There is a well known design maxim that ‘less is more’. Apparently the artists in MOCCA‘s excellent Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque were away that day and didn’t get the memo because for them ‘more is more‘. Taken from The National Gallery of Canada‘s contemporary collection holdings; the work in this show doesn’t skimp on the extra sprinkles. Glass, mirror, fabric, crystals, gemstones, fur, chains, bindis, glitter, flowers and so on are just some of the materials that come together in unexpected ways. In recent decades, artists have been adopting this everything and the kitchen sink-yard sale approach to assemblage. The results can either be thrilling or disastrous. In the worse case scenarios; it’s like watching a poor hair-metal band perform with multiple explosions and fireworks in the background, all the pyrotechnics are meant to distract us from the fact that they can’t actually play their instruments. Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque brings together a group of eclectic art makers under the guise of the Neo-Baroque and lucky for us these artists know how to play their materials.
Decay and the effects of time are two of the underlying themes of the show. How can we reinterpret the past in modern terms and how can modern materials help with this task? Tricia Middleton explores these facets to great effect with her take on nature as ultimate appropriator. Her working method allows her to recycle past works into new ones. I would compare it to an avalanche sweeping a mountain carrying everything with it in its wake. The end result felt like part of a shanty town built by the Snow Miser.
Lee Bul has fashioned a glass city suspended in the sky-cum-chandelier. It glitters and sparkles under the hot lights, slowly strangling itself with its own opulence.
Yinka Shonibare recreates Thomas Gainsborough‘s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews this time without their heads and dressed in West African Batik. The effect is both embracing and disarming. Like all the artists in the show; Shonibare’s work firmly places the viewer in an alternative universe where the unfamiliar becomes nostalgic.
The centerpiece of the show would definitely be David Altmejd’s The Holes. A Gargantua is slowly being reclaimed by the environment that it lies in. Altmejd incorporates all manner of tactile elements into a unique viewing experience.
The major criticism of this exhibition by most art critics would be its framing within the Neo-Baroque movement. For them the “excessive and decorative” use of materials doesn’t constitute a definitively Baroque sensibility, but for me: Baroque by any other name……
Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque