Breathtaking mask from a renowned west coast Kwakwaka’wakw carver. Beau Dick (1955-2017)
Breathtaking mask from a renowned west coast Kwakwaka’wakw carver. Beau Dick (1955-2017)
Well, we finally made it to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the AGO. Kusama is definitely having a moment at the moment. Her work seems to be custom made for our times, although she’s been exploring these ideas for decades. The rest of the world has finally caught up. The process of seeing Infinity Mirrors is almost a separate experience to actually viewing the work in Infinity Mirrors. Let me explain……
Kusama’s work is a playful exploration of materials, sexuality and your position in the universe. We are all solitary dots in an infinite cosmos of dots. As bleak as that outcome sounds, she still infuses the work with a sense of jubilation. The work also acts as a catalyst for the viewer, where are you in relation to the work and do you make yourself the focal point?
The experience of Infinity Mirrors started long before the exhibit opened. The interweb was awash with images and the hype was thunder on the horizon slowly growing louder. Securing tickets was part of the experience. The logistics of the exhibit had to limit availability, so the demand heightened. No one likes to read these words “You are currently 9000th in line.” There was a sense of joy being able to be a part of it. You were given a time and then all you had to do was wait. Kusama provided you with infinite space but had to limit your time and the result; time became the true star. You had 20 to 30 seconds in each room. Not a lot of time to drink in your place in the universe and that is why Infinity Mirrors works so well. The obligatory selfie helps you freeze time to help sustain that fleeting moment. Yayoi Kusama has her finger on the pulse of our lives.
So I just finished watching Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable on Netflix, or should I say I almost finished. I have 12 minutes left but the little red circle started spiraling away and told me to come back later. I think I’m good. I have entertained this ( bare with me while I find the right word) delusion – no that’s not it, lie- no, farce – maybe (…..anyway it will come to me) for long enough. This particular moving picture show is engineered to perpetuate the whimsical false narrative of an art exhibit that has completely lost the plot. Damien Hirst tried to mine the rich territory of the space between myth and fact, artifice and commerce and material culture and world-building but instead he delivered a glut of over-priced, over-sized and over-blown barnacle encrusted knock-off He-Man statues.
The film never addresses the actual specs of the exhibit. It was put on in two pavilions in the lovely setting of Venice. Apparently it took 10 years to fabricate and cost somewhere in the ballpark of 60 million dollars to produce. Hundreds of hours and assistants toiled over close to 200 pieces. The discerning art collector has their choice of three models to choose from for each piece. With or without coral along with a smaller dainty version in all manner of materials- gold etc… I guess the film is just a fancy commercial that stresses that we should all be aware of the vast amount of resources and effort devoted to this project. It also stresses how far over produced lazy conceptual art can masquerade the idea the emperor has no clothes.
The only piece I could find in the exhibit that I liked was this one. It caters to my lizard brain in the sense of beauty for beauty’s sake and the gold and the bronze play really well together. The best part of Damien Hirst’s work are his titles but in this case they do little to add to the pieces and are rendered impotent. Am I being too harsh- maybe, but the film painfully pointed out what could have been an engaging idea and squandered it. You feel sorry for the actors trying to sell shlocky bobbles all the while adding the odd wink to the artist. Perhaps a better title for this film could be A 20 000th of a League Under the Sea ……. because you know, it’s so shallow.
Maybe that’s the word I was looking for earlier.
When it comes to public art you would be hard pressed to beat Bernini’s masterpiece The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona…….well maybe the Trevi Fountain in the same city. Public art or art in public spaces is freed from the confines of the gallery and adorns our cities like jewels in a crown or at the very least gigantic garden gnomes decorating our financial and cultural institutions. As I am in the middle of planning our next escape I was going through some old photos and came up with a theme. Here are a few examples taken from some our travels over the years.
Washington Brushstroke Roy Lichtenstein
If you ever find yourself in Washington and are looking for a place to eat, I highly recommend the food-court at the National Museum of the American Indian (unfortunate name but really good food).
Between the architecture and all the public art in Chicago you don’t even have to step foot inside an art gallery to see some of the biggest names in Art History. I would say, right up there with Bernini’s fountain would have to be Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate referred to as ‘the Bean’ by locals. I’ve never seen an artwork have such universal appeal. Both young and old are drawn to it. The minute you see it you automatically start walking towards it. It is like a magnet.
Not all public art has it easy. Cleveland’s Thinker had a bomb placed under it. Read more here Slashed, Smashed and Blowed up: Blowed up Real Good. There’s tons more I didn’t include, but I recommend the next time you’re out and about take a look around you might be surprised what you encounter.
