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Month: November, 2014

Michelangelo and Alex Colville at the AGO

Michelangelo Studies for the head of Leda 1630

Michelangelo Studies for the head of Leda 1530

The work of Michelangelo doesn’t like to get out much. There are a few exceptions: France won the lottery  with the acquisition of his Slaves that now reside at the Louvre and even The National Gallery in London has a few unfinished paintings, but the majority of his work hasn’t left Italy. Its keepers tend to keep it close to home. There are no major works of his in North America, even the great Met in New York only has a scant few sketches. So I have to admit I got a little excited when I heard that the Art Gallery of Ontario was going to have a show of his drawings; the Casa Buornarroti in Florence had graciously lent the people of Toronto 29 of their drawings from Michelangelo’s personal holdings.

Michelangelo Nude from the Back 1505

Michelangelo Nude from the Back 1505

The curators of the exhibition had the misguided task of taking a little and trying to turn it into a lot. The mistake they made was: they had a lot and they turned it in to a little. They tried to fill the plate by adding artworks that represented his influence on other artists specifically the work of Auguste Rodin. No disrespect to the Frenchman but, when Michelangelo’s name is on the marquee, nothing else matters. The exhibit needed to focus, be more intimate and let the drawings speak for themselves. Michelangelo famously took a museum’s worth of drawings and set them ablaze near the end of his life, so to say they are rare is an understatement and to have them on our doorstep is a privilege. Having said all that- Studies for the Head of Leda is worth the trip alone.

Seven Crows 1980

Alex Colville Seven Crows 1980

Along with Michelangelo, the AGO has a major retrospective of one of Canada’s most revered artists Alex Colville (1920-2013) on at the moment. All the greatest hits are here and it’s a must see. Colville is a master of atmosphere; he can take the mundane and turn it into mystery and intrigue. Sometimes his figures float in their backgrounds casting no shadows like ghosts, and sometimes they stare out of the picture plane directly confronting the viewer.  He routinely and deliberately obscures the focal point by turning the protagonist away from us or putting something directly in front them. He has a way of capturing the exact moment between banality and conflict with the precision of a master storyteller.

Soldier and Girl at Station  1953

Soldier and Girl at Station 1953

Alex Colville started his artistic career as an artist for the Canadian Armed Forces. He used his brush to document the reality of war, sometimes with horrifying affect. He had the devastating job of chronicling the nightmare that was Auschwitz.  After the war he returned to Canada and became an instructor at Mount Allison University in Nova Scotia. He taught into the 1960’s and then focused his full attention to painting for the remainder of his years.

Dog and Priest 1978

Dog and Priest 1978

I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back. I was taking a group of school children to see an exhibition of his at the Art Gallery of London in London Ontario. We had arrived early and we were making our way through the show. We turned the corner and found a lone solitary man sitting in one of the galleries. I couldn’t believe my eyes: it was Alex Colville. He was gracious enough to talk to us and I shook his hand. One of the students asked him if that was his dog in one of the paintings and he smiled and said “Yes it was.” Alex Colville had an intimate relationship with everything in his works. His wife figures prominently, along with his children, pets and surroundings.

Skater 1964

Skater 1964

The survey of his work is tremendous, but just like the Michelangelo show the curators felt the need to add a little more: this time in the guise of pop culture references to his work. They were trying to make the weak argument that somehow Colville’s work influenced scenes from films by Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. Colville’s paintings do in fact appear in The Shining, but the other two are a stretch at best. For a show this strong, it was an unneeded add on.

Couple on Beach 1957

Couple on Beach 1957

Dear AGO, you’re putting together a great schedule and the number of wonderful shows in recent years has been inspiring, but for the future: could you drop the up-sell and just let the work speak for itself.

