join in the action with my top 3 art "things" of the year posted at

All of my picks had to do with institutions. An excerpt:

1. Some Downward Pressure on Public-Museum Admission Fees

This year, I completed a rather unexciting transition—from being a writer whose main concern is art to being a writer whose main concern is art’s institutions, in particular our large, publicly funded museums and galleries. Over the past decade—despite museum policies that mandate as much equitable access as possible to their publicly held collections—major museums and galleries in Canada have tended to eliminate free access to such collections, at the same time implementing admission-fee hikes that well outpace inflation. In 2011, for whatever reason, that trend has, thankfully, started to stall (and even reverse somewhat). On October 27, the Royal Ontario Museum—until that point in time, by my calculation, the most expensive museum to visit in Canada—announced it was lowering its admission fees from $24 per adult to $15 per adult. On November 16, during a public talk in Toronto, National Gallery of Canada director Marc Mayer said he wanted to restore free permanent-collection access at the nation’s largest art museum. And on November 22, the Power Plant announced that admission would be free for one year beginning in March 2012 in honour of its 25th anniversary. None of these actions can come close to mending wholesale the relationship between public art institutions and the constituencies for which they were ostensibly founded. (And in highlighting these few nominal improvements, I recognize that I’m failing to cheerlead for the museums and galleries that have bothered to maintain free public-collection access and other free access over the years, from the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and beyond.) But it’s a small start to what I hope will be a more equitable and people-friendly art world of 2012.

To read my other two points, head to

(Image of the Royal Ontario Museum admissions desk Copyright 2009 Royal Ontario Museum)

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Spectacles, a good heart and (maybe) an iPad: David Hockney talks drawing tools in today's National Post

I was really glad to see how much discussion sprang up this fall around the David Hockney exhibition at the ROM.

As Paddy Johnson pointed out in Toronto Life, the show can be considered, in many ways, a cash grab on the part of the museum, as it doesn't involve a lot of shipping (it's emailable) and doesn't feature Hockney's best work.

And as Richard Rhodes (counter)pointed out in Canadian Art, the show, in person, actually offers a quite nice little promotion for the continued vibrancy of drawing practices, whether in digital means or otherwise.

Given all the stuff this show has brought to the conversational surface, I felt very lucky to chat a bit with Hockney himself when he stopped by Toronto in October, a few weeks after his show opened.

The resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. My favourite bit is at the end:

Q Is there any art technology you’re hoping will be invented in the future?

A Well, I don’t know. But I’m not looking for some easy way out. I know that’s no good. In fact, most artists want to make things a bit more difficult for themselves as they go along, to challenge themselves. I first drew on the computer 25 years ago, and it was too slow, like drawing with a pen with no ink — frustrating. I also admit I had to use [the iPad] for quite a while to get good at it. The skill is in the practice.

Q You said earlier that looking is the key to drawing. Is there any technology people can use to get better at looking?

A Spectacles? Ha! A good heart, maybe? I mean, some people can see more than others, can’t they? Van Gogh knew he could, and he did see more than others. Picasso must have seen more than others. To look is a positive act, actually. Most people, generally, are just scanning the ground in front of them to make sure they don’t bump into anything. Not many people give much scrutiny to things. But if you draw, you do. I mean, I’m an absolute looker — I like looking, I always did. To me, the world’s rather beautiful if you look at it. Especially nature. People will tell you it’s a miserable world going to rack and ruin, but they’re not looking at it, I think.

To read the full interview (including Hockney's response to the implication that this is not his best work) head on over to the Post.

In the process of researching this Q&A, I have to say I really enjoyed looking at Hockney's website, which includes some quite fun videos of him at work on plein-air and large-scale projects.

And for those who haven't seen it yet, the show continues at the ROM until January 1, with the museum having Friday-discount pricing on evenings between Boxing Day and January 7.

(Charlie Scheips' photo of David Hockney drawing on his iPad © David Hockney)

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Canada in Miami: Not-so-Cold Comforts at

I went to the Miami fairs for the first time last week with a strange experiment in mind -- trying to see as much Canadian art as I could, or, phrased differently, to see how Canadian art is represented in this type of situation.

The lengthy data report from this experiment was posted today at An excerpt:

Though there weren’t any Canadian contemporary-art dealers at ABMB this year, a small hub of contemporary Canadian artworks was present courtesy of Toronto artist-run centre Art Metropole, which since 2005 has shared a space in the fair’s bookstore section with New York City’s Printed Matter.

Artist multiples on display and for sale at the Art Metropole/Printed Matter booth included Maura Doyle’s Handmade Coins and Tickets molded out of clay; Lyla Rye’s metallic and mirror-like Cameo pin; Tibi Tibi Neuspiel’s Artist Sandwich sculptures showing the visages of Picasso, Beuys and Van Gogh sketched in what appear to be pieces of toast; the Fuck Death Foundation’s coffee mugs; Paige Gratland’s “feminist hair wear” The Sontag; and Sandy Plotnikoff’s Holidays Cancelled greeting cards.

This year, ABMB also served as the apropos launch platform for Art Metropole’s newest book, Commerce by Artists, which was edited by Toronto artist Luis Jacob.

“Commerce by Artists has done really well [at ABMB] for the fact that it’s so suited to this environment,” Art Metropole shop manager Miles Collyer said. “And it’s almost counter to commerce that’s going on at the fair, because a lot of the projects [in the book] are dealing with alternative forms of transactions between the audience and the artwork, or between the gallery and the artist.”

“It’s a nice kind of second sober look at commerce and what people may be coming here to participate in.”

It takes some clicking through (there's nine pages all told and a few slideshows) but if you're interested there are also reports of the Canadian dealers I did find at the other fairs if you read on--and reports on Canadian works at ABMB represented by European and American dealers, too. You'll find it all at

A final note: I don't presume for this report to have covered all the Canadian art in Miami last week; I'm sure things were missed. But it was interesting for me to see what was there. Don't know if I'll ever do this at a show again, though!

(Image: A copy of Commerce by Artists alongside Cameo buttons by Lyla Rye and Handmade Coins and Tickets by Maura Doyle in the Art Met booth at Art Basel Miami Beach)

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