Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review of Shary Boyle's Canadian Artist at the BMO Project Room

In January, Toronto artist Shary Boyle opened a new installation, Canadian Artist, at the BMO Project Room in Toronto.

The BMO Project Room is kind of a funny venue -- it's a small room located on the 68th floor of the BMO bank building on Bay Street in Toronto. It's cool in that it commissions new works from Canadian artists, and then, from what I understand, actually gives the work back to the artist at the end of a 10 or 11 month exhibition period. But it's also kind of weird in that it's only viewable by appointment. The staff, when I've contacted them, have always been pleasant and accommodating, but I bet the location and appointment thing does cut down on the usual art-world foot traffic.

In any case, I was excited to see Boyle's new work there. I wrote a little report on it (including a subsequent visit to Boyle's studio) that went up on the Canadian Art website today. An excerpt:

It all began with an invitation—a thick, heavy, gold-embossed missive that thudded into mailboxes last month advertising Shary Boyle’s installation Canadian Artist at the BMO Project Room in Toronto.

More than spelling out event details, it laid down a gauntlet—and maybe a gag or two.

“A really ostentatious invite that you can crack over your leg… When have you ever seen that in Canada?” asks Boyle over a cup of coffee in her Toronto studio. “And when have you ever seen something like that with the words ‘Canadian Artist’ on it?”

The answer, for this writer: never. Upon opening the invitation, I had laughed with surprise.

“It’s a joke,” Boyle says. “You look at the Serpentine or Gagosian or whatever—they always have those kinds of invitations. It’s about the status related to that cultural site.”

“The things that are made in our country don’t have that same status. They can be as important, interesting and skilled as anything happening in New York or Berlin or London, but … they aren’t lent that status. So I’m just putting forward a precedent.”

Boyle’s installation for Canadian Artist—also intended to be precedent setting—consists of an imaginary family tree (or, as she writes in an exhibition text, a “preposterous, yet semi-logical, system of ancestry”) for its titular character. It stretches back five generations, to approximately 1850. The ancestors’ faces, 44 in all, are presented as pale, unpainted chalkware reliefs edged discreetly with gold; only the artist’s porcelain visage is decorated with glazes. Straight, minimal lines of ribbon link the array in the space, while a related website ( provides background material on each ancestor.

Read on at Canadian Art for the rest.

And to book a viewing of the work for yourself, visit telephone (416) 643-2609
or send an e-mail request to

(Installation view of Shary Boyle's Canadian Artist by Toni Hafkenscheid and via Canadian Art)


Ingrid Mida said...

I find it so interesting that Canadian's don't appreciate or value our own talent. Shary Boyle is one of my favourite Canadian artists. What a shame one needs an appointment to see her work.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Ingrid,

Thanks for your comment. I really enjoy Shary's work as well, and I agree we need to take pride in Canadian talent! I do find by-appointment stuff generally a bit intimidating, but on the upside this venue played a role in getting the work to be created, which I appreciate.

I look forward to your views on the piece!