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Loose Change

Loose Change Digital Image 2014

Loose Change Digital Image 2014

Gone Girl Audio Book: Are You Hearing What I’m Hearing?

gone girl audioSo I just finished reading listening to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and let me say baaad idea. Normally I wouldn’t spell bad with three As but somehow this felt warranted. My biggest bone of contention isn’t with the story itself, (mind you, this isn’t going to be a glowing review by any stretch) but rather the medium in which I consumed it. It started off well enough; the wife and I had a long car ride over the Thanksgiving weekend and nothing kills the hours of driving like listening to a mystery unfold. I find audio books work best for long trips or repetitive chores like painting a room or doing housework, but most times I’d prefer to read. After the trip we were 5 hours into the story and only had a measly 14 hours 11 minutes to go. Ya, if you did the math, that’s 19 hours and 11 minutes of repetitive did he or didn’t he/ he said – she said? (Let the spoilers begin)

At the core of Gone Girl is a clash of perspectives. We get the man/ woman perspective, husband/wife perspective, urbanite/suburbanite perspective, no spin/ media perspective and the real you / perceived you perspective.This is both the greatest strength and weakness of Gone Girl and listening to the audio really brings this to the surface. The narration duties are split in two by Julia Whelan voicing Amy and Kirby Heyborne voicing Nick. This was great at first, but as the hours passed listening; it became more and more grating. The problem being: both Amy and Nick spend half their time imitating the other, so in the end you are listening to a man do a sarcastic nagging woman’s voice and a woman doing a monotone bitter man’s voice. I can see it reading better in the book as it highlights the gaps of knowledge and  presumptions even married couples can have with one another, but as a listening experience it became painful and editorial. I don’t blame the voice actors for this; they both did a tremendous job, but rather the material they were working with. Their inflections and delivery affected the way I perceived the characters a little too much and in the end I felt like I was being led around by the nose. Audio books can live or die by their narrators. It is often said that authors usually make for terrible narrators. In the end, I think I would have preferred my internal narrator, but even so that might have been a stretch.

Gillian Flynn created two extremely unlikable characters in Amy and Nick. Nick has deluded himself into thinking he’s a good guy but falls short in every respect while Amy is just amazing, but not in a good way. Flynn wears these characters like puppets to spill out social commentary and pop cultural references that serve her more as an author than complete the characters overall make-up. In a story with two distinct voices already vying for dominance -three’s a crowd. She does a great job addressing the obvious trial by media observations along with the death of print media, but comes on a little too strong with her backwoods moron from Sheboygan treatment of anyone who doesn’t live in a city or doesn’t wear irony like a pair of over-sized glasses. The cultural rift Nick and Amy experience when moving to the small town highlights their shortcomings, but perhaps a little too much emphasis might have been given to the idea of cool.

Speaking of cool; the ‘cool girl speech’ Amy gives, stands out like a sore thumb. It stands out for two reasons: it’s a lie masquerading as the truth and it is misogyny masquerading as feminism. The story of Amy and Nick is accurate in the respect that when two people are pursuing one another in a serious relationship they tend to be hyper versions of themselves. They go the extra mile to impress and are willing to be challenged by their partner all in the hopes that their efforts may lead to a permanent commitment.  Once the permanent relationship has been secured, efforts may fall off -a little or a lot. When you introduce the ‘cool girl’ into this mix, it panders too heavily to the male fantasy and the balance of power becomes too lop-sided.  Although we know Amy is an extreme personality with psychopathic tendencies we get the idea that Flynn’s trying to make a point with this speech. Is she pointing out how ridiculous this approach is or is she stating a fact as she sees it? Gone Girl deals with the role women play in society and especially marriage. Amy is transplanted to a place not of her choosing but by marital obligation and without the distraction of work or the big city she focuses her energies on new projects. It is the over the top version of the bored housewife. In the end (major spoiler) Amy gets everything she wants and all her deeds go unpunished. Her behaviour and actions are vindicated and Nick has been rendered impotent.

Gone Girl does a good job of stringing you along revealing the right amount of information at the right time to keep you interested. At times, it is a hard hitting exposé on marriage and relationships and at others; its nuggets of wisdom are mired in hyperbole and hypocrisy.  If I were to do it again, I’d definitely read the book rather than listen to the audio or maybe save myself 16 hours and just go see the movie.