Finally: Joanne Tod's O, Canada comes home to Toronto
Last summer, I groused at the apparent snobbery of the museum circuit that seemed to be keeping Joanne Tod's ongoing portrait series outside its hallowed halls. The well-known painter's project, simply, was to paint the portrait of each and every Canadian soldier killed in the conflict in Afghanistan, arrayed in a mosaic that loosely represented the Canadian flag.
To my surprise, I had to go to the Canadian Warplane Museum, next to the Hamilton Airport, to see it person, because no museums -- the AGO being the standout, I guess, owning several of Tod's pieces -- seemed to have an interest in displaying it. Just my speculation, but it seemed to be less about any potential controversy -- the work is stoic and ambivalent, neither lionizing nor critical of the war effort -- than about a leeriness to embrace work that was too topical, or literal.
"“It’s very frank, I know,” Tod told me, knowing full well that such frankness doesn't necessarily play well with curators of contemporary art, for whom such straight-forward topical sincerity is often a disqualifier. Have a look at Thomas Hirschhorn's overwhelming installation at the Power Plant and you'll see what I mean -- bombastic and over-the-top, it seems nothing more than a vicious send-up of such impulses.
I get it. At the same time, I don't see the distinction quite so clearly. Neither, apparently, do the folks at Harbourfront Centre, where Tod's installation is finally getting some air in the GTA, starting this weekend (just in time for the election, but let's not read too much into it.) It opens Saturday, and runs into June. About time, I say.