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).
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.
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.
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
Toronto never ceases to amaze. You’d be forgiven if the last place on earth you’d think to find this entirely hand carved Hindu temple was on the side of a highway in the 6. But there it is; shining like a polished gem on a cloudless March afternoon.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a marvel to behold. Made up of over 24 000 individual stone pieces with the heaviest weighing in at 5.6 tonnes. The temple was hand carved by 1800 artisans in 26 separate locations in India over a two year period. Starting in 2005 the pieces were shipped to Canada and then became the craziest jigsaw puzzle you’d ever want to attempt. 400 volunteers over 18 months rose to the challenge and in little over 2 years from conception to completion BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir came into being .
The thing that immediately strikes you is the Herculean feat of it all. The level of intricacy and attention to detail is intimidating. The fact that not a single nail was used in its construction only adds to its mystique.
They don’t allow photography inside the temple but you can see some images here. The experience is a little overwhelming to say the least. It is open to the public, but remember it is a working temple so no shoes, no cels, no talking. Don’t worry on that last point; it’ll leave you speechless.
If you’re looking for a walk in the park, you can’t go wrong with a stroll through the Guild wood. Located along the shore of Lake Ontario on the Scarborough bluffs; you’ll find meandering paths, great vistas, a supposedly haunted house and a re-appropriated sculpture garden.
The sculpture garden consists of the remains of facades and architectural remnants from long gone demolished buildings from Toronto’s past. These transplanted items give off that antiquity meets nature vibe that has been the bread and butter for wedding photographers ever since. It is nothing if not picturesque.
The land was originally owned by Colonel Harold Bickford and his family and later the Clark family bought it and they were the ones who started the collection of facades. They also turned the grounds into an artist community in the 1930’s. Their family home over the years has been turned into a museum and Inn. At the moment the current building is in dire straits and there are plans by the city to restore it to its former glory.
The original Inn was closed to the public in 2001 and then demolished in 2009, but before that it had the dubious reputation for being quite haunted. Employees and guests would experience mysterious footsteps, doors opening on their own and some have claimed to have seen an apparition of a tall man in a top hat and tails. I personally love a good ghost story and walks in the park aren’t too shabby either.
Prolific doesn’t even come close. Pablo Ruiz Picasso was an endless well of creativity. He did things that predict and predate art movements and styles decades before they are fully realized by following generations of artists. Picasso Sculpture on now at The Museum of Modern Art in New York highlights; that 43 years after his death, he is still teaching us a thing or two about combining a thing or two.
The show is a marvel of objects collected from every phase of his career. Cubism has it’s rightful place along with many of his other styles. There was even an area showcasing all of the maquettes he developed for his large public works.
Picasso approached sculpture the same way he approached painting. He is at his best when he combines unexpected elements into alarming results along with capturing the essence of something with what looks like very little effort.
The best example of this I can point out is his Bull’s Head made from a bicycle seat and handle bars. The concept is mischievously simple but it’s impact is enormous. It has elements of the readymade and the combine all the while screaming Picasso.
Sometimes he’s subtle and sometimes he’s bombastic but he’s always surprising.
This was a great survey of one of the titans of Modern Art that delighted as much as it enlightened. On until Feb 7th.
There is something extremely satisfying about encountering the familiar in an unexpected context. This is the feeling you get when you walk through the doors at MOCCA and are greeted with Dean Baldwin’s marooned boat struggling like a fish out of water. By supplanting the yaht’s functionality Baldwin robs it of it’s elegance but embues it with its presence. We are reminded of its size and potential, especially that of its sail, who cleaves the gallery space like a knife. This is the final show at MOCCA’s Queen west location before it moves to its new building in the Junction which will open its doors sometime in 2017.
The next stop on my sunny afternoon gallery hop was to Paul Petro where I caught one of the final days for Zachari Logan’s Ditches, Dandies and Lions. The show consists of a variety of drawings that range from the intimate to the expansive all executed with exquisite precision and delicate handling. Good drawing can sometimes be hard to come by but Logan delivers, especially with his blue pencil portraits of weeds on Mylar.
Brad Kahlhamer channels his inner Basquait as part of I ♥ PAINT II over at the Angell Gallery. Kim Dorland has put together a small survey of contemporary painting that reflects his love of the medium. People have been proclaiming painting’s dead for the past 50 years but with shows like this that brings artists from all over the globe together, it’s obvious the world isn’t listening.
My last stop of the day was at BAU-XI where I encountered this lovely Janna Watson. She is one of those gifted painters who exhibits the right combination of flourish and restraint.
