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Month: July, 2016

Chihuly @ the R.O.M.

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Persian Ceiling detail

Walking through the Chihuly exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum I was filled with mixed emotions. I wanted to be filled with awe and wonder, I wanted to get lost in the world of an internationally known glass artist who has shown at the Met, around the globe and now the ROM, but in the end I was completely underwhelmed. I concede this is an extremely unpopular opinion and that the majority of people who encounter this exhibition will leave transported, I’m just not one of them. This is on me. The last thing I want to do is dissuade  anyone from going to see it, in fact I do the opposite – please go and see for your yourself. I compel you to go and describe what you witness. I think the best way to approach this experience is trying to find the right words to describe it. This is a challenge for all the writers out there, whether you love it or you hate it please put it into words. I’ll start (extreme snark version).

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Mille Fiori

Chihuly’s work is unabashedly decorative, it’s aesthetic hyperbole run amuck. It’s the gift shop in a casino. It’s Christmas ornaments on steroids. Not that olde (old with an e) timey Bavarian market Christmas, but the hell bent for tinsel aluminium tree 70’s Christmas minus your fun drunk uncle in a turtleneck. It reminded me of over-sized versions of potpourri you’d likely find in Donald Trump’s guest bathroom. Ok, ok I went too far.

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Icicle Tower and Chandelier

Dale Chihuly is batting for the fences and you have to applaud him for that. He is trying to create a unique vision with no other intent but to dazzle the eye. He succeeds time and time again but the end result for me becomes too bombastic. The more time I spent with the work the less engaged I became, most people I’m sure will have the opposite effect.

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Pendleton Trade blankets from the Artist’s collection

My favourite part of the exhibit was near the end, with the inclusion of some patterned indigenous blankets from the artist’s personal collection.I would go see an entire exhibit of those in a heartbeat. In the end I’m glad I saw it, and I apologize for the snark. If an artist’s biggest crime is trying to create something uniquely beautiful than what exactly am I complaining about again? Go see Chihuly at the ROM and see for yourself.

Chihuly June 25 – Jan 2

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Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop @ the AGO

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Flat Top 2008

I was unfamiliar with the work of Hurvin Anderson before I made my way up to the 5th floor of the AGO’s contemporary section. I was immediately struck by the similarities to a painter I greatly admire: Peter Doig. It then came as no surprise that Anderson was actually a student of Doig’s back in his native country of England during the 90’s.

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Exhibition View

Backdrop which was first shown at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis consists of a collection of drawings, sculptures and photographs but it was the paintings I was most excited about. Anderson’s approach combines loose flourishes with flat passages that evoke both energy and control. His subject matter ranges from the Jamaican/Trinidad countryside to residential attic barbershops to the filtering of experience through barriers, fences and pattern.

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Peter’s Sitter’s II 2009

Anderson’s paintings allude to the vulnerability of the sitter in a barber chair. There is an unspoken conception of trust and renewal. His barbershop patrons floating on flat backgrounds reminded me of another British painter: Francis Bacon.

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Untitled (Welcome Series) 2004

Painting is alive and well at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Hurvin Anderson makes the case loud and clear.

May 19 – August 21

The Idea of North: Lawren Harris @ the AGO

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Lawren Harris    Mt. Lefroy 1930

Growing up with an Italian Grandmother; the idea of portion control is a completely foreign concept to me. So when the tastefully arranged modest fillet of perch on a bed of zucchini was placed in front of me I had to remind myself I wasn’t in my Nan’s kitchen anymore. We were in fact dining @ Frank: the fine dining experience located at The Art Gallery of Ontario as part of Summerlicious. But the main reason we were at the AGO, was to see The Idea of North: the Paintings of Lawren Harris .

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Exhibition view

The work of the Group of Seven and Lawren Harris is as ingrained into the Canadian fabric as road hockey or the first snow fall. It’s part of who we are, and the idea that no one outside of our little hamlet (9.985 million km2 – little) has any clue to their power and brilliance seems unfathomable. But what is so familiar to us is all shock of the new to our neighbours to the south and destinations further abroad. This is a very appealing prospect: what’s old is new again and what’s oversight is getting its due. This is at the core of this exhibition and one of the main motivators for its curator Steve Martin to get involved. He believed our national artist should be recognized internationally.

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Untitled (Mountains near Jasper) 1934-1940

Martin is no stranger to the art world; he has been an avid collector for decades and has amassed an impressive personal collection. It was this collection that was the impetus for this exhibition. The story goes- the curator for the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles ‘discovered’ a small landscape at one of Martin’s dinner parties. She inquired who the artist was and when he proclaimed Lawren Harris, she replied “who”?  A few trips to Canada later and she was hooked and the only one she wanted to helm a Harris exhibition was ‘one wild and crazy guy’. His initial response was he would have to be crazy to take on something like this, but the need to give Lawren his due quickly erased any fears.

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Mount Thule Bylot Island 1930

The Idea of North is a two part exhibition that focuses on two aspects of Harris’s career: his early Ward paintings of Toronto’s immigrant housing projects from the early 20th century and his momentous northern landscapes from the twenties and thirties. (There is also a small abstract near the end that ties Harris’ work to the city of Toronto but I’m going to focus on the other two aspects.) The Ward paintings do a nice job of highlighting Harris’ mastery of paint and colour but fall short of illustrating the pathos in which I believe they were intended. The effects feel too much like an observer looking in rather than an authentic documentation of immigrant life, but as far as images go they illustrate Harris’ life long pursuit of tapping into the unseen forces of the sublime that are at work behind the paintings. It is this aspect that makes his northern landscapes so powerful. He has focused the landscape to amplify its impact and presence.

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Mt. Lefroy Study 1930

Whether you are long time admirer or first time observer The Idea of the North does a wonderful job of showcasing one of our national treasures. There are old friends to revisit and new surprises to discover. I did have to keep reminding myself that this not a retrospective (I love his mountains but his tree paintings are my favourites- saved for another time I guess) but rather a focused introduction, and just like my little perch – less is definitely more.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris

July 1- September 18

 

What’s Bred in the Bone

What's bred in the bone

What’s Bred in the Bone 2016

Happy Canada Day

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Lawren Harris North Shore Baffin Island I 1930

The Idea of North opens today at the Art Gallery of Ontario; an exhibition of Lawren Harris paintings curated by Steve Martin- ya that Steve Martin.