Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview with Matthew Teitelbaum on Canadian Art's website

On Wednesday morning, I interviewed Matthew Teitelbaum over the phone for Canadian Art's website.

Mostly, we discussed museum strategy stuffs. I had also really wanted to ask him about all the recent announcements of private-collection museums in Canada (like David Mirvish's and Michael Audain's) and what that means for public museum collections. So I did that.

In retrospect, I wish I had asked him about the ongoing concern many in the Toronto art community have that the museum does not reflect the artists here all that well--or in the rest of Ontario, I might add. But I didn't. Sorry! Here's an excerpt of the interview:

LS: On a different collections note—this month, two prominent Canadian collectors, David Mirvish and Michael Audain, announced plans to open their own private-collection museums. How do you feel about this development, given that it would seem to set some of their most important works off-limits from public Canadian museum collections?
MT: Well, you know, the short answer is that I think it’s terrific. I think it’s terrific that two extraordinary collectors—both in Canada and on the international stage—are making their work available to the public. I mean, the most important thing is that people who care about art, that students, that people who are thinking about what the visual arts mean in our culture are going to have access to two private collections.
And I think quite easy access, I might say—access in a way that truly celebrates both the collectors and these great works of art. So, you know, I’m not somebody who believes in the museum as the absolute pinnacle of recognition or legacy. I think there are many different routes to that, and this is one of them. I think it’s just terrific that they are thinking in that public-minded way.
LS: Private-collector museums have been a trend throughout the world for some time. Are there any particularly Canadian implications of this trend taking off here? I saw you in Miami last year where this type of institution is quite prevalent; does this signal a move to a more American-style situation in Canada?
MT: That’s a good question. I think it relates back to the frustration that many collectors have around the fact that offering collections to museums often means that works of art are hidden from public view. So it’s really a strategic response to the question, How can I make the work available to the public? And you know, those collectors who have chosen this route have, at the core, made a judgment that this is the best way for their work to be celebrated.
What I keep an eye on is the question of access. What I keep an eye on is the question of how these private collections refresh and give energy to the presentation of work.
But, you know, the reality is that we live in a really complicated time around issues of presentation of works of art. I mean, when Gagosian Gallery or White Cube create spaces that rival some of the very best museum spaces in the world and present exhibitions that are truly extraordinary by any standard in terms of the loans they get and the publications they produce, you see the beginning of the blurring between the public and the private world.
So there’s no doubt that in this complicated time there’s going to be blurring between the public museum and the private foundation. That’s why I think the most important issue to focus on is issues of accessibility—because I think one can find oneself in a dead end very quickly if one thinks about ownership as the sole question, i.e. that giving to the museum or giving to the public trust is the highest calling.
You know what the highest calling really is? To make work accessible and to have it shared by the broadest number of people.
For the rest, read on at Canadian Art. 
FYI the works the AGO ended up acquiring at Art Toronto were by Stephen Andrews, Itee Pootoogook and Julia Dault. 
(Image of Teitelbaum courtesy of the AGO)

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Review of Frida & Diego at the AGO in Saturday's Star

The Art Gallery of Ontario launched a joint show of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on Saturday. On the same day, my review of the show was published in the Toronto Star. An excerpt:

Touting churro-spiced lattes in its espresso bar and an expanded Frank Restaurant margarita menu, the Art Gallery of Ontario launches the exhibition “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics & Painting” with great tie-in fanfare today.

Featuring more than 80 works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and more than 60 photographs of them by other artists, the exhibition’s stated aim is to show how their paintings reflect the dramatic story of their lives together and their artistic commitment to the politics of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Mexico. 

Frida & Diego contains several not-to-be-missed masterpieces (see sidebar for a few). But I wasn’t convinced that the show succeeds in providing an accurate sense of Frida and Diego’s lives together — or of their politics, either. 

The exhibition opens with a large photograph of the couple embracing in San Francisco in 1931, as well as some small portraits and self-portraits.

Next comes Rivera’s early European works — including some Cubist paintings in the style of his Paris-days friend Picasso. Then, there’s a display about the overtly politicized murals and paintings Rivera’s best known for, including one where Kahlo hands out arms to the Mexican people.
From there, Kahlo’s early years and some of her paintings — such as 1932’s A Few Small Nips, her fingerprints visible on the frame — are shown before viewers enter a room where works by both artists hang together.

