Patti Smith and Michael Snow at the AGO
I had an hour or so to kill before I was to meet up with some friends so I decided to nip into the Art Gallery of Ontario to catch the new Patti Smith:Camera Solo show along with Michael Snow’s Objects of Vision. Both shows deal with the act of seeing: one from the point of view of an admirer and the other from a steely veteran who is adept at what he does.
I started with Patti Smith : Camera Solo. Better known for her music career and position as punk rock pioneer; Smith is as always the consummate artist. Her approach to photography feels both detached and autobiographical at the same time. Her Polaroids read like a mix-tape of her muses and influences documenting the objects of her heroes. The photographs become still-lifes of things which have been transformed and elevated just by who their owner’s were. We see the bed in which Frida Kahlo spent her final months, Virginia Wolf’s cane and Herman Hesse’s typewriter among others.
The photographs themselves are straightforward closeups of the objects. The telling nature of the artist was engaging but sometimes the pictures themselves appear blurry with very little contrast. In the end, the best photograph in the bunch belonged to Robert Mapplethorpe. I applaud Smith for constantly redefining who she is: first by her writing and now with her photography but sometimes you want to see someone who is a master at their craft.
Michael Snow’s Objects of Vision is a collection of sculptures executed from the 60’s through the 80’s that reflect an artist who is in complete control of his materials and in turn his audience. This one room installation is endlessly inventive. Everything works both in isolation and in unison. All the objects challenge the viewer in how they perceive and look at them as well as draw attention to the act of seeing itself. The center piece of the show is a suspended tree branch that transforms from a rough natural texture to a smooth polished needle-like point. It commands your attention and directs your vision in a delightful yet menacing manner. Blind from 1968 does a wonderful job of filtering space through layers of physical ‘cross-hatched’ fencing. The piece Abitibi lets us witness the act of creation frozen in time. Two pieces of wood compressed and bolted together force a layer of resin to ooze then harden from it seams.
Michael Snow makes it look easy, but don’t be fooled that it is. This is a show about perception after all, so we should probably take another look.
Patti Smith: Camera Solo -February 9th – May 19th, 2013
Michael Snow: Objects of Vision- July 18, 2012 – March 17th, 2013