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Category: Museums

Mystic Landscapes at the AGO

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Paul Gauguin: Vision After the Sermon 1888 The Yellow Christ 1889 Christ in the Olive Garden 1889

Who knew these three paintings were originally meant to be a triptych? I certainly didn’t; but now that they’ve been arranged together for the first time (for the exhibition Mystic Landscapes at the Art Gallery of Ontario) since Paul Gauguin painted them , it sure makes sense. The primary colour scheme alone should have been my first clue. The otherworldly theme of the story of Christ’s life as envisioned in French Brittany runs through all three as well as the artist himself appears in all three with him taking the starring role of Christ in 2 out of three. I always found this to be very revealing about Gauguin, it takes some kind of hubris to paint yourself as a martyr. Maybe this is the reason  they never made it to a church to serve as inspiration for the pious. Piety was kind of on the back-burner of Paul Gauguin’s life but I guess  he did like to dip his toe in the mystic. He was definitely a seeker.

My hat’s off to the curators for pulling off this feat (along with another, I’ll get to in a minute). I was most excited to see Vision After the Sermon when it was announced it was coming to Toronto, but had no idea the other two were along for the ride. Now that I’ve seen them as a triptych it’s hard to see them any other way. This is exactly what good curation should do, shed new light on the familiar and re-contextualize art into new and exciting combinations and narratives. Having said that: my biggest criticism with the AGO is some of their exhibition themes can get really stretched and unnecessary. Please let the art speak for itself and don’t put words in its mouth.

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Vincent Van Gogh Starry Night Over the Rhone 1888

The art not only speaks for itself in Mystic Landscapes but sings. Besides Gauguin you get heavy-hitters like Munch, Whistler and O’Keeffe and lesser known artists like Jansson and Dulac. There is a wonderful room devoted to the work of Claude Monet with fine representations of the various series he embraced over the years. His Waterlilies, Cathedrals, Poplars and Haystacks are all present. Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone is given a place of prominence near the end of the show. A personal highlight for me was this Egon Schiele,

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Egon Schiele Landscape with Ravens 1911

but the biggest surprise of the show is the inclusion of our own nation’s artists. When it comes to landscapes, mystic or otherwise you have to admit Canada can hold its own. Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Tom Thomson get to share the walls with Monet and O’Keeffe and rightly so. The curators have positioned our artists at the table with some of Art history’s biggest names and this is an exciting and revelatory prospect. It is one thing to propose this in our own backyard but another to shout to the hills, which will happen when this show ends its run in Toronto and moves to the Cathedral of Impressionism itself The Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

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Tom Thomson The West Wind 1916-1917

Make your way to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Mystic Landscapes. Come for the Van Gogh, stay for the Gauguin and revel in our National treasures before the secret gets out and standing in line becomes a way of life.

 

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Birth of the White Cube

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“To every time its Art. To Art its Freedom.” These are the words that adorn the Secession Building in Vienna Austria. Built in 1898 by Architect Joseph Olbrich, this gallery was to become one of the very first ‘White Cubes’. What we now see as commonplace was a radical idea at the time. Strip the room bare of all other distractions and let the Art take center stage. The building was to act as the main exhibition space for the newly formed Secessionist group led by Gustav Klimt. The Secessionists were rejecting the art establishment of the time and wanted to forge new paths that bridged many of the different arts together to create an artistic synergy. Influenced by the Jungendstil and Art Nouveau movements along with Japanese art that was proliferating Europe at the end of the 19th century, the Secession movement wanted to combine fine and decorative arts and work with architects and practitioners of other disciplines.

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A perfect example of this was in 1902 the Secessionists held an exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Beethoven. The show was centered around a sculpture of the composer by Max Klinger and was to act as a unification of the Arts showcasing sculpture, painting, architecture and music. The exhibition was to be ‘a total piece of Art’ or also known as Gesamtkunstwerk. 

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The totality of it’s intention is no longer intact but the highlight of the exhibition: Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze remains. Moved from it’s original place to the basement it’s a miracle it’s still around. The painting was originally meant to be temporary, only supposedly lasting as long as the original exhibition, along with the building being stripped bare during WWII make it’s presence so special.

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I got to tic another box off my art to-do list this summer. It was my second time in Vienna and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. The Belvedere Museum may have the Kiss (another must see) but The Secession Building and its splendid basement also deserves your attention and affection.

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

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

 

The Art Gallery of Hamilton

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Kim Adams Bruegel-Bosch Bus 1997-ongoing

The other day I found myself in Hamilton Ontario, so I decided to drop by The Art Gallery of Hamilton. The gallery has a couple of engaging shows on at the moment: Are you Experienced? and Art for a Century: 100 for the 100th. Here’s a smattering of what’s on display.

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Hadley+Maxwell When That was This (detail) 2015

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Dorian FitzGerald The Throne Room 2009

It’s amazing what you can do with a Photoshop filter, acrylic paint and a caulking gun.

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Paterson Ewen Red Sea 1989

I can’t get enough of Paterson Ewen’s playful use of line, shape and colour.

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Do Ho Suh: 348 West 22nd St, Apt A, New York, NY 10011 (bathroom) 2003

Do Ho Suh’s fabric environments are just brilliant.

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Edward Burtynsky Ferrous Bushing No 18 (detail) 1997

One of Burtynsky’s manufactured landscapes was paired with this wonderful Thomson below. The two played very well together.

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Tom Thomson The Birch Grove Autumn 1915-1916

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James Tissot Croquet 1878

Near the end of my tour (to my surprise) I came across this Tissot. Nice building with a sweet curatorial flare, I’ll definitely be back.