In many ways, this room’s a must-see, as it’s rare to see Riveras and Kahlos displayed side by side.
However, it’s hard to know what conclusions to draw from this display, as some earlier, less skilled Kahlos are paired with more mature, assured Riveras. Perhaps this is meant to balance the fact that a smaller proportion of Rivera’s career is represented in the show — or the fact that Kahlo’s work tends to surpass Rivera’s in integrating ambiguity and darkness, offering a haunting complexity that’s made her beloved of so many more contemporary viewers. (When they were alive, he was the star, not her.)

For the full review, read on at the Star.

One thing I wish I had underlined in the review in retrospect was the way that the show's dependence on photographs of the artists—which is enriching in many ways—is also part of the difficulty I had with it.

In the end, I felt that the exhibition glossed over the complexity that must have been a huge part of Frida & Diego's relationship. While that complexity is well reflected in Frida's paintings, it is difficult to surmise from photographs of the artists—because betrayal, pain and separation in somebody else's relationship is a near-impossible thing to portray in photographs, unless you happen to be doing it embedded-photojournalism style. And even if you are embedded, say, how do you picture long periods of separation or strife between couples? It's much easier to capture at least a surface level of togetherness in straight photography; much more difficult to capture apartness.

In any case, many interesting works in this show... just wish the storytelling had aimed for more completeness or complexity—not that I think anyone's full sense of relationship or politics can be captured by an outsider decades later, but it would have been nice to aim higher.

(Image: A man takes a photo of a large portrait of 20th century Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the AGO, via the Toronto Star.)

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Monday, October 15, 2012

An interesting way of thinking about the effects of art

In recently reading Helen Humphreys' 2004 novel Wild Dogs, I came across a passage that I thought expressed, in a really interesting way, the effects of an artwork on one individual.

Here, one character (a non-artist) is commenting on the work of his roommate, Malcolm Dodd.

I don’t think Malcolm Dodd is a very good painter, but what do I know about painting anyway? At night, when he is watching his pornography, I sometimes sneak into the room he uses as a studio and have a look at what’s on the easel. It’s usually a tangled web of lines and colours. If I look hard, I might be able to see a bowl of apples or a tree, but often the subject of the painting remains a mystery to me. I cannot really see the value in it, although I will often like a particular colour. There was a red in one of the paintings that was deep and yet shimmering, like the sun going down underwater. The red outlined what looked like a range of hills, and I did think about that red after I had left the studio. It did stay with me, not quite a feeling, not nearly a memory, but something lasting; so I suppose one could determine that painting a success—at least with me.

When I think about it, I think the red lasted for me as a taste lasts in your mouth after something you’ve just eaten. The taste is so much less than the food was, but it’s also something other than a memory because it’s the echo of something so recent. What is it then? It’s not a memory, but rather it’s a barrier against forgetting.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

This one's for the archive: Nuit Blanche guide in the Toronto Star

It's a rule of publishing that you have to publish event guides in *advance* of that event. So me posting my Nuit Blanche picks at this time is a gesture quite simply for the archive. I did get out on the night of, briefly, and once again experienced Janet Cardiff's 40 Part Motet (which restored or redoubled my faith or hope in so many different things... what a wonderful experience).

I also went to Hart House and had a drink at Dean Baldwin's Piano Bar and twanged on the piano strings Gordon Monahan attached to the building; I found the Hart House scene a little quieter than in past years, but still fun.

Then I went downtown and saw a fight break out; less fun, more alarming, and definitely more disheartening.

Saw Trisha Brown's Planes, which I wish had been in a less dark, dank, setting, and I also saw Alison Norlen's Beacon; I *love* Norlen's large scale drawings, but in this case I felt the work had a hard time competing with the Brookfield atrium's architecture. Live and learn, I guess, which is always the case with these one-off installational events.

I'll note a more condensed version of this guide text below appeared in the Star on Saturday morning. I hope it was of use to some, though I felt no small degree of anxiety at potentially misdirecting folks. One never knows what will actually be most memorable (in a good or bad way) on Nuit Blanche. (I also wish I knew some better phrase than "culture vulture"; I've tried "culturati" in the past, but, well, no one seems happy about such things.)

And I wish in this piece I had been able (i.e. skilled) to better address Douglas Coupland's installation and his thoughts about it; sometimes I really feel he's the McLuhan of our era, a mode not well captured by the resulting event-guide intro. I hope to see some of his Slogans for the Early 21st Century before they close at Dan Faria Gallery this week. Love that series.

Anyway, here is the text that appeared in a more condensed version in the Star on Saturday. 


Over the past year, Douglas Coupland has crashed a car in Etobicoke, put out a YouTube call requesting that strangers mail “titanium pins, breast implants, pacemakers, stents, metal plates, dental retainers” and similar objects to a Vancouver PO box, and entered into a professional partnership with Kensington Market butcher Sanagan’s Meat Locker.