When the young Michelangelo approached his father with the news that he was planning on becoming an artist he was greeted with fists; his father was going to beat this preposterous notion out of him. Michelangelo took some time to reflect and then returned with the news that not only was he going to be an artist, but a sculptor no less. This time his uncle had the job of knocking some sense into the wayward youth. Michelangelo picked himself up, licked his wounds and went on to become one of the greatest artists of all time. Paul Cézanne didn’t fare much better than Michelangelo when it came to the patriarch of the family. Cézanne‘s father controlled the purse strings and his son with them. When Paul was implored to come to Paris by his childhood friend Émile Zola to experience the cultural revolution that was taking place, he was rebuffed three times by his father who refused to fund such frivolous endeavors. Cézanne eventually made it to the city of lights and found a surrogate father-figure in one of the founding members of Impressionism: Camille Pissaro. Cézanne would later go on and dismiss Impressionism as “silly” but Pissaro was instrumental in lifting Cézanne’s painting out the dark muck of his early work and setting him on the course to becoming the ‘father of modern art’. Both Michelangelo and Cézanne were strongly discouraged in pursuing a life in art, but both persevered and went on to make art history. Cézanne flattened space and changed painting forever and Michelangelo brought stone to life with a skill that hasn’t really been challenged in half a millennium, but who is the greater artist?
Michelangelo’s genius was evident from very early on. At the mere age of 16 he completed Madonna of the Stairs and never looked back. Many of the hallmarks of his later work are already present: dynamic figuration, the uncanny ability of transforming stone into flesh, the pursuit of ‘ the beautiful’ and his knack for creating a narrative that infuses spirituality with an underlining sense of humanity. Michelangelo’s figures seemingly interact with one another revealing histories and relationships that are easily relate-able. We’re initially drawn in by his skill but remain for his insight.
Cézanne‘s genius on the other hand took a while to develop. His early works were slathered with paint done in a very heavy handed manner with an extremely dark palette. Early in his career, he applied to have his work shown at the Paris Salon but was rejected. He was later publicly ridiculed by a Parisian newspaper of the time for what they perceived to be his lack of skill. This wouldn’t be the last time the public mocked and misunderstood his work. With some advise and guidance from Pissaro he slowly introduced brighter colours and the landscape into his paintings. He eventually showed with the Impressionists but even there he didn’t feel like he fit in. Over the course of his life Cézanne withdrew more and more from society preferring solitariness to interacting with other people: including his family. Near the end of his life a retrospective of his work was staged in Paris and hailed as a triumph. Cézanne viewed this event as too little too late, and didn’t bother showing up for the exhibition. Cézanne was a difficult man who valued art over all else.
Michelangelo was also a notoriously difficult individual. His artistic vision had him dueling with Popes and head’s of states alike. He had one way of doing things – his way. Sometimes his ambition outweighed what was physically possible. His original plan for the Medici chapel was to include 6 tombs. Only two were completed and he personally didn’t see to their installation. Michelangelo‘s skills were in constant demand so his time was never his own. His patrons were always asking him to perform feats that were beyond his experience. They assumed that because he was such a gifted sculptor he could naturally paint or design architecture. Michelangelo would rage and refuse but eventually concede to their wishes and then go on to create something extraordinary.
Extraordinary would also be the word to describe Cézanne‘s still-lifes. As great as his Card Players, landscapes and to a lesser degree his bathers and portraits are; it’s his still-lifes that steal the show. What at first appear to be loose spontaneous flourishes are actually meticulous set pieces that in some cases took months to execute. Fruit would notoriously rot in place while Cézanne slowly brought them back to life with exquisite colour and confident brushstrokes. Long gone are the thick swabs of paint, sometimes he would even leave areas untouched allowing the bare canvas to show through. He played with perspective tilting objects towards the viewer so they could get a better look. Those innovations opened up the flood gates of experimentation and artistic freedom for every artist that came after him. Without Cézanne we wouldn’t have Picasso.
But how can bowls of fruit compete with the Sistine Chapel? Both demonstrate artist as innovator. Both redefined working methods and creative solutions. Cézanne had come so far from his early paintings and his growth as an artist is astonishing. To stand in front of a Cézanne still-life is not unlike a religious experience, but Michelangelo‘s genius presented itself early and never faltered. I believe Cézanne himself would concede to the Renaissance man. Early in his career, during his first trip to Paris; Cézanne would visit the Louvre on a daily basis where he would sketch from the collection. He was enamored with Delacroix Courbet and unsurprisingly Michelangelo.
Related: Michelangelo vs Matisse