No need to worry, though—it was all for art.

Specifically, it was all preparation for Coupland’s parental-guidance-advised Nuit Blanche installation Museum of the Rapture, opening at 7:03 p.m. at City Hall’s parking garage.

There’s been “a bottomless amount of details involved” in prepping for this evening, Coupland says via email. “I had never heard of custom car crashing until this.” (Coupland provided the desired crash specs, while a GTA company specializing in such matters executed the job.)

Museum isn’t meant to address religious themes, Coupland’s said, but rather highlight the question “where does your body end and the universe begin?”—a question with more relevance than ever in our era of cloud computing and crowdsourcing.

The installation will also integrate some of his Slogans for the Early 21st Century series—paintings bearing humorous-yet-forboding mottos such as “Hoard anything you can’t download” and “That sickening feeling when you realize you’ve lost your cellphone will soon be permanent.” Coupland has created more than 100 of these slogan works in the lead-up to Nuit Blanche, with a selection of these also on display until October 6 at Daniel Faria Gallery.

Coupland is just one of more than 500 artists working madly today—as well as in weeks and months past—to get 158 Nuit Blanche projects set up for tonight.

“We’re recognizing that we’re not just inside our bodies any more—we’ve offshored our brains,” Coupland notes of our contemporary culture. “Nuit Blanche is about that, too—the evolving relationship between the mind and body.”

Trisha Brown Dance Company @ Dundee Place (1 Adelaide Street East) New York choreographer Brown, known for suspending dancers off of walls and buildings, came of age in the 1960s performance art vanguard of the Judson Dance Theatre. This restaging of her 1968 piece Planes is a rare opportunity to view an important—and stunning—early work.
Daniel Barrow at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West) The 2010 Sobey Art Award winner known for unforgettable overhead-projection tales goes large-scale here, with a performance held in the Drake’s windows every hour on the hour from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and an epic piece projected on the front of the building all night.
Slavoj Zizek at City Hall (100 Queen Street West) A maverick name in cultural theory—Zizek is a visiting professor at Columbia and Princeton—forms an unexpected addition to our big art party, discussing capital and the end of the world from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Jon Sasaki at Queen Street West & Brock Avenue The dryly witty Sasaki both deflates and inflates Nuit Blanche hype with this reality-show-style competition: who can stay awake in the cold all night, touching a cube van? The winner will get Sasaki’s $500 artist fee, stored in cash in the same vehicle.
Christian Marclay at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West) Yes, worldwide hit The Clock is here for a few months yet, but there’s only a few chances left to squeeze in the work’s wee morning hours and prove your art-loving bona fides. If you couldn’t manage it in Venice, why not try it here?
Also on the radar: Oliver Husain’s Moth Maze at City Hall’s parking garage (100 Queen Street West); Kelly Mark’s feature film debut, Scenes from a Film I’ll Never Make, with Alternate Scores, at the Eaton Centre (220 Yonge Street); Berlin-based Canadians Hadley & Maxwell’s perpetual load-in for “Nirvana’s last concert” at the Elgin (160 Victoria Street); and Ceal Floyer’s punny inversions at Richmond Adelaide Centre (130 Adelaide Street West).

Janet Cardiff at Trinity St. Paul’s (427 Bloor Street West) Cardiff’s audio installation The 40-Part Motet is one of the most universally loved contemporary artworks of the past decade, with good reason. Viewers worldwide have been moved by its sensitive reproduction of a 16th-century choral piece.
Shelley Miller at Metro Hall (55 John Street, viewable from King east of John) Graffiti and street-art fans will get an interesting segueway to contemporary-art appropriation practices in the work of Miller, a Montreal artist who tags walls and creates throw-ups with… cake icing. Sweet.
Geoffrey Pugen @ City Hall (100 Queen Street West) Pugen’s point-for-point re-enactment of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe’s 1980 Wimbledon tiebreaker, co-created with Tibi Tibi Neuspiel, was a hit of last year’s Nuit Blanche. Will Pugen pull off the same crowd-pleasing charm in 416-788-9663, his re-creation of a 1990s rave? Don some day-glo bell bottoms and find out.
Yves Caizergues at Sun Life Financial Tower (150 King Street West) Old-school video game fans (or anyone who grew up in the 80s) will enjoy a shot of nostalgia with this light installation by France’s Caizergues. Titled Green Invaders, it displays gleeful, prancing space invaders prancing.
Built for Art at 401 Richmond (401 Richmond Street West) All-in-one-building events can provide a great introduction to Nuit Blanche, sans too much walking. Artist-led karaoke, screenings French-pop Scopitone videos of the 1960s, and galleries open to 2 a.m. are among the attractions.
Also keep your eyes peeled for: Hanson & Sonnenberg’s sculptures of “drunk” light standards, which will amuse nightlife denizens (or those sick of them) behind Toronto City Hall or at Temperance and Yonge; TIFF Bell Lightbox’s (350 King Street West) silent films with piano accompaniment or, if you’re feeling more gory, montage of 101 zombie disaster scenes; and Fly by Night at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West), another great under-one-roof event featuring civically minded projections by Broken City Lab and a time-capsule display.

Alison Norlen at Brookfield Place (181 Bay Street) Brookfield Place’s beautiful Calatrava atrium has hosted some lovely Nuit works. This year, Saskatchewan’s Norlen—known for large drawings of roller coasters—hopes to create a version of an old amusement-park lighthouse.
The Piano at Hart House (7 Hart House Circle) Hart House does a great Nuit Blanche in a nutshell, with bathrooms, rest areas and vending machines on site to boot. Some previous installments have featured heavier, more adult-appropriate material, but kids will likely enjoy the program this year: an exhibition focusing on pianos in art. It includes works by Gordon Monahan—an Ontario artist known for converting entire buildings into musical instruments—as well as Michael Snow and Dean Baldwin. Some of the emerging-artist installations and kinetic sculptures next door at UTAC also look fun.
Jeanne Holmes at Richmond Adelaide Centre (111 Richmond Street West) A family flash mob dance at 7 p.m. kicks off All Together Now, an all-night program featuring dance classes from ballet to bhangra to hip hop. BYO legwarmers.
Nuit Blanche at the Royal Conservatory of Music (273 Bloor Street West) Award-winning children’s book author Cyb√®le Young (Ten Birds) will create new artworks live, and Lemon Bucket Orkestra (“Toronto's only balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-super-band”)  will play fun, raucous tunes, among other all-night attractions.
Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky at Bay Adelaide Centre (333 Bay Street) Known in the art world for their craft-heavy critiques of consumerism, this Vancouver duo will add a bright, populist Nuit note to their oeuvre, creating a lantern-shaped convenience store that will give away 2,000 lanterns during the evening. Some of the other items in the “store” might be eccentric, but the lantern gesture is meant in the spirit of much-loved events like the Singapore Lantern Festival and Basel’s Fasnacht.
Also keep in mind: Low-key, family-friendly community events like shadow-puppetry, music and mural-making till midnight at Regent Park’s new Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas Street East) and Google Earth projections and collaborative book writing for most of the evening at Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 Christie Street).

Layout: Nuit Blanche’s officially curated exhibition projects are in one walkable zone this year bounded by Peter Street to the west, Gerrard Street to the north, Jarvis Street to the east and Front Street to the south. Independent projects stretch as far as Roncesvalles, St. Clair, Greenwood and Queens Quay.
Best routes: Street closures will create pedestrian thoroughfares on Yonge between Wellington and Gerrard, Bay between Wellington and Dundas, Queen between Jarvis and University, King between Jarvis and Peter, and Church between Front and Shuter. Walk these routes and you’re likely to catch (or be directed to) most of the curated projects.
Transportation: The Yonge-University-Spadina subway will run all night from Keele to Woodbine, as will the Bloor-Danforth line from St. Clair West to Eglinton. Last trains depart terminals at 7 a.m. Sunday. GO Transit will have more late-night service; check for details. Dundas, Queen, King and (on GO) Union are the best stations to disembark for official exhibition projects.
Food: Food trucks are new this year. You’ll find them in three spots: Bay Street north of King (near the TD Centre), Albert Street east of Bay (west entrance of Eaton Centre) and Church Street north of Queen (near Metropolitan United Church). Some restaurants and bars are open late; check Nuit Blanche’s website for the details. It’s always good to bring snacks and water from home, just in case.
Washrooms: Washrooms and rest areas can be found at each of the food truck areas listed above as well as on King Street West at John (near Metro Hall) and Gould Street east of Yonge (near Ryerson).
Information booths & first aid: Information booths will be in David Pecaut Square (King Street West between Simcoe and John), Yonge-Dundas Square and Metropolitan United Church (Queen Street East at Church). First aid stations are also nearby each of these.
Accessibility: Each Nuit Blanche venue is asked to identify whether their location is accessible. Check the Nuit guide and website for designations.
Overall: Dress for the weather, be flexible (sometimes standing in line just isn’t worth it) and keep an open mind.


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